Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Behind the scenes at Dip & Flip

Whatever the question, the answer is always dip. Always.

My life can now be divided into BG and AG - Before Gravy and After Gravy. I'd never really thought that much about gravy until the last few weeks. Have you? Do you lie awake at night pondering how to create the perfect combination of meatiness, juice and flavour? Do drops of the brown stuff dance in front of your eyes while crammed onto the Tube like a sardine in a gravy boat? Ah. Just me then. 

So let's go back to the start: Before Gravy. The story begins with a new London restaurant, Dip & Flip. We'll break it down - pay attention now. The dipping - that's the gravy part - dipping burgers, roast beef and lamb. The flipping, well that's the burgers. 

Dip & Flip opened in Battersea Rise last month and my job was to set up and manage the kitchen. Having met with the business partners and owner Tim Lees I jumped into the stock pot head first. Nathan Richardson, Sous-Chef at The Ship, had designed the recipes and all I had to do was set up the kitchen processes and design. Yes, I wasn't quite sure what I was letting myself in for either.

So 'burgers' I hear you mutter..hardly original now are they? Ah, this dear reader is a burger so good that if you had to abandon all other burgers and spend your life with just one, this is the burger for you. A burger that is proud of its messiness. A burger that is not afraid to stand up and have a pickle lovingly placed on it. A burger that wants to, nay, yearns to be dipped in sweet gravy. A 6oz patty cooked on a chrome plated griddle that creates a crust and adds flavour. Topped with cabbage slaw and pickles. Dripping with secret cheese sauce. All wrapped up in a shiny brioche bun. How about adding roast beef dipped in gravy?

Oh. Yes. We. Did.

Dip & Flip burger with roast beef dipped in...gravy

A few days before the restaurant opened we had a soft opening for friends. An hour into service I was close to screaming and running out the door gravy ladle in-hand. It was one of those moments when you start to think what-the-hell-am-I-doing-here-why-amn't-I-back-in-my-nice-safe-HR-job-and-why-did-I-want-to-be-a-chef-anyway. In moments like that the only thing that keeps you from running away is pride. That and not wanting to roam the streets of South London in chef's whites and clogs. 

After many sleepless nights we set up the kitchen processes, organised the sections and the following week were open for business. Along with the other amazing chefs everything was put in place. Looking back now it seems a blur of gravy...Tube...burgers...gravy...Tube...gravy...

It isn't rocket science. This is fast-casual food. But it is food that will temporarily transport you to a happier place, all with gravy.

Let me tell you that gravy is a labour of love. We start with making stock from beef bones, which takes 2 days of tender loving care. This beautiful stock is the basis for the gravy, which at last count is being consumed at approximately 30 litres a day. 

Now I could talk and talk all day about making stock, gravy and about that burger. But what it comes down to for a new opening is does the customer like it? That's all that matters. 

Yes, they do. Check out the Dip & Flip Twitter for some of the feedback. There's also been some really positive reviews from ThrillistBurger Affair and Burger Anarchy. The Evening Standard featured it in the top restaurants for man eaters last week. Lady eaters, don't worry, I've showed a few of those burgers who's the boss and so should you. Rumour has it that even John Torode of MasterChef was spotted dipping and flipping at the weekend. 

I can't wait to see how Dip & Flip grows. If you haven't been, for the love of gravy, please do.
Dip & Flip
87 Battersea Rise, London SW11 1HW
Open 7 days a week 
Nearest station Clapham Junction

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Blog Awards Ireland 2013

Last night my Irish agent, AKA my Mum, rang to tell me some surprising and thrilling news...Cuisine Genie has made it through to the finalist stage in the Blog Awards Ireland


Thank you so much to the judges for putting me through in the Best Blog of the Diaspora category. The winner will be announced on the 12th of October. In the meantime I'm doing a little happy dance in my kitchen. Shake it.

Sometimes you just gotta turn up the music and dance like no one is watching, and thank God that they aren't ;-)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Cuisine Genie is currently locked in toasty hot kitchens, having the time of her life, sleeping on the Tube, eating on the go. And making gravy. Tonnes and tonnes of gravy. So much gravy the world has never seen before. 

And apparently now refers to herself in the third person. Ahem. What's that about?

Do you like gravy? Who doesn't like a proper gravy? Yes, dear reader, if gravy be the food of love, then pass the gravy boat.

