Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Chef Diaries - Martijn Kajuiter

Let's Go Disco! 

Martijn is the Executive Chef of the Michelin Star House Restaurant in the Cliff House Hotel in West Waterford. From the Netherlands, he moved to Ireland in 2007 having previously worked with  some of the biggest names in the industry including; Michel Roux, Pierre Koffman and Marco Pierre White. 

In his beautiful book ‘Let’s Go Disco’, Martijn describes the cooking style in the House and sets out step by step instructions of how to re-create some of his recipes. The photos in the book will have you wanting to jump right in and start cooking. Or just sit back and admire them. In 2010 the House restaurant was awarded a Michelin Star and is a superb dining destination in Ireland.

He’s also quite possibly the tallest person I’ve met. 6 foot 8 inches if you’re wondering. 

When did you realise you wanted to become a Chef?

I can’t quite put my finger on one moment, I just did it. I loved to eat so that helps. 

How did you become a Chef?

Martijn started cooking in his parents' restaurants, then at 16 moved to Amsterdam. After writing to 30 of the Top 500 Restaurants in the Netherlands he was taken on by Les Quatres Canetons and Head Chef Wynand Vogel . He then worked his way up, and luckily for us, landed in Ireland. He describes how he became a Chef by working hard and compensating my lack of talent with even more hard work

How would you describe your style of cooking?

I leave that for others to describe. I would just say that the way we do it is mine!
Garden vegetable salad dish

Raspberry carmel, custard and cookie, basil pastry cream and marshmallow
compressed cucumber and whipped sauce, Coca Cola jelly and tapioca
How would your team describe you?

Hmm, I don't know – you can ask them …a few are on Twitter, so it's easy to ask them directly. But I guess they will say that I am the nicest and most flexible Chef they have ever worked for ;-)

Can you describe a ‘typical’ day in the life of a Chef?

Every day is and can be different. The only steady factor is that it starts early and ends very late. 

Is it true that it helps to be a little bit mad to be a Chef?

It depends on what kind of Chef you are...But in general it helps indeed.

What is the most common misconception about what Chefs are like?

Oufff, I can only speak about the misconceptions some people may have of me. Apparently I am difficult, arrogant and a bully, which indeed is not very positive. I think that you have to translate it as being professional, straight, clear and taking nothing else than the best you can.

Do you have a signature dish?

I guess I have a few. It sounds very normal – but for example our smoked salmon dish has been on the menu since we opened in May/June 2008. It’s not the same now as it was then, but it’s a signature.

                                          Smoked salmon dish, salmon ballotine, cured salmon
                                              Beetroot, cucumber pearls and salmon ice cream

What is the best thing about being a Chef?

The best thing is that cooking for yourself or the family is done in no time.

What is the worst thing about being a Chef?

The Paranoia.

What do you typically eat when you’re not working?

When not working I eat swift one pot wonders. If I'm with my family, we keep it very normal. We roast a whole chicken, with some salad and potatoes and pasta dishes. We also love Indonesian food, so quite diverse ,but never too spicy.

What has been the best moment of your career so far?

The best moment was when the Cliff House Hotel opened for guests. For the first time I was in charge of a big operation with a clean slate to work off in a foreign country.

What has been the toughest moment of your career?

10 October 2012. The sudden death of James Rehill ( Junior Sous Chef). He did not show up for work, which was very odd as he was always first in. He was found dead in his house down the road from the hotel. Everybody was devastated, that day and night's service were the hardest ever. May he rest in peace. 

How do you feel during service each night?

That we have to win - no matter what the cost.

How do you feel after service each night?

That we did not waste our time  - there are easier ways to make a living.

Turbot and crab velouté with grilled fennel, confit fennel and purée, saffron yogurt and 
Crab 'Bloody Mary' canneloni stuffing

Are professional kitchens the way we see them on TV – full of roaring Chefs?

The Roaring Chef sells, so that’s what we see. It's very easy to copy-paste 100 hours of filming into a 5 x 20 minute series where the Chef is an absolute idiot. It would be nice to see the other bits at times as well. That would give a bit of perspective on some matters. 

