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A Day At Masterchef School
YOU can spend a lifetime learning about new combinations of flavours, testing out new gadgets or having a companionable time around the stove, or you can spend a day in a professional kitchen. We British watch hours of TV celebrity chefs yelling, and swearing and generally making out that life in a busy restaurant is not fun. Commercial kitchens are hot, dangerous and stressful places – but they also hum with drama and passion.
Along with a big dollop of new skills to rake home, this was what our brigade of domestic cooks were looking for as we sipped our morning coffee in Shropshire's award-winning Hundred House Hotel. We had gathered to learn and to cook our way through a three-course meal in a day.
The old coaching inn is tucked away in a jumble of buildings on the busy A442 between Bridgnorth and Telford. Run by chef Stuart Phillips and his family, the inn is rated with two AA stars. Stuart is "happy to cook good, gutsy food. Having two stars allows me to cook what I want to: “We don't do canapés” he says, although his lightness of touch is obvious across the menu. Many of the would·be chefs had been given the day as a gift from husbands, wives or partners eager to encourage them and in expectation of tasting some great food that evening. “I’ve just had a new kitchen installed and feel inspired," said one novice. Others were more experienced, but all left that day having something new.
Practice and planning
Preparation is key to running a successful kitchen. Our introduction to food started with reading the menus and then trooping out into an abundant herb garden created by Stuart's mum Sylvia. With fresh produce and more than 100 varieties of herbs. including 12 types of mint to choose from, the gardens offered us raw ingredients for the day.
Back in the kitchen Stuart's extensive technical skills, having been classically trained in France by a Michelin-starred chef, are on display. A Shropshire lad, he has experienced brigade life at the Grosvenor hotel in Chester and honed his skills in London.
Running a professional kitchen and brigade is like playing a game of chess, albeit in a hot, steamy atmosphere with oversized pots and pans clattering and the call of 'Yes chef” answering orders barked out by the boss. Like all good chefs, Stuart has a presence in the kitchen. He watched our group chop, slice, cut, mix, simmer and steam while planning what ingredients or utensils would be needed in ten, twenty, sixty minutes time.
We cooked three courses and several accompanying dishes including - carrot soup, Gressingham duck and creme caramel.
"'Save and freeze broccoli stalks for a great soup; white pepper instills a light flavour and is good in soup; black pepper is sharper and is good for Italian dishes and tomato sauces."
Shropshire and the Marches have a great reputation for growing food and eating out and now - with Stuart's help - you can hone your domestic skills in a professional environment, gaining unique behind the scenes experience and pots of delicious food to take home at the end of the day.
MASTER CHEF SAMPLE ITINERARY
Tea/Coffee on arrival followed by tour of the herb garden
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Prepare and Cook:
Foccaccia with Roast Garlic
Red Capsicum Soup with lime
Mussel Risotto with basil & Tomato
Sumac seared Mackerel with mango, mint salad and tomato salsa
Luncheon in the restaurant with wine
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Prepare and Cook:
Rosemary braised Shoulder of lamb with cous cous & harissa
Creme Catalan with pistachio ice-cream, caramel oranges & coffee granita
(Tea/Coffee break half way through)
Departure approx 6pm
All cooking materials including aprons & knives are provided
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