In my next blog post I'll reveal the story behind the gravy ramblings...but in the meantime I wanted to say thank you to the lovely Blog Awards Ireland for including me in the shortlist for the Best Blog of the Diaspora! I've celebrated with a little shot of gravy, neat. 

In other news Mr. Moustache has taken over the kitchen at home. In these tough times when there's no cooking at home we all have a part to play. 

Further update to follow very soon Xx

PS: Mum, if you're reading (and you better be) told you I would update soon :-)

Monday, August 26, 2013

On being a chef and other things I never thought I'd write...

'Cooking is like love, it should be entered into with abandon or not at all'
Harriet van Horne.

Sometimes love can you take you strange places. Like the glamorous world of being a chef. Aching feet, burnt fingers, sweaty, tired, strange pains, always smelling like onions-garlic-fennel-fish-replace with any food group here. Yes. It's all about the glamour...

If you’ve met me on the Tube recently I'd like to apologise. For being that slightly deranged individual shooting murderous looks at you as you innocently sit down. You see for the next 14 hours I’m going to be on my feet and it’s hard not to want to grab you and scream “That's my seat! Out! OUT!” But I bite my tongue and think pleasant thoughts about the three crates of fennel I'm about to chop instead. 

Last year I was business suited, long nails always manicured and high heeled. Now it's chef's whites, clumpy black safety trainers and the only attention my non-existent nails get are peeling the blue plasters off them. 

When I went into my first London kitchen, the Michelin Star L'Autre Pied, my nerves were somewhat calmed to find out one of the chefs had lived around the corner from my parents in Dublin. So we played that Irish-abroad-game of 'Do you know so-and-so?' while I chopped, peeled and breathed in the life of a professional kitchen. After two days of 15 hour shifts and three hours sleep I was suddenly terrified that I'd made a horrible mistake. What was I thinking leaving my job to do this? As I sat on the couch the next day with aching feet, pains where I didn't know pains could be and smelling of onions (I'd washed, it just never goes) I was scared, and feeling old. At thirty I'm almost fossil-like in kitchen years. But if anyone asks I'm 24.

When I met Gary O'Hanlon, Head Chef of Viewmount House in Co.Longford last year he encouraged me to follow this crazy dream - but to be sure I really wanted it. "It's not glamorous, you won't get famous, but if you want it and work hard enough, you'll be a Chef". With his words ringing in my ears I went straight back into the kitchen.

Something makes you go back and want to keep doing it over and over again. There are easier ways to make a living. But something makes you want to spend hours on your feet in front of massive pots of boiling water, gigantic grills and fryers, scorching hot plates, pulling trays out of ovens with flimsy towels while juggling three pans and remembering your meat only needs another minute in the oven before you ruin it and end up in the weeds during service. And that's the fun part.

Every kitchen has its own personality, but there are some similarities. The atmosphere is always fast paced. During mise en place in the morning to set up for lunchtime service you'll be prepping as quickly as you can. When service begins it feels like someone has tightened the atmosphere with a cork screw. Cheque on! One tuna Nicoise, three crayfish salad, one sea bass. You listen out to all the orders and focus on your dishes while still keeping an eye on everyone else's as you need to be ready to plate with them. It's a beautiful organised chaos and a pure adrenalin rush. When service finishes you clean down your section, wipe out your fridge drawers and make sure you're ready to go for the morning. That's the glamorous part they don't show on TV. After service winding down can take hours. On the Tube home party goers are heading out, while I sit there scented with eau de garlic. My bed is calling but sleep never comes easily as I replay the day over and over in my head. 

There is so much to learn in a professional kitchen and I'm just at the start of it. Mistakes are common. Like the happy time I threw broad beans and peas into the same pan and spent an hour separating them. I won't do that again. Everything is on a massive scale. Think of cooking your dinner at home. Now replicate that for 50, 100, 150 customers, to a consistently high standard, night after night. Learning the kitchen lingo, getting used to the equipment, learning the unspoken rules. Don't touch the other chefs' knives. Don't take food, equipment, anything, from someone's section, or if you must, ask first. Then put it back. Make yourself as small as possible to work in a tight area while standing your ground to make sure you get enough space. Learning how to take direct open criticism (I'm being very polite here). Figuring out how to stop your hand shaking when you're quenelling during service. 