What advice would you give to anyone who dreams of becoming a Chef?

I would say that if you dream to be a Chef – go for it! Start as early as possible and for the first few years he or she needs to get the widest experience possible. Learn the basics well. Master the classic kitchen and work your way up slowly in several different kitchens on different levels. Change workplace every year and try to go to a place that attracts you personally. What is important for every trainee Chef is that they create their own identity, work with Chefs who inspire and are genuine but be careful not to become a clone of them.

Also don’t be persuaded to make a career too quickly as it is of course very attractive to become Sous or Head Chef and have a great pay and a shot of fame in the early stages. But your culinary “repertoire and vocabulary” needs to grow, and I strongly believe that that is the key foundation for a strong career in our industry. The food porn bit comes later.
Apricot and apple mint gel with a white chocolate vanilla and cider parfait sphere

If you weren’t a Chef what would you be doing with your life?

I can't imagine life not being what I am and what I do right now. But I would have loved to be a Test Driver for Lamborghini or a professional athlete. 

What do most people not know about you?

Every now and then I go for a filthy gigantic kebab. Yes I am only human and I do eat dirty food  sometimes. 

Definitely not a kebab...Mushrooms on toast with bone marrow butter

And finally, can I have a job please? Maybe someday ;-) 

I never say never...

Oooh I'll take that as a maybe then

A special thank you to Martijn for answering the questions and his photos. If you haven't been to the Cliff House Hotel and House Restaurant you need to go. Quickly. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Back To School: Week One Advanced Term

Do you remember that back to school feeling after the holidays? A little nervous but excited at the same? Will the other kids still talk to me? Or dreading Algebra/Geography/whatever it was.

Ah, this time around it's just a mixture of excitement and nerves. Week one of the advanced term in Leiths started back with a retro bang and some kitchen magic. 

              Crispy duck salad with star anise dressing      Chocolate roulade

The retro fun was this lovely little fella - let me introduce Walter. There he is now dressed in his finest:

Walter, the dressed trout

And the kitchen magic was the demonstration on the wonder of clearing. It's a process where you transform a cloudy substance into a crystal-clear one by removing every solid particle using fine filters (egg whites). The end results are beautiful dishes like consommés and clear jellies with strong flavours and sparkle. You've always got to have a little bit of sparkle. 

Done properly it's a labour of love for your nearest and dearest. Our teachers were so enthusiastic about the wonder of it they have you wanting to rush home and clear everything you can get your hands on. In Heston Blummenthal's words, making a consommé is the true test of a Chef. We'll be getting our wands out in the coming weeks...

On Thursday I took part in a recipe testing session with some other students for an upcoming Leiths' app. The app is designed for home cooks with features including timed recipes, cookery terms and conversions and lots more. I love how it plans your time for you including reminders throughout the process. Lots of dishes were tested on the night including the monkfish and duck below. After tasting the dishes and seeing the features it's on my list for when it's launched next month. 

A week in Leiths can feel much longer because of everything we cover. But in a way I feel like time is slipping away and want to make every second count. When you're making dishes like tarte tatin with vanilla ice cream and lamb noisettes with dauphinoise it's hard not to want to stop and think 'ahhh'.  Or when tasting treats like Provencal fish soup and porcini, truffle and horse-radish jelly. 

Just 'ahhh', I think that eloquently describes the happiness these dishes can bring. Ahem. 

Then on Saturday this little cookery student went to the market with some other lovely students. You can read about the fun we had cooking at Road Food, Portobello Market here
Intermediate Term at Leiths

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Road Food, Portobello and Golborne Market

The sun has finally poked his shy little head out in London.

What better way to spend a sunny Saturday than at the UK's best outdoor street market, Portobello and Golborne Market? Let's add some cooking into the mix and it gets even better.

Fellow Leiths' student, Kate is involved in the unique Road Food project and rounded up some lovely volunteers, Vicki, Alexia, Lucy, and myself to help out today. 

Every third Saturday volunteers create dishes highlighting the market's beautiful produce. Free samples are then distributed to market-goers along with the recipes. So you can have a browse, nibble on some samples and then whip up the recipes at home yourself. 

