Whenever I watch cooking shows, which is quite often given I am a self-confessed cooking show addict, I am seriously impressed by the chefs’ abilities to cook and talk at the same time. I can cook reasonably well and I can talk extremely well, but together? Nope, no can do. When I’m in the kitchen, I’m focused on one thing only and woe betide anyone who comes to hover or even worse, ask questions…
So as I was saying, the talking and cooking thing impresses me, even more so when I am seeing it unfold in the flesh, or in real life… in case you filthy-minded foodies needed me to clarify. On the telly, it’s pretty cool but I figured they can practise a few times and film a few takes which some production whizz will seamlessly stitch together later on. But live, there are no retakes… and when chefs like Jeremy Lee just do it all so effortlessly, I’m torn between being wide-eyed in awe and plain green with envy. Why can’t I do that?!
Probably because Jeremy Lee is an experienced head chef at a busy Soho restaurant who also has several television shows and appearances under his belt, and well, frankly, I am not. If you’ve eaten at his restaurant Quo Vadis or seen him on Great British Menu then you’ll know he’s a good cook, and if you’ve seen him on Could You Eat An Elephant? with Fergus Henderson then you’ll know he’s very knowledgeable and entertaining.
I’ll admit, we hadn’t caught any of that so I had no idea what to expect besides some cooking tips and a delicious dinner, we were at Leiths School of Food and Wine after all. Well consider those conservative expectations blown right out of the water; we got the tips and the dinner but also a healthy dose of food history and hilarity to make for a highly enjoyable evening.
The plan was for Jeremy to demonstrate a series of dishes which he considered ‘the Best of British’, a food theme which we very much appreciate and approve of – any chef or restaurant which champions local, seasonal cuisine will have a fan in a certain someone and I.
First on the menu was a salad of beetroot and soft boiled eggs; nothing fancy here, they were cooked well and dressed lavishly with a combination of white wine vinegar, sugar, mustard, cream, and horseradish. The secret of its success is definitely the lavish dressing… I like Jeremy’s ethos of generosity at the table.
Next we tried the baked salsify, a dish which is always on the menu at Quo Vadis and close to Jeremy’s heart – it is now close to ours too. How can a sad looking white stick of a vegetable turn out so delicious after just being boiled, seasoned, wrapped in a filo type pastry, then baked? Easy, just season generously with salt, pepper and parmesan and such miracles can happen.
There’s no questioning Jeremy’s commitment to British produce and his knowledge – I liked the little lesson on monk’s beard and samphire, two ingredients I had never tried before moving to the UK, and trying fresh bergamot was a novelty too. All perfectly combined to create an intensely flavoured but refreshing squid salad which we all greedily went back for seconds of.
Let’s talk about the meat now; a beautifully butterflied leg of hogget which was expertly trimmed in front of us, dusted with salt, liberally coated with pepper, put into the oven, and not so much as touched, prodded, poked, or turned until it was ready. I’m guilty of checking on my roasts far too often – lesson learnt, just know your timings and let the meat and the oven do all the hard work! Sometimes lamb dishes can be too fatty and rich for me so I was a little hesitant when I saw hogget on the menu, but served with braised root vegetables and a heaving spoonful of salsa verde, I had no issues wolfing down this (tiny, I promise) plateful, followed by another…
I could have made room for thirds but those faster eaters amongst us were already moving onto dessert and I did not want to miss out on the almond frangipane tart. Blitzing up whole almonds gave the filling some crunch and texture which would be sorely missed if just using the pre-ground stuff. Prepared with a lot of almonds and paired with soft, sweet rhubarb and vanilla custard, this was a decadent beast, but we were up for the task and more than happy to find an extra slice of it in our goodie bags at the end of the night!
This is probably not a class you take if you’re simply after step by step cooking instructions and tips because it’s more of a cooking show than a lesson. We did learn some handy chefs’ secrets and now have a few more dishes we’ll definitely be recreating at home, but honestly, this was all about having a fun experience – Jeremy’s tales from the kitchen kept us laughing, my wine glass was never left dry, and the food was sensational. My only bit of constructive criticism? The plates are far, far too small…
This is just one of the many exciting, out of the box dining events which can be found on Tabl so go check out their website and get booking!
Thanks to Tabl for this experience, but as always, all opinions are mine and if it didn’t get me salivating from the outset, I would have never dragged a certain someone along too!