A few weeks ago I received an invitation from Alison at Total Greek Yoghurt to ask if I would like to attend something called the Total Greek Yoghurt Masterclass. Now, anything with the word Greek in it appeals to me greatly. Add yoghurt in and there I am, sold. Add to that the fact that it was being held at a cookery school and you can imagine that I didn’t hesitate to say yes. It was quite handy that the email arrived while we were sorting out holiday allocations at work, so it was a matter of mere seconds to add another day to my booked time off. Inbetween squeaking about being, like, a real food blogger and everything anyway.
The day dawned sunny and fair. I left BF’s house earlier than planned as East Croydon was having Tram Drama, made it to Victoria quite easily and then tubed it to Oxford Circus. I then did what I always do when I have to travel via Oxford Circus. I turned the wrong way out of the station. It doesn’t matter how many maps I have, that crossroads throws me right off. Luckily I realised my mistake quite fast as I was on the lookout for it, and turned back. Headphones on, a purposeful stride, and more squinting at the map and I arrived at L’Atelier des Chefs. Too early it turns out but that’s better than being late. What a place! So many cooking trinkets, gadgets, knives...
The dear people from Total were in a bit of a pickle as their Ocado order had been delayed by a computer glitch, so I got my name tag and then sat upstairs with a cup of tea and ogled the cookware. There was a whole wall of knives. I held onto my purse for dear life and tried not to look at the shinies.
One by one fellow foodies/bloggers turned up and there was much asking of names/Twitter handles. (I will update this later with names as it’s all a bit of a blur at the moment!)
One thing I will say right now is that the seating – mini bar stool things – are NOT made for those of us who have back problems, or who are rather broader of beam than the average Joe. If you go along to the school at any point, bear that in mind. It made for an awful lot of fidgeting about when the talks were happening.
When all was calm, the day began with a talk about nutrition by the beautiful Hala from Nutrition Rocks. As someone who has always been told to diet, and has dutifully done so because I commit the cardinal sin every day of being overweight, I admit that I had heard most of it before – but something I had never heard a nutritionist say is that “Fat is not bad, okay?” I could have hugged her. It was all very sensible advice, certainly no scaremongering, so that was very good.
Phil from Skinny Latte - http://skinnylattestrikesback.blogspot.com/ - was up next and though I absolutely admire her guts and determination, think that what she has achieved is utterly phenomenal and very much appreciate Phil's honesty about her story, I’m afraid that the whole “I went from fat to thin and now I’m happy” slant made me feel very, very uncomfortable. This may have shown on my face somewhat, which is a little embarrassing as I was right in front of the camera’s gaze.
Touting being thin as a Happy Making Mission is not a great thing for me. Some of us are what we are, and there is nothing we can do about it, no matter what we eat/how much we exercise and when you have been overweight from childhood, despite very healthy eating, there comes a point where you learn to accept yourself for who and what you are. I am conscious of every single thing that I eat, overly so, and face a fight with myself every time. Foods that are bad, foods that are good – it goes on every time I want to eat. I don’t just ‘go grab a sandwich’ at lunch, I agonise. I also battle some difficult health issues and at this point in my life, I am not going to let being overweight stop me from doing anything. If having MS isn’t going to stop me, then extra flab certainly isn’t! To be honest, the weight didn’t stop me when I was younger either.
I debated long and hard whether to write all that, but I am a pretty honest person, and it wouldn't have felt right to miss out a significant chunk of my experience.
But anyway. I shall quit that particular soapbox now, because it’s personal to me, and others did not feel the same way. It touched a few of my nerves I expect.
There is one thing I would like to say – pointing out a beautiful pregnant lady as being a perfect example of pregnancy fitness, because she works out and drinks lots of water, that isn’t actually fair. There are plenty of women who work out and eat well, who do not eat for two when pregnant but if your body decides it’s gaining weight while pregnant, then it’s gaining weight and there is nothing you can do about it. You can try and mitigate the damage but sometimes it is out of your control. The lady in question was utterly radiant and a real inspiration but I know people who had a very similar regime, and they put on a load of weight regardless. Everyone is different. Okay, I’ve gotten on the soapbox again. Still, that is pretty much me.
Moving on! Moving on.
After a break for tea, and me snaffling a banana from the fruit bowl on the disposal before I fainted, we moved on to The Cooking. Oh yay! Chefs and knives and all kinds of everything.
