The Irish Times, Saturday, 5 June 2010
COOKING UP A NEW CAREER
SUMMER FOOD SPECIAL Can you learn to be a chef in a month?
MARIE CLAIRE DIGBY joins an end-of-course dinner to find out
TASTING MENUS, those carefully orchestrated mini plates designed to showcase a restaurant's range, give chefs a chance to flex their culinary muscles. So when 16 about-to-be-graduates of an intensive four-week cookery course get together to plan the tasting menu for their graduation dinner, things got ambitious. These are not professional chefs – they are committed and talented amateurs – but a glance at the menu they created for a recent event at Dublin Cookery School shows just how much it is possible to learn on a four-week intensive course. On the final night of each of these courses, the school, which is in Blackrock, Dublin, is turned into a restaurant, with 34 invited guests expecting a high-end dining experience. Under the guidance of Dublin Cookery School's unflappable director Lynda Booth, the 16 students – ranging in age from 19 to "mind your own business" – cooked and served a delicious seven-course tasting menu. Cappuccino of leek and potato soup with black-truffle oil or oyster beignet with lime and curry leaf yoghurt were the standard-setting appetisers. Asian influences were a recurring theme throughout the menu, reflecting the insight the students had gleaned from guest chefs Matthew Albert of Nahm in London, the first Michelin-starred Thai restaurant in Europe, and Atul Kochhar, who holds the same accolade for his Indian restaurant Benares, also in London, and is also involved with Ananda restaurant in Dublin. Classical inspiration came from another Michelin-star guest chef, Oliver Dunne, of Bon Appétit in Malahide. An elegant dish of seared scallops with pink grapefruit beurre blanc was followed by earthy pressed pork belly with pea puree, crushed minted peas, and apple consommé. Working in teams, the students served their guests without delay, and even managed to sit down and eat dinner themselves. The front-of-house skills of Graham O'Neill, who had worked in a restaurant, also proved invaluable. Delicately spiced pan-fried John Dory with green spice paste and oven-roasted cherry tomatoes was next on the menu, and there was laughter as the students remembered the reluctance with which some of them had approached the task of gutting and filleting fish when they embarked on their training. There was a mild panic when the celeriac puree to accompany the pan-fried duck breast went missing, but it was tracked down it time to make a fine counterpoint to the duck and a delicious onion tian. A pre-dessert of crème brûlée with tea-soaked prunes came with a refreshing shot of Granny Smith juice and the final hurrah, a trio of desserts – passionfruit tart, passionfruit and champagne sorbet, and hazelnut dacquoise with mango – bookended a feast that was as delicious as it was technically correct. The fees for the month-long programme at this school is €2,950, and the next course starts in September. See dublincookeryschool.ie. SARAH ACTON A redundancy package and some free time available propelled Sarah Acton through the cookery school's doors. "My flatmate Alva did the one-month course. We were waiting for her each evening to see what she had been up to." Acton found a new job while she was doing the course. She doesn't intend to use her new skills professionally, but is enjoying her newfound confidence. "I was cooking duck legs , and I thought, 'I know exactly what I am doing'." LORRAINE HICKEY Lorraine Hickey has lived in Morocco for the past 10 years. She plans to open a Riad in Fez next year. "I will need to be heavily involved with designing menus, overlooking what is going on in the kitchen and being there as a back-up. I would have said that I was a competent cook but I have realised that I overestimated my ability. I have improved enormously and my shopping bill has come down by 50 per cent. I now know I can use the base of one meal in a new way the following day." MARCO CENTAURO Marco Centauro was one of five men taking part in the April course at Dublin Cookery School. "When I came to live in Ireland, I wanted to eat well, and I also felt that people expected it of an Italian. "I wondered would it be slow starting, but from the first day I was learning a huge amount and it was great food. I can open a fridge now and devise something with what is there. I am not planning to get into the business. But I wouldn't exclude it."