Speaking of samples, I've never seen food disappear so quickly. Market-goers swooped down on them...and poof...we were back in the kitchen again. On offer today were Kate's gorgeous spring recipes including a spring vegetable risotto, roasted fennel and white bean dip and quinoa, pomegranate and kale salad. Kate has a brilliant post on the day here including the fennel dip recipe. 
Vicki handing out samples

Kate and Vicki in action

Desserts had a savoury kick with an olive oil chocolate cake and beetroot cake. The beetroot cake recipe we used is from one of my favourite authors, the charming and hilarious Marian Keyes. Her book, Saved by Cake, describes her account of how baking helped her to cope with depression. I think she'd have liked how her cake put a smile on so many people's faces today. 

Marian's beetroot cake and me

The day flew by with lots of positive feedback from the tasters. A special thanks to Kate for getting us involved in this exciting project, I can't wait to see how it grows and grows. If you're around for the next Road Food on 18th May why not stop by for some tempting samples and recipes? Ah go on. 
Additional Information

Nearest Tube stations, Notting Hill Gate and Ladbroke Grove

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Chef Diaries - Gary O'Hanlon

Now this going to cookery school and getting restaurant experience is all well and good, but what's it really like to be a Chef? 

Head Chef, Gary O'Hanlon lets us into his kitchen. 

And tells us why if he wasn't a Chef he might have been a rally driver. Just don't forget the sparkling water in his section...

I got to know Gary last year and his encouragement is part of the reason I'm on this crazy journey, he has a lot to answer for!

In a recent review, Lucinda O’Sullivan of the Irish Independent christened him ‘Captain Fantastic’. But he’ll answer to Chef too. 

Head Chef of Viewmount House Restaurant in Longford, Gary hails from Donegal originally. He’s the man who, amongst other things, put Longford on the culinary map and made peanut butter gourmet.  A beautiful dessert of peanut butter parfait, apple jelly, apple meringue, bee pollen, raspberry gel, coconut and chocolate.

Having featured in the 100 Best Restaurants in Ireland and the Restaurant Association of Ireland Awards for a number of years running, Gary is definitely deserving of the Captain Fantastic accolade.

Peanut butter parfait

The beginning

As a kid I often stayed with my aunt when my uncle-in-law was working nights. His mother was an incredible baker. The smells always caught my attention. I'd stand on books to reach the counter and taste whatever she was baking. More often than not I was licking raw ingredients from a wooden spoon. I was hooked from then. I was probably around 5 or 6. 

How did you become a Chef?

My aunt Dette is the Head Chef of the fabulous Rosapenna Hotel and Golf Resort in Donegal. After years of being knee-deep in oysters, whelks and mussels with my father I was mad to get into a professional kitchen. Plus it was much warmer. On the night I finished my Junior Cert and the day before my 15th birthday my dream became a reality. Into the vegetable prep and pot washing section I went. By the end of my first summer I was promoted into the pastry section then sauces. I never looked back. I spent every weekend and holidays working in the Rosapenna before hitting the Tourism College in Killybegs and here I am. 20 years later!

How would you describe your style of cooking?

Evolving is the only word for it. I don’t have a style as such. I try as best I can to stay ahead of the trends and that takes a lot of doing. I do love putting twists on classics and I like my food to be delicate but most important of all taste fabulous. Too many heroes these days concentrate more on style over substance. Food should first and foremost taste incredible. Your next objective is to give a customer something that they’ll struggle to re-create at home and at the same time be confident in the fact that your team can re-produce it, when in the weeds at 8 pm during a busy service. It all boils down to consistency and reaching the highest possible standards with the team you have. And make money doing it!

How would your team describe you?

Fair.  Angry.  Calm.  Mental.  Generous.  Crazy.  Caring. Nuts.  Disciplinarian.  Moody.  Great craic (I hope).  Serious.  Impossible to please.  Grateful.  Lucky to have them (I am). Perfectionist.

A day in the life of a Chef

Every day is different but if committed you're working every single day. Even when you're off you're 100% involved - if you care.

