This is like the continued adventures of Simon in the professional kitchen. If you have read my blog before, you may know I went to a cookery lesson in Essex earlier in the year. At the time I had also booked a Masterclass at Corrigan’s of Mayfair. Some of you may have noticed I have two major Chef heroes, Michel Roux Jr and Richard Corrigan so deciding on this masterclass was a no brainer. I thought reasonably priced too considering you get to meet the great man himself. I twittered/tweeted for many weeks and certainly in the days running up to it and will apologise now to my friends on Twitter, I am sorry if it got annoying, I was just a little bit (a lot) excited.
The day was for me with my wife choosing to take advantage of us being in London to go shopping. We stayed at the Cumberland at Marble Arch the night before to avoid any train difficulties on the Saturday morning. I was excited (sorry have I said that?) even on the Friday night, starting to feel nervous which I kept telling myself was silly. Afterall I was paying for this, it wasn’t like I was actually cooking as part of the staff. I think it dawned on me though how much I admire Mr C and love his style of cooking. So to relax we stayed in the hotel and ate at Rhodes W1 Brasserie which was delightful, one of the best pork chops, actually the only Pork T-bone, I have ever had. A little drinking was done, okay a lottle. A bottle of champagne between us to celebrate the birth earlier that morning of our new Nephew, Connor, and a bottle of wine with the meal. (yes we had had a drink during the day also).
So I wake, very early, stomach in knots as the day has arrived. I’m like a schoolboy, I can’t sleep, it’s 5 a.m. please let me sleep. Needless to say I am ready very early for my short walk down Park Lane to Upper Grosvenor Street. The day starts at 10am and I left the hotel at 9. Yes like it would take an hour. I get there about quarter past, hover around and then take a walk round the block. Nice area, I may buy a house in Mayfair (when that lottery wine comes in). Eventually I decide 20 minutes isn’t too early and guess what, I was first to arrive. What I didn’t expect though is as I walked through the door, was to see Richard leant on the bar having a coffee. “Hello” he smiles with a knowing look, I’m sure he realised I was very excited and I think my face may have given away the fact I was slightly in awe. We had a brief chat, I sat at the bar with some very nice coffee and Richard disappeared to get ready.
The other 14 guests arrived and we chatted, drank more coffee (like I needed the caffeine) and some lovely biscuits. The anticipation was killing me, itching to get in the kitchen. I was thinking, is this what it’s like when someone gets a back stage pass to see their favourite band. Richard calls everyone’s attention and introduces us to Chris McGowan, Head Chef and Partner. The two Irishmen talk about the menu we will be cooking and even hearing them just talk through it you can hear the passion in their voices about the food. The usual health and safety notices go through, “knives are sharp, don’t cut your fingers”. Good advice. And with that we are led to the kitchen.
We all stand there, very quiet and I wonder if everyone is as nervous about me. We’re split into three groups of five and spend time on each course. Our group started on the starters. I expertly peeled an avocado, well the basics have to be done and I sometimes forget that it’s not all cheffy, things need peeling. The one thing I can’t get over though is that the kitchen is actually quite small but the sizes of pots, ovens etc are huge. There is also a major lack of gadgets in the Corrigan’s kitchen. This is definitely somewhere the ingredients do the talking. No cooking something in a bag for fours hours and Richard was keen to point out. Back to the starter, we are sweating down fennel, deglazing the pan with Pernod ready to add to the avocado for a very light mayonnaise to go with some crab. Ah yes crab, where is it? Richard asked that too to be told it hadn’t turned up. In fact the crab was so late, Richard popped out to Bentley’s to get some from there. The benefit of having your own fish restaurant nearby.
I had a go at making some Melba toast. Now I had no idea how to make it but now I do and how I managed to cut that bread I will never know. My hands were shaking as I attempted the first one. Still shaking on the second but then I got the knack so my family may find it on the menu for our next big meal.
Time to move on, we go to mains next, duck laid out in front of us, several ducks actually to be roasted. Also some duck that’s been slowly braised which we have to flake and of course try, and try again, well we must make sure it’s okay. I had a huge tray of duck in front of me and could quite happily have taken it to a dark corner and devoured the lot. Why a dark corner I’m not sure, suddenly that sounds a bit creepy. We are talking meat with Chris while we do this and getting tips like always cooking on the bone to keep the heat and flavour, then remove the bone just before serving. To prove the point, Chris gets a duck breast quickly cooks it and let’s us try. Nothing like a freshly cooked piece of duck breast, just with salt & pepper. Simple food tasting so good. Then the quick crispy chicken skin he made which was like a roast dinner flavoured crisp when he was finished.
Okay onto the pastry section. Our last section which in a way is sad as we know when we’re finished there it’s all over in the kitchen. This was a bit more fun and larking about as we, well I was a bit rubbish. We helped make part of the souffle as the other two groups had done their part. We also had a go at making bread rolls for their dinner service. I don’t think they will be serving them and at some point my rolls will be nothing more than breadcrumbs in another dish. There were two guys round the corner making the same rolls. In the time we took to do 3 each, so only 15 rolls, the guys had produced 8 trays (about 30 on a tray). It is just one of those moments when you applaud someone even though it’s just a bread roll. I should mention here though that all the bread at Corrigan’s is made on site. Oh and if you haven’t had it, you must try their soda bread whether it be at Corrigan’s or Bentleys. Actually you can get it at Hix too, they realise they couldn’t do better.
All through the day we have been cooking with the chefs from each section with Richard keeping an eye on proceedings and offering advice and answering questions. It wasn’t what I was expecting but then, do i really know what I expected? No I guess I didn’t. That is the cooking over really, we have helped prep, getting things ready not to leave the experts to finish off. We exit the kitchen proudly in our Corrigan’s aprons where most of us have partners or friends joining us for lunch. Champagne is already flowing and it continues to do so as the restaurant is closed. After a lot of champagne we are shown to the private dining area where the wine starts flowing just as freely. We sit to enjoy the food that we may or may not have prepared. I am sure that Melba toast was mine though.
The food is just phenomenal and to see that some of it was actually quite simple, it does make you want to go and try, experiment and my passion for cooking increased hugely. Ever since that day, just over two weeks ago I have hardly stopped thinking food. I’ve already made a version of the mayonnaise and I am waiting for the right time try the duck. This wasn’t as much a lesson, it was an inspiration. If just some of the knowledge that Richard, Chris and the team passed on has sunk in, I know my own cooking will have improved greatly. As we leave we are handed a goodie bag with cook book, soda bread and petit fours. Of course we get to keep the apron too. Thanks guys, a great morning, great lunch and yes we will be visiting again.
Cornish Crab Cocktail
& Melba Toast
Wine – 2008 Cheverny, Domaine de Veilloux (Biodynamic) – Loire
Reggie Johnson’s Duck,
Endive & Orange
Wine – 2006 Toro, Vetus – Toro
& Ginger Ice Cream
Wine 2006 Gaillac “Grain de Folie Douce”,
Domaine Causse Marines (Biodynamic) – South West France
Masterclass costs £250 per person with lunch guest for additional £90.
For more details visit www.corrigansmayfair.com