by Esther Tabert, level 1 student
If you could travel back in time and meet a historical figure, who would it be? Last week Stratford Chefs School first year students had our own time travel experience bringing to life the dishes of Auguste Escoffier, famous French chef and father of classical cuisine.
Hours of cutting bread in brunoise and measuring the exact distance between each piece of cutlery, the plate and the edge of the table, we definitely had a better understanding of the precision of Escoffier’s kitchen; you only understand that kind of demand for perfection when it’s required of you personally. Setting up the dining hall and preparing the meal were only part of experience. Students also got to choose the courses, cook, serve and eat the meal. The last part was definitely the highlight.
To begin, we each had to develop an individual ‘Escoffier Menu’, using recipes from his cookbook, ‘Le Guide Culinaire.’ Instructors then selected the menu that was most cohesive, feasible and seasonal (i.e. featuring no out-of-season produce). After much deliberation, Harrison Goad’s menu was selected (way to go, Harry!)
The cooking and serving of the meal proved more complicated than choosing the menu. Students came in the day before to do pre-prep in the kitchen and set up the dining room. The day of the meal, we were each assigned positions: one group served, one group cooked in the kitchen and the other dined. Then we rotated. It was almost like ‘Musical Dining.’ As chaotic as it sounds, it worked rather well.
The food was enough to distract anyone from imperfections in service. We began with a Cucumber Boat Hors D’Oeuvre: a vibrant splash of colour and flavour. The soup, a Jerusalem Artichoke Puree, could almost be described as drinking butter (but I would never describe it that way since it sounds disgusting and the soup was delicious). Next came rolls of stuffed Trout and greens, complete with fish-shaped puff pastry.
Finally, the highlight of the meal was served: Roast Suckling Pig with Sage and Onion Stuffing accompanied by a Waldorf Salad and Braised Endives. For those of us who had never seen an entire pig roasted, it was something to behold. The pig was rolled into the dining hall, Escoffier-style, and after generous applause was returned to the kitchen to be carved and served.
For dessert we had Poires Belle Helene, or poached pears, and ‘Surprise!’ there was ice cream in the middle. Yum.
The entire experience consisted of surprises: the menu competition, the cooking and serving rotation, and especially the meal itself. I don’t think any of us had ever prepared a meal quite like it. Thank you to the founders of the school, our instructors and my classmates who made this time travel experience unforgettable. Escoffier would have been proud.