Roads to Discovery

Curly parsley should not be thrown over a dish as garnish but served perhaps fried briefly for adding crunch to a dish or the perfect accompaniment to a white sauce served with a good piece of fish. A descent sear on meat is important for good flavour but this does not seal the juices in as it has been portrayed for years by nearly almost every chef on the telly. You can see this when you rest the meat as sits in its own juices regardless of how good the sear is. Cutting the meat too early is a bad move as it is then you will loose a lot of the juices on your chopping board and also lend a bad texture to your meat if there is a lack of resting. A choux bun or profiterole should be light, dainty with a crisp shell. Who in there right mind came up with the idea of taking water just before boiling point with some butter, beating in flour, letting it cool and then beating in some eggs, piping it, baking it in a hot oven, to give us these fairytale like buns? Chocolate orange is the go to flavour for me as a treat. Dark chocolate with a nice bitter orange backing. When working and to quench my thirst, carbonated water is my choice of refreshment and was described by a chef friend that the flavour of said water was like television static, a taste sensation up with umami, which brought me to thinking about how my tastes have been educated and have evolved from my early days which began in college which took me along a road of discovery and to this day with the realisation that all roads lead to food.

The date is the 7th of September 1997 and this was my first day in college, catering. There were eleven of us in the class. Our lecturers were Mike Smith and Calum Macleod, Eddie Richardson would be sighted flying around here and there and Mairi Cook, and Florence who not not long retired after I began. My induction was a few weeks before, in the old catering department and it was Calum that was giving the induction. The only thing I can say about that induction was that it didn’t take that long, it was daunting being introduced to a training kitchen, knowing now that every kitchen is a training kitchen, the restaurant for training had that freshly brewed coffee smell from the Cona coffee machine, the whole place had that end of service feeling to it, which I have mentioned in previous blogs but this seemed slightly different, like not only did something good happen here but it was a place where I got the impression where some shit went down.

I will keep this next paragraph as brief as possible. Our training was to the point and no room for messing about. There was room for banter but not taking the piss. The class was a good bunch. What could be seen were those who would take it seriously and the time wasters, those who would not turn up for days and then grumble when the bursary got cut, those who would eventually drop out, the ones that would filter out and those that were there from day one to graduation day, regardless of the ones that would have the chance to come into catering on our third year just because they had some bollox computing qualification that was the equivalent to a catering achievement and those who, I believe , truly deserved it, and was not just a privilege to be part of, but being a member of a remarkable little, developing team.

Our lessons were in fruit and vegetables, meat and poultry, fish and shellfish, stocks and sauces, baking and confectionery and in the training restaurant. The lessons were basic, traditional, old school but to the point, bearing in mind this was over 20 years ago. In the training restaurant we would be in black trousers, white shirt, blazer and a bow tie trying our hand at silver service. Looking back now, it all seemed dated but it did give us the appreciation and respect for it. The training kitchen was daunting and as we were only in our first year, I got the impression that the second or third year students seemed almost patronising, like they knew it all, spoke down to us as if we were pieces of crap, that this was deemed acceptable and came with part of there training, again if the lessons were traditional perhaps so were the practices of back then.

The first year of catering seemed to be the year it all happened more so when it came to the practical side of things, the likes of making fresh mayonnaise, proving the enriched dough for our rum babas, the realisation of what a splash of wine adds to a gravy, trying to understand what pineapple creole was all about, making Melba toast ready for service, and understanding pesky, choux pastry to name a few. When it came to choux pastry, this was my nemeses. Every time I attempted this pastry I was doomed for failure. I don’t know what was going wrong, I want to say the ovens were to blame but I’m not going down the route of tools. In my years as a student I never mastered this pastry, it would be later that I would learn how to master and understand this scientific pastry with the finished result all uniform, having a thin crisp shell, even in colour, a nice dry interior, ready for filling.

I feel I kept myself to myself while in college, if our tasks were to be as individuals failure in that specific task was not an option, if it was a team effort, the same rule applied, but a little more complicated with different opinions trying to dominate. In this time some were, I want to say filtered out but the reality of it was that they were dropped by themselves, realising catering was not perhaps for them, some didn’t know at that time that catering would be for them, but realise it later and those who had the same experience of that fantastic three years, but have gone on to other careers.

In the early days of college I used to see this tall, thin chap flying around the catering department dressed mostly in his civvies. The only time I had seen him in his whites were on the restaurant training days in a form I had never witnessed before. When in his whites he was what I can describe as more of an enthusiastic character. At that time I know how he liked to spend a lot of his time under the bonnet of his car. I also heard some wacky stories in time, one of his cleverest I heard was the time he was cooking and creating firelighters. I believe this was the recipe. Go over to the joinery department, take sawdust, in a combination of flour and water add saw dust, mix to thick paste, press into trays, bake on low then cut, genius.

The best classes I had with Eddie were not through practical lessons or paper lessons, but through blethers and yarns, good old stories and discussions, many of which not just interrupted the lesson, took over the lesson and became the lesson, also if you were ever stuck, he was a good go to person who always had an answer that when you walked away you felt revised and rejuvenated.

A time of what seemed like uncertainty and concern seemed to approach the catering department at one  big point in our time there. I’m not to sure what was going on with the department, but what ever was happening at the time, for me, and I would like to think the rest of the group would agree that this was the finest few months that would not just be the time where we would learn to think more as a group of catering students, but a time where we would spend together as a group of students who jelled more with our lectures but with a family feel to it, a time where over the next few months we would learn more than if we were in the actual catering department, this was the time when La Taverna opened.

La Taverna started off in porta-cabins beside the Castle itself. They were as you would expect but with a quick lick of paint, a few tables and chairs with the classic chequered table cloths, the most basic of, if you could call it a kitchen and the other side a classroom. This place was the bees knees, what an idea, basically something out of nothing. Created by a guy who didn’t believe in sitting around, in a time of some what uncertainty, where we could have ended up sitting in a class doing theory for months, but like the big man said him self, that we could have sat around and talked about lemon meringue pie until the cows came home, but it really comes down to the making, in a training ground that was as real as it was going to get for now.

The three years in all that I spent in college were good years, but if we apply the old phrase of all good things must come to and end and ask why, why do they and why do they have to? Our last year came to an end with a graduation ceremony in 2001 and a jolly good knees up later that day. Yes it is true that it had been a truly inspiring three years in every form and had some dam good laughs. For some eventually a career in catering and hospitality was not to be had, but I’m sure the knowledge that they came away with still serves them purposely in there every day lives and for those that have pursued to this day this career path are the ones that can say that all good things don’t have to come to and end. It may not always be sunshine and roses in what ever you do and no it’s definitely not a, if you find something you enjoy, you never have to work again, because yes you do, you have to push yourself, as hard as you can, learn every day, be better than yesterday, inspire others to move forward and for me having the opportunity writing this, tells me that good things are not coming to an end, they are taking new directions all the time, when old you has the experience and know what you know, when young you had a template for ideas, the little spark of imagination that propels the creation of an idea, an idea that keeps niggling at us, that niggling that drives us forward to understand better, to better ourselves and push forward, to allow all opinions to be heard on subject at hand and to grow and for this all to happen we must understand and teach the idea that enthusiasm is limitless.

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