For me though it’s generally gym then work. Starting with office work to see what's happening on that given day, then the rest of the week. Run through reservations. Meet with the crew. Have a little chit chat with them all individually to see where their heads are at. Check on the mise en place. Delegate jobs. Sort out my own section.

Gary with Salty and Pepper
Cook for the staff (yes I normally do this). Clean down the kitchen prior to service. Then it’s Rock’N’Rolla time.

Go home. Chill with Netty, play with my pups. Watch football news until my eyes close and sleep (only if it was a good service!).

Gary on whether it helps to be a little bit mad to be a Chef...

Yes and no.

It certainly helps to be a good business person, committed, talented, fit, organised and mature. We may be mad to be doing a job that most people would hate but the Chefs at the forefront of the best restaurants love what they’re doing. We often hate it but I think that’s normal in any walk of life. Everyone has a bad day.

What is the most common misconception about what Chefs are like? 

Most people think we're mad.

Maybe we are. It’s a high pressure environment. It’s loud and perfection must be delivered in real time. Seconds count. At the end of the day it’s only cooking. Lives aren’t being saved but a good Chef is obsessive about impressing a customer.

What annoys you in your kitchen?

Bad timing. Fingerprints. Watermarks. The smell of cigarettes. A Chef answering back. My word isn’t gospel. I'll always give a person a chance to argue but only after service. During service only one person makes decisions - Chef. A dirty Chef, an un-ironed uniform. No sparkling water in my section :-) 

What is your signature dish?

None really. My food and style of food changes so much with the times that a dish I love today will seem too simple and irrelevant to me in a years time. But one bond that will never be broken is the one I have with Duck Confit. So simple but 95% of Chefs make a mess of it. FACT. I love our Duck Confit dish. The elements we serve with it often change but the curing and cooking process of the duck never will.

Do you like other people cooking for you?

 Oh yes. No matter what it is, if someone other than me has cooked it I’ll appreciate it.

What is the best thing about being a Chef?

I love my life. I’m in control of how good or bad I want to be. Be lazy, get bad reviews, have an empty restaurant and make bad money. Or work hard, cook as best I can, have the respect of my peers and be able to hold my head high in my community knowing that people respect you for your work. The choice is yours. I hope people look at me as having taken the latter option.

What is the worst thing about being a Chef?

The stress. The fear of a bad review. The fact that people expect you to be in the restaurant every second of every day. It’s very difficult. Not being able to make plans. EVER.

What do you typically eat when you’re not working? Banshee Bones is not an acceptable answer Chef.

Just married 
It’s been well documented what I eat when I’m not working but I genuinely plan on making drastic changes to that. I have a wife now, a new house almost built and what I hope will be a family to look forward to in the near future. I have a responsibility to be alive and providing for them until they are old enough to look after themselves. The days of Red Bull, Haribos and Banshee Bones are coming to an end. Not just yet but it’s close. Very close.

What has been the toughest moment of your career?

My previous job just before taking over at Viewmount House. I've never really talked about it to be honest. A management company had head hunted me for the job. By the time I worked a three month notice where I was, they had been replaced and a new company had taken over. I was on a high salary, instead of being professional and asking me to leave as they couldn’t afford me they decided on bully tactics. 

I’m made of stern stuff though so in the face of things I took it on the chin but privately I was breaking down. I take my work to heart. The last words from one of them was “maybe in nine or ten years time you’ll be ready for the job” Truth be told it nearly killed me. I smiled and moved on. I went at Viewmount House like a man possessed. I like to think I’ve proven my worth.

And the best moment?

The day I met James and Beryl Kearney. The owners of Viewmount House. I owe so much to them for just letting me do what I do.

How do you feel during service?

Focused and nervous in equal measures.

How do you feel after service?
Pepper in her finest

It depends on the service. These days it’s usually great but the first three years were hell. My team are incredible now so it’s a very rare occurrence to have a bad night. When I do though having the pups to come home to has been a major help. Lots of my Chef pals say that when they became parents it helped hugely after a bad service to come home to their children. For now though Salty and Pepper will have to do.

Are professional kitchens the way we see them on TV – full of roaring Chefs?

