At 10.00 p.m. on a moon bright Sunday evening Ali and I were to be found (shivering slightly) on the platform at Truro station waiting for the sleeper. Neither of us had used this service before but it turned out to be something of a revelation – great service, a very enjoyable G&T in the lounge and 2 comfortable bunks. Admittedly these bunks were contained in a room the size of an average airing cupboard but all we needed to do was sleep in it so no problem.
We drifted comfortably off to sleep reflecting on the irony of travelling almost 300 miles to cook with a chef from Cornwall using a Cornish cheese…
On Monday morning we were woken at 6.30 with a glass of orange juice and emerged blinking from our hobbit hole into bright sunshine at Paddington. Feeling slightly disorientated we made our way to L’Atelier des Chefs and, once located, set off to indulge in a little retail therapy as we had a couple of hours to kill before the class. A short stroll along Oxford Street soon revealed us to be small town girls at heart – who knew that London doesn’t open until 9.30? Shopping plans thwarted we took refuge at a pavement table outside a little corner café and indulged in that peculiarly English combination of tea and croissants.
Eventually, the time came and we headed off to our class. L’atelier des Chefs is a bright, cheerful space and we were greeted with coffee and smiles and had time to meet our classmates (it turns out we had all won different competitions run by Davidstow Cheese) before Nathan emerged from the kitchen to introduce himself.
It became instantly apparent that no one has told Nathan Outlaw that he is a “celebrity” chef. He seemed to be a very genuine, friendly (if slightly shy) man without pretensions. I am not a big fan of celebrity culture – I don’t read the right magazines or watch the right TV programmes – and I don’t understand the circularity of people becoming famous because they are famous -but I think that chefs are a different case in point. They work incredibly hard to learn their craft, even harder to earn, as Nathan has, 2 Michelin stars and harder still to manage a thriving restaurant. If a little celebrity status helps to fill their restaurants and sell their books then good for them – they have earned their rewards.
And so the cooking began…
First up was a cheese and chive mayonnaise. I have made mayonnaise once before, many years ago, using a food processor, and whilst it wasn’t an unmitigated disaster, the results never inspired me to repeat the process. The point of mayonnaise is that a few simple ingredients can be made into a really lovely dip or dressing, providing you are prepared to be patient and whisk until your arm drops off. Ali and I were pleased to be working as a couple; one whisking and one dripping in the oil until pain set in and we switched. We then added a few crudités, arranged it all artistically(ish) on a plate and set it aside for lunch.
Mayonnaise can be flavoured in lots of different ways; cheese makes it great as a dip whilst my own favourites are dijonnaise (flavoured with Dijon mustard) and aioli but apparently, garlic mayonnaise can also be used to make a beautiful sauce for fish if it is let down with a little fish stock – I would never have thought of this but will be experimenting very soon.
Next we made a Spanish style crab omelette and first had to learn how to pick a crab. Now you would think two food lovers from Cornwall would already know how to do this but I had never tried and Ali had only done it once before so this was a really helpful session.
The day’s top tip for crab was that freezing the crab for an hour before killing not only makes the crab sleepy and the process, therefore, more humane, but it also makes the claws less likely to fall off during cooking. Should a claw become detached, cooking the crab in salt water (its natural environment) will create a barrier and prevent the meat from soaking up too much water. At Restaurant Nathan Outlaw the crabs are cooked in sea water but I accept that it may not be so easy for everyone to pop out with a bucket at high tide.
The biggest challenge in cooking the omelette was getting the halogen hob to work – once working it was incredibly efficient but the controls seemed to be counter intuitive. Ali worked tirelessly to lift the edge of the omelette during cooking to ensure a perfect shape and I watched – it seemed like a good division of labour to me.
Next came lunch, we took our dip and omelette to the table and enjoyed it with a glass (or 3) of a very nice white wine from Camel Valley – also on offer was a bottle of Korev lager from St Austell Brewery – a lovely taste of Cornwall in Westminster. Lunch was topped off with some delicious focaccia bread (which we didn’t make) more cheese from Davidstow and a Gooseberry cheese from Tracklements. In chatting over lunch Ali and I rather guiltily admitted that we have not yet been to Restaurant Nathan Outlaw – criminal really as it is less than 40 miles away – but I think we will be going very soon…
I wouldn’t normally buy Davidstow cheese as I like to buy a really strong mature cheddar, but I have to say that Cornish Crackler hit the spot with a salty sharpness that I liked a lot.
If I am honest I would have liked to spend more time cooking than eating (did I really just say that?!) and would have preferred to cook something more complex than mayonnaise and omelette but overall the day was so relaxed and enjoyable that I would do it again in an instant.
I am aware that this piece is full of lovey name dropping and product placement but I make no apologies – I was thrilled to meet Nathan Outlaw and I left with my food hero impressions intact. I won the prize fair and square, Davidstow Cheese sponsored the event as a promotional activity and did not know that I would blog about it. It would be dishonest and unfair not to mention them and besides, they sent me home with a cool-bag full of cheese – how could I not love them?
The following recipes are Nathan’s, not mine, but we cooked them and they worked.