I am very glad to have been reassured, so far, that my choice to undertake a cookery course at Ashburton Chefs Academy seems to have been the right one.
Day one involved an outline of the course itself, which looks like it will be very intense. The focus of the first week will be working towards our Level Three food hygiene qualification. We also got kitted out in chef whites, had our mugshot taken and got to know each other, our favourite chefs and why we've all chosen the course. Today we were tutored by two truly inspirational chefs. Leading us was Rob Spencer, who has been sous chef at l'Ortolan, worked with Gary Rhodes and was Head Chef at John Burton-Race's Michelin-starred New Angel in Dartmouth. Assisting him was Colin Bennet, a talented pastry chef with a career including Head Pastry Chef positions at The Waldorf Hilton, Nuno Mendes' Viajante and Jamie Oliver's Barbecoa.
My eight fellow coursemates have a variety of different backgrounds and aspirations, from working on private yachts, to fulfilling a lifelong dream to enrich a passion, to people like me who aren't too sure what's coming up next.
After being shown around our home for the next six weeks, we were let loose in the training kitchen. These have a number of stations decked out with all the necessary equipment, super-fast induction hobs and ovens too complicated for us to use on day one. I've always been wary of induction hobs, but am becoming a convert after just one day of being shown how quickly they work, how precisely they can regulate temperature and how accurately they can be controlled.
Today's core skill set was vegetable preparation and cutting. Although it was already vaguely familiar, it was good to establish that baton is to macedoine as julienne is to brunoise, that you can chiffonnade a leek but not a tomato, which you can concasse but not paysanne. Nobody was hurt in the making of day one.
We made a vichysoisse, a leek and potato soup, by softening finely chopped onion (brunoise), finely slicing a leek split in half (chiffonade), adding smallish cubes (macedoine cut) of potato and cooking in vegetable stock made on site before blending. Then we made a vegetable broth to practise and demonstrate various chopping skills of shallot, knife-puréed garlic, carrot, fennel, celery (always peel it, people!), leek, cored, blanched and peeled tomato, and chives. We made our own bouquet garni with herbs wrapped in a layer of leek and we added cooked pearl barley. These two soups will be our lunch for the next two days, so if it all goes quiet on this blog you will know that I only have myself to blame!
Tomorrow will be day one of our food hygiene course, but it will also be PANCAKE DAY! So either way, there will be good stuff to check back here and read up on!