In many ways the month spent in the light-filled converted warehouse space of Dublin Cookery School seems like a dream. And it was. A dream I had dreamt for some time – to step out of a busy life and into a busy kitchen for a full four weeks. And a dream to experience all those news flavours, smells and sights; to learn all those new skills; to transform what was for me a theory-based knowledge (acquired from five years of editing recipes, researching food features and writing restaurant reviews for F&W Magazine, and many more years serving up great food in some great restaurants) into a practical can-do knowledge. It’s not that I couldn’t cook, I could and did, often and with enthusiasm; but we all can stay inside our comfort zones unless we shake ourselves out of them. That was my dream. To learn the kinds of things I knew I couldn’t teach myself from reading a cook book.
The people were a dream too: the camaraderie of the other 16 students, each from a very different background and level of experience to the next. And the staff were a proper dream team to deal with, from the unflappable behind-the-scenes admin of Sally to the ever-cheerful cleaning staff to the daily kitchen staff (Gerry, Ann Marie and Lia) who measured ingredients with such precision and doled out support and third / fourth / fifth-time explanations with such endless patience. That’s before you get to the shooting stars of the show: the chefs who travelled across cities – even seas! – or abandoned new-born babes to share their considerable expertise (not to mention entertaining stories) in one-day visits.
And then the true headline acts: John Wyer, more familiar with Michelin-starred kitchens than cutting-edge cookery school demo kitchens (though you wouldn’t have known it, so natural a teacher was he) and the prima donna of Dublin Cookery School, the woman whose dream this in fact began as, and continues to be – the inimitable, unstoppable, uncompromising, never-resting, infectiously passionate Lynda Booth. Her dream began with placing a reclining mirror above her home kitchen counter and inviting paying guests to watch her cook up a storm (sometimes with the help of a then-very-young Neven Maguire who used to close his Blacklion restaurant kitchen on a Friday night to come cook in Lynda’s gaff for said paying audience).
And that dream of Lynda’s lives on three or four times a year, when the 3,000 square foot converted warehouse in which Dublin Cookery School is housed opens its doors to up to 24 students. Yes, there are lots of other courses and classes throughout the year to choose from at the school (over 60 of them) but the one-month is Lynda’s baby, her dream come true.
And for one month, it was mine too.
And what did I take from it? Well, apart from all that has been logged in the 20 postings of this blog, each dedicated to just one aspect of each precious day, I learnt so so much more. To fill in any gaps for those who have been following, here’s a list of some of those things:
How to cut up a bird, be it a quail, poussin, chicken or duck.
How to fillet various types of fish, not to mention skin them.
How to make several styles of meringue.
How to make old-style sauces such as bechamel, what to do with them in a modern kitchen, and what lighter alternatives contemporary cooks like to use.
Several methods for chopping an onion, speedily and safely.
How to make a soup in seconds or mix bread in minutes, what to marinade for hours and when to start a bread overnight.
How to roll pasta, pizza and sweet and short pastries.
How many pints of soup, cups of rice, loaves of bread, handfuls of leaves, slices of tomatoes, fillets of fish, legs of lamb or haunches of venison to allow per head when calculating catering quantities.
How to tell a chiffonade from a concasse, a reduction from a roux.
How to blanche, braise and baste, to carmelise, clarify and confit, to macerate and marinate, to poach and to pass, to scald and to skim.
Why to refresh, when to relax and just what to render.
We made chickpea cassoulets and shellfish casseroles, crepes and croquettes; we baked naan breads, grated fresh coconut, shredded green papaya and
We stir-fried cumin-scented beef, baked mozzerella-stuffed peppers and steamed cous cous to soak up tagine juices.
We tasted cheeses and fine wines, and took a virtual tour of the soleros of Jerez, the home of sherry in Southern Spain.
We learnt to cook with all our senses.
To listen to the sounds of the sizzling pots and pans telling you when they’re too hot or too cool.
To smell when one spice has released its aromas but another is still locked inside.
To recognise temperature by touch, distinguishing medium from rare.
To look at the edges of a fillet of fish browning in a pan, and watch the opaque colouring of its flesh creep towards cooked.
And to taste, taste, and taste again.
To trust our senses, and challenge our palates.
And to remember that there are very few rules which cannot be broken, and very few mistakes which cannot be rescued, and very little which cannot be learnt by trial and error.
To cook, and to keep on Cooking for Life.