Cookin’ with Class


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Once we are back at the school Alex is delegating rapidly. Each student is tasked with melting chocolate. chopping onions, shallots,  leeks or peeling garlic. Alex is constantly teaching professional shortcuts and knife skills, (use the whole blade to cut, don’t chop).  As one task is complete we slide swiftly onto another.  Alex produces a fearsome looking cleaver. Time to prepare the chicken legs, which will be the base of our jus. Each student is coached on exactly how a cleaver operates. A single swift blow should chop the chicken leg through and through. It is surprisingly difficult. Most students are a little nervous of the extremely sharp blade but very quickly there is a pan full of chicken and veal bones rapidly browning. Mounds of mirepoix appear and then we are peeling Jerusalem artichokes. Two students are cracking eggs and separating egg whites. Another student weighs ingredients for the chocolate soufflé that is to be our desert. “Aller, Aller, Aller, Aler!!” shouts Alex, “Go, go, go!!” the classroom is a hive of activity now.   Christina is not idle, her knife skills are awesome. While the other students fumble with their pile of produce Christina’s knife is a blur, gunfire fast and… she’s done!

The Turbot is slapped on the table. Alex explains how to cut out the spine of the flat fish; fins are removed and the remaining carcass is cut into 5 palm size chunks. I’m tasked with preparing the second fish; I manage not to make a mess of it. That done, the bucket containing 40 very active crawfish is dumped on the table. Alex shows us once, grab the head, firmly pull and twist the tail and all struggling decreases. Then the middle fin of the tail is turned, twisted and pulled thus removing the intestine.  All the crawfish heads are thrown into a bowl and transferred to a liquidizer (yes really) and ground into an unappetizing brown slush. Think the color and consistency of dog vomit.  A large pan is already smoking hot on the stovetop. I tip the brown mess into the pan starting the sauté process; the aroma of this mess cooking is less than appealing. Alex throws in a cup of Cognac the pan flambés and suddenly my saliva glands recognize, lobster bisque. The 5 other students have been equally busy. Christina has found two bottles of white wine, Voila!  4 Duck breasts appear. Tendons, otherwise known as sliver skin are removed, the fatty skin is scored with a sharp knife and the breasts are trimmed and are speedily transferred onto the stovetop. Lots of activity now. The artichokes are being simmered in cream. The fish chunks are being transferred to a smoking hot pan, leeks are simmering and the duck is starting to smell wonderful. Plates are put in the warming drawer and Christina is pouring more wine.   We quickly plate with a swirl of pureed vegetables and beautiful presentation.  Was it all delicious?  Oui!

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