Working with a professional chef

The birthday of my beloved, Ilonka, demanded this year a special celebration. Friends, family and others were invited to the2014-03-23 20.29.11 house for music (a piece of Cabaret – Rotraut Arnold; a four-piece jazzy ensemble – Vobbs, and a violin duet – Alex and Daniella) and food.

The food needed to be good for some of Bayern’s most sceptical carnivorous palates. We bought the recipe book from our favourite restaurant in Brighton, Terre-a-Terre and proceeded to convert the words and pictures into the real thing. We employed the services of a professional chef, Jana Bezold, to help manage the process. Her sheer food  and team management skills were invaluable.

DSCF0441Anyone familiar with Terre-a-Terre knows only too well the complexity of the menu, ingredients and jiggery-pokery needed to pull off each dish. The dishes are the work of creative chefs who primarily understand vegetarian food and take risks to create the unexpected by mixing textures, flavours and colours. Ultimately, one goes to a restaurant to eat food that is not so easy to make at home. This was our challenge: to convince 50 guests from different backgrounds, of various ages and tastes feel they are having a memorable food experience.

It took us over four hours to buy the ingredients from three shops. The ingredients ranged from potatoes to powdered mango, Papaya to Peanuts and pickled ginger. We opted for a couple of utility dishes, vegetable lasagne and spinach pie, not least because we had some children visiting who are not so adventurous and forgiving.

So, on the menu was: Chana Chaat, minty mushy peas (on toast), rice paper blankets (filled with salad), rice noodle salad, marinated tofu kebabs, samosas, quinoa and beetroot salad, aubergine parcels.

Our chef, Jana Berzold trained in one of Munich’s traditional Gaste Houses. Very meaty, veryCooking3 hectic. She then graduated to a Michelin starred restaurant in the city. She now works at a vegetarian café/restaurant in the city called Gratitude (http://www.gratitude-restaurant.de/). She worked through our menu and visited the kitchen to check that it was suitably equipped. She fielded our questions about ingredients as we struggled to identify and differentiate all that we needed. And then she turned up at 0830 on the morning of the event ready to cook.

Not all was in order, I sensed. She arrived with a box of own utensils, bowls and pans. Of particular importance were knives. Sharpe knives. It is a bit of a cliché, but our knives just were not up to the job. Onions do not get rapidly cut, sliced or diced with a blade anything less than razor sharp. Lesson one.

I also sensed that the training delivers a competence beyond reading recipes. The authors of theQuinoa_Kibbi_rolling recipe book note in the introduction that they were reluctant to publish the recipes because the alchemy required to make them work requires a skill that most amateurs do not have. We had the alchemist. She instinctively knew the balance of ingredients, herbs and spices. Taste is everything. If it does not taste right – or even taste, as was the case with the rice noodle salad – then add…something. It is that something that eludes many of us. Lesson two.

Cooking is a team pursuit. And most in the team are kitchen assistants who take orders from the authority figure. Some TV chefs thrive on authority derived from fear. Jena demonstrated a more subtle authority. She inspired participation. The opportunity and willingness to learn demonstrated by the passing helpers was derived absolutely from Jena’s sense of mission. Lesson three.

When it came to serving, the snack food on arrival was appreciated not least because it was late in the day. Guests were actually hungry. More than nibbles, less than a main course. Colour. Also, when there are a variety of  unfamiliar dishes, guests like to try them all. Rightly so. And finally, it seems wholly appropriate to ask guests to bring dessert. Desserts are utilitarian – everyone can do dessert, whether it be a cheese selection, cheesecake or pralines. And certainly we were not let down. The array was impressive. And again, everything had to be tried.

A final Observation, seating. Guests do like to sit down and talk. We hired and borrowed benches and tables. These were decorated and well used, I suspect also that guests stayed longer because eating was not so hurried. And clearing was also easier.

For the labourers like myself, the enjoyment came from seeing guests relaxing, experimenting and anticipating  what was next. There was enough to see off even the most seasoned partygoer.

 

 

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