A couple of months ago I attended an Alumni event hosted by a company I used to work for. At this fabulous event at the Tate Modern, we were given a goodie bag with a couple of novels and a box with some home made marshmallows.
With this, a flyer which I found most interesting and unusual in such an environment (‘high finance’, as the title of one of the books in the bag). Andrew Kojima, Master Chef finalist, was advertising private cookery classes.
I was intrigued. I have never had a personal cooking lesson, and Andrew was one of the nicest contestants on the show. I thought about this for a few days, and since Christmas was sort of approaching I decided to reward myself with 4 hours of lesson as a present. I called him and while chatting, I figured out why his marshmallows were in the goodie bag. He is also a former employee of the same big company I had worked for.. small world, indeed.
I told Andrew I am a decent cook already but my presentations skills are zero and I feel I am not good at thinking ‘creatively’ in terms of food / flavour pairing. So he suggested to invite a few friends over for a meal, and he would come ahead of the meal time to cook with me. We picked a date and sorted out a menu together, something that would have also made @bmcboy (relatively) happy and something I could then also cook on my own in the future. Seasonal food was definitely a choice.
On the arranged sunday, Andrew arrived early in the morning, and over a coffee and a sausage sarnie (made with our favourite Boston sausages, of course), we went over some of my not so good looking dishes, and looked at other chefs’ presentations and styles.
The first dish I served was really fantastic, a surprise for me and I think, the diners. Pan roasted Devon (hand dived, from Shellseekers) Scallops, cauliflower puree, capers and raisin jam, cauliflower cous cous, crispy pancetta. The flavour combination was perfect – the humble cauliflower lifted the dish and gave it so many textures, while the jam added saltiness and contrast to the sweetness of the puree. A think crisp slice of pancetta provided crunchiness, while a small, tender fresh leaf of cauliflower and a caramelised floret finished the dish. The peashoots that were abandoned by yours truly at the ‘pass’ (eg top of my espresso machine) would have added a touch of bright emerald green. We loved this starter and I gave myself the first pat on the back of the day for not overcooking, under cooking, burning or breaking the scallops, which I made for the first time ever.
I then moved on to the main, another first – Ginger Pig Pork Chop, Celeriac puree, wilted cavolo nero and red chard, fresh oregano pesto. I did not overcook the pork, maybe just a touch under cooked if anything, but it was so tender and succulent. The celeriac puree gave it a sweet, creamy edge, the chard was stunning on the plate in its bright dark red, and the cavolo nero gave the dish some bitterness. The oregano pesto was simple but so effective, and so fresh.
Another winner, well done me (second pat on the back). Our guests by now were being really supporting and seemed to enjoy the food. Or may be they were just very merry thanks to the copious amount of great wines everyone brought!
Finally dessert time. I had asked Andrew for a seasonal recipe – he had suggested a crumble. I trusted him on this, because crumble is something I have made plenty of times before, and usually on a night in, rather than when entertaining.
Sunday’s crumble was truly special. We poached the quince with sugar, vanilla, rosemary and bay leaf, and picking some slices before the rest finished cooking was a great touch to the look of the dish.
We cooked the hazelnut crumble separately and then, at the end, I assembled the various elements on the plate, adding a couple of scoops of vanilla ice cream (palm oil free, of course).
I was pleased with the look of the pudding but even more pleased with the flavour. Quince is something I have not really appreciated fully before and the poaching with the herbs had really given it a beautiful, aromatic edge.
We all went back for more! With the crumble, we enjoyed a glass of a beautiful Klein Constantia, a South African dessert wine suggested by Andrew.
After a few hours on my feet, I was not tired nor stressed. It was fun and a pleasure to spend a few hours with a professional chef, in my own kitchen. Andrew is very relaxed and really down to earth (not a common trait amongst chefs!).
The food he taught me to prepare was really good and well thought out, I learned how to think about flavours, ingredients and how to present dishes better than I do today and I will make sure I implement what we discussed together.
A one to one lesson is not something for everyone, but I thoroughly enjoyed. If you can afford it and have a passion for cooking, I couldn’t recommend it more.
Photos on this post are by Robert Carr. A full set it here