Cheryl Smith's sabbatical 2011 travel blog

Our kitchen before the amateurs arrive

blanching veggies

more veggies - I just love how colourful they are

perfect poached eggs in cold water to save them for later

Helen has a sip of liquid courage before tackling the carving of...

Robert carving this duck -- note the knife skills

Creating our personal masterpieces on a plate - you eat what you...

Here's what Jim created as a model

Chef at work showing us how to plate the meal


Friday was graduation day and just as full-on as Thursday and instead of ‘bahhh’ we had ‘quack quack’. Magret (duck) is a specialty of the region and something the locals are especially proud of serving (and do often, this was our second of the week). Chef Jim outdid himself today and we learned lot of tips and tricks starting with poaching eggs.

I like poached eggs and cook them often as they’re easy. My technique is to put water in the frying pan, bring it to a boil, crack the egg on the side of the pan, drop in the egg and then use a spatula to splash water on the top surface of the yolk to assist in cooking. A show of hands around the table told me I’m not alone with the approach. Never again! Now I’m going to use a deep pot of boiling water, crack the egg in a bowl first, touch the bowl to the water and let the egg slide in and watch it fall to the bottom. When it floats to the top the white will have covered the yolk like a sock and I’ll remove the “ghosts” of excess white just as Jim did. And best of all, if they’re dropped in cold water you can set them aside and reheat when you need them today or tomorrow. How about that? Watch video here.

Then came blanching vegetables and a discussion about the pros and cons of steamer baskets. Our steamer is out of the kitchen, never again we decided when we understood the difference. We set about preparing freshly picked veggies for blanching carefully leaving on the ‘pointy bits’ (chefs love points) such as thin tails of the green beans and carrots. This was an extremely satisfying exercise as we watched the colour become enhanced once the veggies had been in a water seconds and the taste suburb.

We zested oranges (holding them the correct way to catch all the juice) for the sauce and then segmented the flesh for the salad. We sliced in between the membranes and removed the flesh of the orange ever so carefully. So if I ever make this salad for you then you know for sure you’re an honoured guest as this was a lot of work. At my end of the table the cynics thought leaving the membrane on wasn’t the end of the world for the people they served! ☺ Watch video here.

And what’s a meal with dessert, especially one with lots and lots of chocolate. Robert, Brenda and I team up to do our magic making the Delice au Chocolat (chocolate delight) which was later served with the spun sugar decorations we made on Wednesday afternoon (remember those?) and raspberry sorbet we made on Tuesday. Our team was especially talented at mixing the chocolate to a smooth and creamy consistency. Hmmmm, yum.

And then the duck, perhaps my vegetarian friends might want to skip this part. First Robert and I took turns making thin slash marks on the fat side about a couple of centimeters apart and deep. The finished product was to look like diamonds if you can imagine that. As I was carefully handling my very sharp knife he was leaning over my shoulder telling me I was doing it wrong (my cuts were too deep, I wasn’t holding the knife correctly, blah blah blah) and lucky for him I simply looked over my shoulder and smiled. He’s still alive today in spite of the very, very sharp knife.

We cooked the duck in a hot frying pan and took turns spooning the fat over the flesh to sear it. Removed it from the pan, covered it in foil and then a lot of towels (just like the lamb) and left it there to settle. Jim kept a bit back for us all to taste and the unanimous opinion, even amoungst our young teens Ellen and Rosie, was this was the best we’ve ever, ever tasted. I’m sure John and Robert could have pulled up a chair and eaten the whole lot – they were salivating. Watch the video here.

After a break from our hard work for a couple of hours (time for a swim) then we returned for a glass of wine and to plate up our final meal. First we layered the blanched seasonal vegetables, added a few slices of duck, drizzled the orange sauce and decorated with freshly cut pea shoots. And very nice it looked too, but better still it was delicious. There wasn’t a spec of leftovers. Not a spec. Watch the video here.

After a lively dinner celebration we posed for a group photo sporting our “graduation aprons.”

Some chefs never left the table as they solved the problems of the world with the assistance of the adult beverages left from dinner. Four of us elected to watch the English series of Come Dine with Me on TV as it turns out that our very own Kate is on the waiting list to be on the show. We helped her plan her menu for when her turn comes up and we’re sure she’ll win the £1,000 prize if she uses the recipes and tips we learned this week.

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