It's a tough aggressive environment to work in. You wouldn't want to be sensitive, to put it lightly. But what has stood out to me is how welcoming chefs have been and willing to share their expertise. One of the best bits is the banter. There is a camaraderie in kitchens that is different from other work places. Maybe it's the long hours, confined spaces and nature of the work, but you need that camaraderie to get you through the day and keep you going when a table comes in at 5 minutes to closing.

Since April I've been working in The Ship, one of London's finest gastro pubs where the Manager Oisin Rogers and Head Chef Shaun kindly gave me my first job. I've also been doing stages (work experience) in other restaurants. When I tell people I gave up my job to do this they look at me as if I'm slightly mad. Maybe they're right. When I wake up aching I sometimes think they are. 

But between you and me I'm having the time of my life and wish I'd realised it sooner. Service please! 
This article also appeared in the Irish Times in August 2013. 
Enjoyed this? You can read about why in a fit of mild insanity I gave up my job in HR for hot kitchens here.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A love story: One Frenchman and his Lunchbox

Set in London, One Frenchman and his Lunchbox tells the true story of what happens when one man meets the Lunchbox of his dreams. 

Man meets Lunchbox

Man loves Lunchbox. 

And they lived happily ever after. The End.

One Frenchman and his Lunchbox
(A very short film)

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Stuffed Sandwich Lunchbox

Now putting an Irish breakfast, fish and chips and mini beef wellingtons into lunchboxes is all well and good. But sometimes you just need a proper sandwich. Yes you do. 

Now, not a hang sandwich. Readers outside of Ireland may not be familiar with the delight that is a hang or ham sandwich. This my friend is a stuffed chicken, apricot, pancetta and feta sandwich. It won't change your life, but it will make you feel a little smug as your co-workers tuck into their limp wraps and yours has a green ribbon on it. 

What do you mean you never tie green ribbons around your sandwiches? This is clearly a useful way to spend your time. 

So for this week's Lunchbox Of the Week we gobbled up these stuffed ciabatta rolls. 

Preparation time 10 minutes. Makes two ciabatta rolls. 

2 ciabatta rolls
Handful of salad leaves
110g/4oz chicken pieces
30g/1oz dried apricots
55g/2oz feta cheese
2 slices pancetta, cooked 

Take 2 ciabatta rolls and cut out a lid for your sandwich. Then hollow out the roll by removing the bread inside (you can keep this for a quick stuffing). Like so:

Then build up the sandwich starting with a layer of salad leaves, then chicken, apricots, feta, pancetta, finishing with another layer of salad leaves. Or do it whatever way you like, I'm a little bossy today. Like so:

Then pop the lid back on top. Here's the how-to photo:

At this stage you can either eat it straight away. Or wrap up tightly in cling film and weigh down with a board overnight to compress the ingredients. 

Parcel up in baking paper and a green ribbon. Do I need to go over the green ribbon thing again? It's a vital component. 

Then gobble up, content in the fact that you have the nicest lunchbox. Oh yes you do.

Liked this? You may also enjoy our other lunchbox ideas if you're looking for some new lunch ideas. 

Friday, August 09, 2013

The return of the Lunchbox

Mr. Moustache's Lunchbox has been sadly empty over the last while. Each day he looks forlornly inside it and each day I point out where the cooker is.

As a result it's stayed empty. But today he's fist pumping. Oh yes. The Lunchbox Of The Week is back.

Now for this honourable occasion I have rustled up a splendid feast of...

Wait for it...

Sausages and chips. 

What can I say, he's a lucky man. 

I present to you - the Kidult Lunchbox packed with the childhood favourite of sausages and chips. Mr. Moustache assures me that he did in fact grow up on a diet of foie gras sandwiches, lobster burgers and frogs' legs nuggets.

Unfortunately for him I only had a few sausages in the fridge. Not to worry, there's always next week.

Sprial puff pastry sausage rolls with herb oven fries and tomato and apple chutney 

You can take a peek at our other lunchboxes here The spiral sausage rolls would work well for party food too - for adults or kids.

Preparation time 12 minutes. Cooking time 30 minutes. 