They're full of ONE roaring Chef! Depending on the restaurant but in most cases they are louder and even more hectic than what you see on TV. 

What advice would you give to anyone who dreams of becoming a Chef?

Be sure it’s what you really really want. It's a great life but it’s a long long road to success. It’s not nearly as glamorous as it looks and 99.9% of chefs will never be on TV. It’s not a ticket to stardom and it's incredibly tough to succeed. But if you want it you will get it and you'll reap the rewards.

Remember...Luck is the direct result of HARD WORK.

If you weren’t a Chef what would you be doing with your life?

Probably teaching. I love teaching and I have huge respect for teachers. In my dream world I’d be a rally car driver or a pro footballer.

If I could do it all again I’d still become a Chef. The only change I’d make is to work with Marco and Ramsay when I was a Commis (trainee) Chef. I will regret not trying to do so at a young age forever.

What do most people not know about you?

I plan on getting a truck licence and a rally licence this year or next. I love cars, trucks, engines and every type of machinery imaginable. 

And finally, can you do me a deal in Viewmount for my wedding?

I'll see what I can do :-)
A special thank you to Gary for answering the questions and his photos. Here's to Viewmount going from strength to strength.

Liked this? You may also enjoy:
A taste of reality in L'Autre Pied
The Non-Expert Cookery School Survival Kit 

Monday, April 08, 2013

A taste of reality in L'Autre Pied

They say you never forget your 

At 7.55am last Friday morning I entered the Michelin Star L'Autre Pied in Marylebone, London.

All photos are courtesy of L'Autre Pied

Honestly? I was excited and a little bit extremely terrified. The night before I counted pots and pans as I lay awake thinking about my first kitchen stage/work experience. This was finally it.

Andy McFadden is the talented 27 year old Head Chef. And he's Irish. Now doesn't that tick all the right boxes?  His passion and energy jumps out straight away when you meet him. Andy worked in some of the top restaurants in Ireland and trained in L'Autre Pied's sister restaurant, Pied à Terre. Then in 2011 he took over as Head Chef in L'Autre Pied. 

For the first hour I kept my head down and focused on dicing fennel. A whole lot of fennel. It would be best if I don't see fennel again for a long time. Eventually I started to sneak glances at what was happening around me. This is a serious kitchen. 

With music pumping in the background everyone was at their stations prepping at a rapid pace and setting up mise en place for lunch service.

The menu combines bitter and sour flavours and wraps them up in combinations which explode in your mouth in sensational bursts. I was about to taste for myself. I didn't realise just how much I was going to get to taste.

As the music is switched off, a shout of 'First bread' signals the start of service. I felt tingles as I heard Andy call out the orders and the kitchen immediately increased its already quick pace. It's like watching a carefully orchestrated, if crazy, routine where everyone knows their steps. 

One of the Chefs, Phily (Another Irish man. Could this restaurant get any better?) brought me over a dish...then another one...and another...and another. I couldn't believe it. Ceviche of scallops, squid linguine, mackerel tartare, venison, pork...The first tasting menu I've eaten standing up. While chopping. One I'll never forget.

After lunch service there was a full clean down and then straight into mise en place for dinner service.    'First bread'  'YES!' and it was service again. Andy called out orders and scrutinised every dish going out. Shouts of 'One scallop, two veni', one cod, four tasting menus' followed by numerous yeses echoed through the kitchen. And of course for the team to 'Push on!'. There's relentless pushing in that kitchen.

Andy asked me how I was doing. I smiled - 'Can I come back tomorrow?'. He looked at me and laughed. Next morning I came back. 

On Friday night when I got home at 1am my head was racing, I replayed the day over and over. A few hours later, wishing I'd managed to sleep, I got up for day 2.

Watching Andy plating up dishes at the pass was the best part, to see how each dish is executed and finished. Perfection is required for each beautifully presented one. While I was scrubbing a bucket of spuds of course. You do not stand around doing nothing in that kitchen. He came over to me after and said 'You're loving it aren't you?'. It must have been written all over my face. I smiled and tried to look cool and collected. Ahem.


