It’s what you might call a true working lunch for someone who writes about food - spending the morning in a professional restaurant kitchen preparing and cooking it, before tucking in.
Having spent what must be hundreds of hours at restaurant tables devouring all manner of dishes, I decided to get a closer look at what goes in to the preparation - and who better to learn from than Lee Clarke at one of his regular cookery schools at the restaurant bearing his name in Peterborough city centre.
Thankfully, the word school is a misnomer - there’s not a desk or blackboard in sight and the kitchen looks nothing like any classroom I have been in.
I did learn a lot though, which is entirely down to Lee’s enthusiasm for cooking, and passion for food which is infectious.
It’s not a cookery demonstration, although it is informative. It is hands on, incredibly interesting, hard work and above all great fun.
I hardly ever cook at home, so it is fair to say I was a little apprehensive, but was soon put at ease by the relaxed atmosphere as we ( there were four of us) talked through how the day would pan out.
Starters was to be pork belly with scallops and a cauliflower puree - a take on a 1999 Gordon Ramsay classic, we were told.
We scored the fat on the pork, gave it a good coating of a marinade made with sherry, thyme and paprika, bedded it on a thick layers of onions, and put it in the oven for a couple of hours; so far, so good.
Until a couple of weeks ago I had barely eaten scallops, yet here I was with a knife prising the shells open, taking the contents out and, with a bit of thumb work, presenting for Chef a nice, ready to cook scallop.
The puree was somewhat simpler thanks to the presence of something called a Thermoblender.
We eventually brought the three together - carefully presented on the plate of course (juggling the flash frying of the scallops, cutting the pork and arranging it all on a plate with a swipe of puree was a challenge) with a bit of seasoning for a terrific first course, washed down by a refreshing glass of Reisling.
Work in the kitchen continued: new chopping boards, new knives, plenty of wiping down surfaces as we prepared the rest of our lunch - main course was to be pork tenderloin with a ham hock and bean casserole.
We trimmed the sinew from the pork, and then tied it up with garlic, anchovies and thyme, ready for five minutes in a dry pan and five more in the oven.
There was lots of trimming and chopping vegetables - different cutting techniques to try out - to prepare the casserole, with the pre-soaked beans going in with the juices from the ham hocks - which were pulled apart (tricky for delicate “office hands” even with gloves on)and added to the mix.
Again it all came together beautifully - each of us preparing our casserole on the stove, adding finely chopped parsley and spinach and presenting it professionally ( see the photo - you be the judge) with the sliced tenderloin and topped with delicious pesto.
The final course offered the biggest challenge - never having made a dessert from scratch in my life - let alone a rhubarb and custard tart .
The measuring out is vital - get that wrong and you are in trouble, warned Lee - and was simple enough but it is the technique in preparing the pastry which seemed daunting.
Again, a simple instruction and demonstration made the difference, and it was soon being rolled out ready for the careful placement in the tin ready for cooking and our final course on the table.
To be honest the five hours flew by - the “work” was enjoyable and the food wasn’t bad either. But what did I learn: well you might find me in the kitchen a little more at home but I won’t be giving up the day job just yet.
Contact Clarkes, 10 Queen St, St John’s Square, Peterborough. Telephone: 01733 892681. Email: email@example.com
Clarkes Cookery School 2015:
Hot smoked salmon and potato salad;
April 20: Pasta
Butternut squash ravioli and mushroom risotto;
Fresh fruit tarts
Whole roasted sea bass stuffed with potatoes and fennel;
Bread i.e. sour dough, seeded white loaf, crusty farmhouse, and larverbread;
Strawberries, clotted cream and balsamic
Roasted lamb rump and potato gratin;
Chocolate hot chocolate fondant
Risotto pumpkin and sage;
Roasted chicken and fondant potatoes;
Peanut butter parfait
Lemon and garlic roasted baby chicken and cous cous;
Bread ie Sour dough, Foccaccia, red onion and goat’s cheese stick, Wholemeal loaf;
Blackberry and apple junket
October 19: Game
Roasted pheasant and bread sauce;
Hot chocolate fondant
November 2: Indian
Chicken, lamb, lentil and fish curries with braised rice;
November 16: Christmas Day
Learn to cook Christmas dinner like a pro