Sausage rolls (makes approximately 20 mini rolls) 
1 ready made puff pastry sheet
4 good quality butcher sausages (or 200g/7oz good quality pork mince) 
Wooden sticks (optional) available in craft shops or your friendly local cafe...
1 egg, beaten 
Poppy seeds, sesame seeds (optional)

Herb oven fries (serves 2) 
3 potatoes suitable for roasting (e.g. Maris Piper, Rooster)
Fresh basil, chopped
Sea salt, pepper to serve
Oil for baking

Tomato and apple chutney (makes approximately 2 jars)
190ml/1/3 pint malt vinegar
150g/5oz soft brown sugar
90g/3oz sultanas
2 x 390g tin chopped tomatoes 
200g/4oz red apples, roughly chopped
2 red onions, peeled and roughly chopped
Sea salt, pepper for seasoning

How to

Preheat oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6.


Place the vinegar and sugar in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Cook for approximately 3 minutes until the sugar has melted. Add all the other ingredients, bring to the boil and cook for approximately 20 - 30 minutes, while stirring frequently. I like to grate a little extra apple through before serving.


While the chutney is cooking slice the potatoes into chunky fries. Parboil in a saucepan of boiling water for approximately 5 minutes. Drain the fries and place on a baking sheet, drizzle generously with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until crunchy. Sprinkle with the chopped basil just before serving. 

Sausage spiral rolls

Place the pork mince in a bowl, season with salt and pepper. You could add some nutmeg or sage also. If using sausages peel off the outer skin and add herbs if using. For the spiral sausage rolls cut thin strips from the puff pastry sheet. Pinch off bite size portions of the meat and shape into a sausage shape. Wrap the puff pastry around the meat starting at the top and ensure that both ends of the pastry strip are on the bottom of the meat (the side that will be touching the baking sheet). If using the wooden sticks cut them to the desired length and pop into each spiral roll. 

You could freeze them at this stage if you like. Brush the pastry with the beaten egg and sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds if using. 

For the traditional sausage roll shape cut the pastry sheet into two. Divide the meat into two and spread along the length of each sheet leaving a 1cm edge. Roll the pastry tightly around the meat and brush the ends with the beaten egg to secure. Cut each piece into approximately 10 pieces. Brush with more beaten egg and sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds if using. 

Bake the sausage rolls on a baking sheet for 25 minutes until the pastry is puffed up and golden and the meat has cooked through. 

Liked this? Take a look at our other lunchboxes for some more ideas...

Friday, August 02, 2013

Healthy Southern Fried Chicken

Before I started cookery school I thought I'd be conjuring up fancy treats at home, all nonchalant like.  

Picturing myself boning and stuffing swans, poaching and dressing salmon up in their Sunday best. Constructing intricate Eiffel-Tower-like croquembouches, puff pastry skyscrapers, mill(ion) feuilles and spun sugar baskets. 

Yes, I'm still laughing too. 

Truth be told, since finishing school there's been a lot of toasted cheese and I've perfected the three minute omelette (break, whisk, pour, consume in 3 seconds). 

After spending the day working in a restaurant sometimes you just want simple, no frills food. Like this homemade Southern Fried Chicken with sweet potato chips and onion rings. Let's leave the dressed salmon alone for a little while...

Homemade Southern Fried Chicken with sweet potato chips and onion rings

Serves 4. Preparation time 15 minutes, cooking time 30 minutes. £1.11 per serving. 

Sweet potato chips and onion rings
4 sweet potatoes
2 red or white onions

Southern Fried chicken
200ml/7 fl oz buttermilk
4 chicken breasts
100g/4oz plain flour
3 tsp paprika
3 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground white pepper
pinch sea salt
oil, for frying and baking

How to

1. Preheat oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6.

2. Slice each breast into approximately 5 strips. Place all the chicken into a bowl with the buttermilk. If you have time you can soak the chicken overnight in the buttermilk to make it even more tender.

3. Slice the sweet potatoes into chips and the onions into rings. Brush oil onto baking sheet, bake chips for 20 mins. After 20 mins add the onion rings and bake for 10 mins.

4. While the vegetables are cooking, place the flour, paprika, cumin, pepper and sea salt into a large bowl and stir to combine. Heat 1cm vegetable oil in a large frying pan. For a healthier version you can use less oil. Heat the oil until a cube of bread browns almost immediately. Shake excess buttermilk from the chicken and roll each piece in the seasoned flour. Place a layer of chicken in the frying pan and cook for approximately 4 minutes each side until cooked through and golden on the outside. Blot with kitchen paper.