Sitting on the Tube home on the second night my feet were soaked through, my own fault for being unable to mop without drenching myself. My calves ached, my feet groaned, but my head was happy.

Andy said I'm welcome to come back. I will be. I think this is the meaning of being bitten by the bug. It's got its teeth into me now and I hope it never lets go. I'm sitting here typing this thinking they're in the middle of service right now - I wish I was there.

Many thanks to L'Autre Pied for kindly allowing me to use the photos on their website by Photographer Simon Harvey.

Liked this? You may also enjoy reading about why I'm going to cookery school here. Brave or mad? The jury's still out on that one. 

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

The Non-Expert Cookery School Survival Kit

School's out.

I've finished the intermediate term at Leiths. There've been highs-lows-sideways-twists-topsy-turvy-turns and I've loved every minute.

The advanced term kicks off on 15th April. In the meantime I thought I'd offer a little advice to anyone who, like me, starts cookery school and doesn't have a clue what they're letting themselves in for. Repeat after me: Yes you can cook and you're not crazy for doing this. 

1. Make lots of mistakes

I thought I could cook. Then in the school kitchen things started to go a little haywire. I developed an uncanny knack of over-cooking pasta, ruining poached eggs, burning toast. While spluttering to my teacher I can cook, honest...

But then there're days when it all goes right and you catch yourself fist pumping. Be discrete.

2. Be nice to the other kids

More than likely they're feeling just the same as you. They're the ones who'll pick you up when your inability to cook pasta keeps you awake at night.

3. Learn to love butter, salt and cream

That is all.

4. Make new friends

Like your knives - beautiful knives that slice through meat like butter. You'll wonder how you ever lived without them. You may also develop severe protectiveness syndrome - no one touches them but you.

5. Size definitely matters

Forget what you thought constitutes a reasonably sized dinner. Soon you'll think nothing of eating a full treacle sponge by yourself. You made it after all didn't you? Important to taste these things. You are now the Very Hungry Cookery Student. Be proud of it. 

6. Meals on wheels/Tubes (Or substitute bus, train, bike. Well maybe not bike, that could be dangerous)

While eating aforementioned treacle sponge on the Tube. From a plastic bag. With your fingers. Sticky fingers. It's important to develop a thick skin and ignore the looks of awe disgust from your fellow passengers. They're probably just annoyed the Tube's delayed again. Nothing to do with you. Carry on.

7. Watch out for Cayenne pepper 

It's a funny thing having your teachers rate your food. After each dish is completed we shout SERVICE and then carry on washing up pretending you're not nervous waiting for the tasting. When you get it right that's a great feeling. But then there're times when it's a painful torture. Like the day of the Cayenne Pepper Souffle. Watch out for that little red pepper, it's a sneaky customer. And there was me thinking I was the bee's knees and cat's pajamas all rolled into one. Sigh.

8. Let me Google that for you

There's a whole new vocabulary to learn. If in doubt, smile and nod. Then have a sneaky look on Google to see exactly what DuBarry is. Clue: it's a different type of choux. I keep a little list and look them up every day. By week 10 I'd got over myself and realised the best way is to ask questions.

9. Talk the talk

After a while the mish-mash clatter of new words becomes familiar.  Is there anything better than saying chiffonademirepoix, nappe and concasser all in one sentence?  The sentence won't make sense but you'll feel pretty cool.

10. Enjoy it

Cookery school is like being in a bubble where the only things that matters are food and getting it served on time. It's the safest place you'll be and it's OK to get things wrong. Savour every second. Soon it'll be time to go back to the real world.

If all else fails, remember, it's the only time in your life you'll get to wear this fetching ensemble.

Here's the money shot. Oh yes. 

A special thank you to Steffi for her photos. Her beautiful blog is here.

What happens in cookery school stays in cookery school, but you can have a little look just because it's you: 

Intermediate Term at Leiths
Week One in Leiths: The good, the spilled and the ugly (woodcock)
Week Two in Leiths: Edible clouds and fascinating fish
Week Three in Leiths: The Very Hungry Cookery Student
Week Four in Leiths: Meringues gone wild and ovens behaving badly
Week Five in Leiths: Confessions of a cookery student