Thursday, 29 March 2012

Bites and Pieces

Oliver Dunne Masterclass at Cooks Academy

Last weekend I had a wonderful time cooking up a storm at the Cooks Academy on Dublin's South William Street.  On Saturday, the boyfriend and I attended a day-long Thai cookery class (keep your eyes peeled for a post about this soon) and on Sunday I went to a masterclass with chef Oliver Dunne of Bon Appetit.  I was given a gift by my girlfriends of a masterclass with Ross Lewis of Chapter One in January and enjoyed it so much that, when I saw this class advertised through the rewarding times deals, I knew I had to treat myself!

When we arrived we were given the safety chat (Don't run around waving your knife about etc.) and were told 'don't rush, it's not a competition' to which Oliver promptly came out and said 'Actually, it is! Lunch for two in the restaurant for whoever cooks the best dish!' Very exciting! Oliver then proceeded to demonstrate the dish: Pan Fried Halibut, buttered spinach, clam and mussel marinere. Sounds delicious! 

While he talked through the dish he covered various tips and techniques and I think the whole class found him to be a very engaging speaker.  

Two things he mentioned that I have been thinking about since:
1)  When choosing your dish in a restaurant, choose by the garnish and not the protein.  In good restaurants there will be very little difference in the cooking of the protein, in that it should be cooked correctly.   The garnish of the dish will have the biggest impact on your dining experience and therefore, should be the thing that you consider most carefully when ordering.
2)  The main reason home cooks can get stressed to bits is that they try to prepare and cook everything from scratch as they are going to serve it.  No professional kitchens operate that way.  Look at the dish you want to make and see what elements can be prepared ahead. Do as much as possible in advance so that you may just have to assemble and heat through the dish at the last minute.

This second point is one that we put in to practice once we were let loose in the kitchen after the dish had been demonstrated.  We had to dice our vegetables so that they were all the same size.  Blanch them (seperately, as they had different cooking times) and refresh them in cold water to set them aside.  We then cooked our shellfish, strained the liquor and reduced it, picked the meat, set it aside. It was only then that we put on our pan to start cooking our fish: I would normally have launched into this stage much sooner! Once we had placed our fish in the oven we had time to finish our sauce (add creme fraiche, previously blanched veg, shellfish meat and chopped herbs) and cook our spinach.  Then it was time to plate up. Spinach in the middle, fish on top and sauce spooned around the outside.  Oliver took the time to taste and critique everyone's dish: My sauce and veg could have been arranged more tightly around the fish, I also had a small pool of butter from the spinach that I had neglected to squeeze before it was put on the plate. Oh dear, must try harder next time...  Consoled myself by enthusiastically taking a huge bite of my fish before I remembered to take a photo, as you can see above!

But then it was time for the winner to be announced.  We had all done really well.  It wasn't just about how the dish tasted, but about how calmly and cleanly we had worked.  And the winner is.... Rachel!! I was completely stunned and totally delighted!

After my little victory I have been feeling very confident with my cooking all week and have been trying out some new recipes with mixed results.  There was a rather dodgy incident with a half-cooked whole roast fish last night. That is why this post is not titled 'Delicious Roast Sea Bass'... Oh well...

Coming soon to the blog: review of my lovely prize in Bon Appetit! 


  1. Looks fab and tasty, well deserved winner :)

  2. Thanks Aine! It might have looked tastier if I'd taken the snap before taking a monstrous chomp out of it though!

  3. Love that you started to scoff before you took the pic, high praise of the dish. Interesting tip on choosing a dish, I actually do that all the time and people think I am odd. I am now justified, thank you!

    1. Hi Marie, you're very welcome! I probably do it as well but had never really thought of it in this way. It makes sense though!

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