5. Serve the chicken with sweet potato chips and onion rings. Cutlery is optional, we're all friends here. 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Cooking lunch/dinner...be back soon...

Dear Reader,

And by reader I mean my mum. Hiyah Mum. 

I'm writing to let you know that I'm still here and normal service will resume shortly. 

The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of HOT kitchens (I mean Bikram hot kitchens) and the only recipes I can think about posting involve a large glass, ice and a long shot of H2O. See that little puddle melting in the corner there? That's me. 

Somebody has been looking sadly at his empty lunchbox for a while now. I won't mention names but he's French and may or may not have a moustache...

So next week we'll be back with some lunchbox recipes. In the meantime please excuse me while I go and pop my head into the fridge. 

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

School's out...and what happens next...?

It's official - school's out. The Leiths diploma finished at the end of June. After 6 months of classes, demonstrations, fun, butter, learning new skills, ironing aprons, cream/butter and grinning everyday day that I got to do this, it's finally over.

And now it's back to the real world. Gulp.

Since finishing school a whole new set of adventures have begun. This time last year I'd just landed across the water in London and was feeling terrified about leaving everything behind in Ireland to follow this crazy dream. If you told me back then what I'd get to do this year I'd probably still be laughing. The last two weeks have been a whirlwind and here's a little taster of what's been happening...

Like working alongside the brilliant Mickael Weiss of Coq D'Argent at Taste of London. Working with Action Against Hunger we recreated 5 star burger designed by top London chefs and the stand was the busiest at the festival. Which translates to over 2,000 burgers in one day. I kind of went off burgers for a little while after that. There I am now with Mickael, showing that bacon who's the boss. 

Having met Mickael I harassed him jumped at the chance to work at his restaurant last week. Which turned out to be one of the busiest days they've had all year. WHAT a day/evening/night. I wish I could describe properly the adrenalin rush during service. How everything else fades away and all you concentrate on is getting the best food out, in the quickest way. How afterwards when you get home your mind won't switch off as you replay every little thing you saw and did in the kitchen. How you only realise your legs and feet are aching when you sit down after a 15 hour shift.

Fruits de mers and plating up beef carpaccio at Coq d'Argent

While cookery school can teach you skills and techniques, there is no substitute for real restaurant experience. Since April I've been lucky enough to gain experience working as a part time chef at  The Ship in Wandsworth. General Manager Oisin and Head Chef Shaun kindly gave me my first opportunity.

And we do the best burgers in London. So I got used to burgers again. Roll on more sunny days like last Sunday at The Ship. Just when you think you couldn't get any hotter than being on a sticky Tube why not stand beside three grills?

Speaking of having fun in kitchens (and we were, weren't we?). How about 1,000 pancakes and maple syrup? Otherwise known as Canada Day in Trafalgar Square with the Dine Mile High Club and some other lovely Leiths students.

Hungry Canadians in Trafalgar Square

From crazy kitchens to developing my other love of food styling and assisting the wonderful Food Stylist, Laura Fyfe. Learning all the different elements involved in a food shoot is a fascinating process and one which I'm keen to experience more of.

Props at a food styling shoot

I've also dipped my whisk into teaching and am working with Venturi's Table cookery school where students create Italian treats including beautiful handmade pasta.

In between all of that there's also been some time to enjoy the glorious sunshine and eat out in Greenwich. Sure you'd have to, it would be rude not to. All food has been consumed for the purposes of career research.

Ice-cream sampling in Greenwich 

Ah, what a fun 2 weeks.  I'm typing this sitting by the South Bank, the sun is shining, the birds are chirping (OK, it's pigeons pecking at my feet) and it feels like things are going to get even more exciting.

One thing that has stood out over the past few months is how friendly and helpful people have been. Meeting people who are so passionate about food and willing to share their expertise has helped me so much and I'm very grateful.

What happens next? Well the plan is to work as a chef while also doing free lance catering, cheffing, food styling, writing and teaching roles. 

This time last year I didn't know what was in store. A part of me is still terrified, but the other bigger part (full of cream and butter now) is having the time of her life and hopes it never ends.

In the words of Julia Child, 'Cooking is like love, it should be entered into with abandon or not at all'. 

So let's go for it...

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Bursting the cookery school bubble...not quite yet


There goes the last 6 months in Leiths. We're heading into our final week and after my practical exam on the 27th of June school will officially be out. 

