Taking part in a course with Chef Loic Malfait, Culinary Academic Director, and Chef Reginald Loos, Cuisine Master Chef, at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in London, is not only fun but also a privilege. Far from being your usual networking evening, earlier this week journalists convened at the culinary school and were greeted with their own chef’s whites. I left my journalism persona outside when I stepped into the kitchen and explored my new realm: an induction cooktop with pots and pans, a chopping board and a sharp knife. I do cook on a regular basis and have produced appealing plates of food before, but how would I fare outside my comfort zone? Would I be unsettled, bold, would I be glued to the instructions or scared to get my hands dirty? We started off with the omelette challenge inspired by the film The Hundred-FootJourney, in which Helen Mirren’s character assesses the quality of her young chefs by letting them cook her an omelette. Equally inspired by the film – featuring an Indian family finding their feet in French cuisine – we gave it an Indian twist but always following the French rules: curry powder and lots of fresh herbs, with a lightly golden brown tinge and a half-moon shape. I soon discovered that following the instructions and concentrating is the way forward. My omelette looked the part and tasted perfect! Praise from Chef Loic finally did it for me – my inner chef was awakened.
The omelette was followed by instructions to whip up monkfish mouclade, chickpea mousseline and baby vegetables, most of it cooked from scratch by a bunch of inexperienced journalists and to be eaten by those same journalists for dinner. Notebook out and pen to the ready, my instant thought was: 'this is going to be complicated'. But it turns out, it wasn’t really. With a cool head I reduced the sauce, seared the fish and boiled the veg in no time at all. Am I the chef that I never dreamed of? Or just an enthusiastic hobby cook? The whole experience certainly brought home to me the conditions our esteemed FOUR chefs have to work every day. It’s hot, you’re under pressure, it’s a question of seconds whether your produce will be pitch-perfect or completely ruined and you do make a lot of mess.
My appreciation and respect for the craft of cooking has definitely intensified. But I can also see how much fun it is to produce something beautiful that is also incredibly enjoyable to devour, bringing a smile to people’s faces. The pressure is certainly immense and the journey towards a Michelin star, as shown so well in The Hundred-Foot Journey, is a rocky one, but I feel I have come closer to understanding why they keep doing it.
The Hundred-Foot Journey is released in cinemas on September 5th.