When did that happen? It's been a 6 month blur of indulgence, fun and hard work. And butter. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a cookery school student in possession of a recipe must add more butter. Except when you add (way) too much to your pomme purée and it turns into a pomme mousseline. But that's OK because that's what you meant to do. Yes it was. Everyone likes a potato mousse. 

Rabbit pie, roast saddle stuffed with black pudding, pancetta and spring greens
Deep fried rabbit confit and baby veg
Prosecco sabayon, pistachio parfait, strawberry mille feuille and strawberry coulis

But I'm not quite ready to let it go just yet. Not quite ready to stop consuming copious amounts of baked goods on the Tube (it's a long journey, sustenance is needed). Not quite ready to stop the cheesy cookery school jokes. I'd tell you them but you might not like me very much after. 

 Purely coincidental I ended up with this particular crab. Which ended up as a tian.

Hand-made pasta with chicken mouselline and a morel and broad bean sauce
Hand-made sausages with hot raw beetroot and caramelised apples

Between you and me and the potato mousse, I'm 8 parts excited, 2 parts terrified mixed with a generous sprinkle of bring-it-on,  about what might happen next. So while I get stuck into theory exam revision I'm thinking about the last 6 months with a misty-eyed fondness. I wouldn't change a sugar-coated second of it.

Really it's Mr. Moustache I feel sorry for. He's grown accustomed to treats like foie gras parfait and a loaf of brioche on a Wednesday followed by rabbit three ways. Or a whole lobster to feast on. Or eating a crab with my name on it. 

Someone needs to tell him to get his apron on...

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Friday, May 31, 2013

The Cookery School Bubble

In the (butter-coated) bubble that is cookery school it's easy to forget there's a whole other world out there. 

A world where if you can't bone a tiny little quail it's OK. Trust me, it's harder than it looks. Ahem.

Or where pomme purée are mashed spuds. Would a potato by any other name taste as good?

Or where puff pastry involved me opening a packet. 

This time last year my world was like that. Now it's hard to imagine it any other way. Silky, creamy pomme purée that you really could eat all day. Where have you been all my life? 

Or the things I never thought I'd get to spend my days doing. 

Like getting to shuck my first oyster. Cook my first snails. Make my first danish pastries. Spatchcocking just for the pure hell of it. Sure why not, it's Friday. Or emptying a pork intestine. Oooh, hang on, that's not 'til next week. 

Ah, cookery school is a beautiful world and there're only 4 weeks left. 


In the meantime, I'd better get working on my boning skills...

Tuna, fennel, asparagus salad, Sweet pastry with strawberry coulis

Almond butter Danish pastries, Sweetbreads with pomme purée and vegetables

Prawn Laksa, Oyster
Scallops with cous cous and fennel purée, Snails with chorizo, leeks and beurre noisette
Spatchcocked quail salad, Pain de Gêne (almond cake)
You may also like...

The Non-Expert Cookery School Survival Kit

Advanced term at Leiths

Intermediate term at Leiths

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Another week in Leiths...

'If you're afraid of butter, use cream' said Julia Child

Butter and cream - two of the sweetest legal substances known to the human race. 

And if you're scared of cream then just use butter. But never low fat butter. 

My first croissants *may* contain butter

Life really is too short and I'm trying to remember every second of my last term in Leiths. When I'm a wizened old woman with hardened butter-clogged arteries I hope I'll look back at this week and smile remembering just what it was all like...

Monday started off with hand-made crab and prawn tortellini and warm asparagus and mozarella salad with salsa verde.  

Followed by a treat-filled Tuesday with a full day of making petit fours. Macarons, marshmallows, fondant fancies, chocolate truffles. I solemnly swear I gave away a lot of them. It seemed like the wrong right thing to do. 

Wine Wednesdays? Yes, every Wednesday should be a wine Wednesday. It was school trip time for a trip to two English vineyards with tastings. Sure it would have been rude not to don't you think?

Then back in the kitchens on Thursday for some more pasta and pan-fried gnocchi with a sage beurre noisette. With plenty of vegetables for good measure. 

And finally on Friday, watching a dessert plating demonstration by our teacher. One we'll have to recreate in a few weeks. Followed by making rabbit ravioli and red pepper and tomato consommé. 

This time last year my weeks were nothing like this, and I ate low fat butter. Guess which is more fun? 

6 weeks to go...

You may also like...

The Non-Expert Cookery School Survival Kit

Advanced term at Leiths
Intermediate term at Leiths

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

My first Irish kitchen - Viewmount House, Longford

'Welcome Home', the passport control man grinned at me in Dublin airport. I nearly split my face grinning back. Are there any two sweeter words?

What about - 'Yes CHEF'

Last weekend I went home to experience my very first Irish kitchen. 

I had the fortune of getting to know talented Head Chef, Gary O'Hanlon last year. Gary is the man responsible for the award winning Viewmount House restaurant in Longford. You might also have seen him on RTE's 'The Restaurant' and he just recently won the Best Chef in Longford Award. His encouragement has kept me motivated on this crazy journey.

So when he invited me to spend a weekend working with him I jumped up and down at the chance. A dignified jumping up and down of course. After landing in Dublin on Friday night I jetted across to Longford early on Saturday morning. 

Going into a new kitchen is a terrifying fun-filled experience. Finding out where everything is, praying you won't embarass yourself (too much) and wanting to learn everything you can. Gary showed me around and set me to work on prep. His energy is contagious and you can see straight away how much he loves the restaurant. 

His menu highlights local produce and his main focus is that it must always taste fabulous. He got that one right anyway. It not only tastes fabulous but looks beautiful too. Throughout the day he explained each dish and why they were doing things a certain way. The emphasis is always on developing flavours and doing it the best way possible. 
Professional kitchens are always fast paced, but right before service it gets turned up a notch. On Saturday night in Viewmount it was like someone twisted a speed dial that tightens the atmosphere and you literally can feel it quicken. 

During service I stood by Gary and Sous Chef Daniel at the pass and tried to take everything in. It's impossible to take it all in: Gary shouting out orders, Daniel plating up, waitresses coming in and out. Roasting hot stoves, 10 pans on the go, 15 dishes being worked on at once. It's a buzz like no other and there are a thousand little things happening at the same time. Watching four Chefs dart in around each other, plating up dishes is a spine tingling experience. Each dish must taste and look perfect. As Gary put it - 'If it's on a plate I'm happy with it'. 

Then I had the honour of eating my way through the menu. Standing at the pass eating beside the roaring Chef who created the dishes is perhaps not the most relaxing meal, but one of the best. Like pork cheeks that fall apart in your mouth, quail leg confit, mussels, nettle risotto...and the list went on... Each dish has a combination of flavours that sing a little song in your mouth and make you feel happy. Pure happiness. In response to roars of 'Did you enjoy that Laoise?' I struggled to find the words to describe it properly. 

Later on I got to experience the pastry kitchen and help Pastry Chef Sam plate up desserts like peanut butter parfait and crème caramel with black carrot cake (coloured with squid ink). Away from the main kitchen it's a little cooler, but the intense pace is still there.
That night I lay awake running through the day in my head, wishing it was time to do it all over again. Then it was. Having won The Georgina Campbell Guide's Sunday Lunch of the year 2012, Viewmount is always booked out on Sundays. 

After working on prep Gary told me I'd be plating up the ham hock terrine I'd made with him the day before and would be responsible for it during service.


Cue heart racing and sweaty, shaky hands. There were quenelles involved. Oh dear. 

I tried to look calm. This is what my dreams are made of and no words can do justice to how I felt plating up and handing the dishes over to the pass...SERVICE! It's these type of moments that make all the work and sleepless nights worth it. 

My first terrine plated up at the pass

So that's it, 36 hours in Longford. What a 36 hours. To complete the experience Gary kindly let me accompany him during his demonstration at the Gourmet Greystones festival on Sunday evening. 

Phew. I fell onto the plane back to London, tired but oh so happy. 

Of course there're also some details that Gary promised to keep secret. Like broadbeangate. But that's a whole other story and sure you don't want to hear about that now do you? There were broad beans and a lot of peeling going on. Let's just leave it at that. 

Thank you to Gary for letting me into his amazing kitchen and Daniel, Sam, Woijtek and Mateus for making me feel so welcome.  And to the friendliest hosts, Beryl and James for their hospitality. If you're looking for a weekend away in Ireland in gorgeous surroundings with exquisite food, don't look any further. I can't wait to see when Viewmount has a star hanging over its front door. 
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