Three chefs, one at each cooking station, were showing us how to make three different dishes. Andre Dupin showed us Tartare of Mackerel with Minted Cucumber Soup, Fabricio Cano Davila demonstrated Pan Fried Medallions of Pork with Yoghurt Gribiche and Fennel, then Satyajit Welaratne made Vegetarian Samosas with a Minted Cucumber Dip. I will put the recipes up in a separate post. They were all very, very lovely indeed. After we had watched the demo, and supposedly taken it all in, we got the chance to make it ourselves. Oh yes, let me at those Sabatier knives. That makes me very happy. Also we got to eat what we cooked, and as most of us were starving by that time, everyone was up for cooking! Even Hala got involved I think.
I have to totally admire the patience of Andre while he was being filmed, as being asked to constantly redo things, tilt the bowl this way, tilt it that way, stop, start must have been incredibly annoying, especially when making a caramel! If it’s ready it’s ready, you cannot leave it on there a second longer just to get a shot. Cooking under pressure is what chefs do though, which is why I am just a cook, not chef.
I made the Pork Medallions first, and I have to say, not having control over the heat of the gas flame is incredibly frustrating but I got there in the end. Gribiche sauce is just heavenly. Yoghurt, shallots, cornichons, parsley, chervil, tarragon, capers and grated hard boiled egg make a rich tasting but light textured sauce. I may have made a double quantity and eaten it with a spoon. The dressed fennel salad was so very fresh and tangy, which leads me to think that if I am going to eat fennel, it has to be as fresh as I can get it else the aniseed taste takes over too much.
No photo from me from the day as I ate it too fast but this one was sent to me by Alison from Total.
After munching that, going “Mmmm ohmygoddnessmmmm” and having a bit of a sit down and a good old natter with the other attendees, it was back to the kitchen to make the Tartare of Mackerel with Andre. Raw, chopped mackerel, parsley, shallots, cornichons, yoghurt, ketchup – yes, ketchup – Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce and capers. I got some hot knife action going with the cornichons, so that made me feel slightly more cheffy than just adding ready chopped herbs to a dish. Lynne (http://www.clarkagency.co.uk/GreedyPiglet/) and I teamed up and had a blast making – and eating – that dish. The cucumber ‘soup that went with it lifted the slightly heavy feeling of the mackerel, and made it a lovely, summery treat. I think I would make that again, quite happily.
More sitting down, more scoffing, much more nattering, then back to the kitchen for round three. Samosas this time using feuille de brick pastry, which is like filo pastry but much more malleable. I believe it is Tunisian in origin, and it doesn’t dry out as fast as filo dough so I may get some for the freezer.
We mixed mashed potato, peas, an onion paste, ground cumin, coriander and turmeric, garlic and yoghurt together, piled it onto a strip of the pastry, folded it up into a triangle, then shallow fried it. Lynne and I teamed up again. We had enough mix for two, so we made, er, two. Gorgeously crisp pastry and a very lovely depth of taste to the filling, though if I made them at home I would bake them as the pastry holds the oil a bit too much for my liking. Off it was to sit and eat again.
Then came the desserts. Chestnut Tiramisu Rapide, Yoghurt White Chocolate Millefeuille with Spiced Plums and Yoghurt Drop Scones with Caramelised Pineapple.
I am not a huge pancake fan, and the spiced plums had a lot of wine in them so I steered clear but the tiramisu was going to be mine. I have to say that the smell of red wine added into a dark caramel sauce is utterly intoxicating, and smelled almost of dark chocolate so I wish I could have tasted the spiced plums but I wasn’t taking chances.
The Tiramisu is boudoir biscuits dipped in a coffee/cognac/sugar mixture, and layered up with a yoghurt/cream/chestnut mixture and topped with cream and cocoa powder. Andre kindly got an espresso without sugar made for me so that I could avoid the alcohol and I was so very grateful. I made my dessert and I scraped the bowl clean. I could happily have gone back and eaten another. I will make that again for definite. There was much laughter, and sharing of food ideas, tips and recipes, and for once I didn’t feel like a freak or an obsessive when I took photos.
So. I thought I didn’t like fennel, and I do. I really thought I didn’t like mackerel and guess what? Yup, I do now. I wasn’t even sure that I liked espresso neat but I do. I also made it out of a cookware shop without buying anything, not even the coconut extract, or the rose extract, though at least I know where I can get them now…
All in all it was a very good day indeed. It was brilliant to meet so many like-minded new people, and yes, there has been a Twitter Adding Frenzy. I felt like a proper blogger and everything.
Huge thanks to Total Greek Yoghurt for making it possible, to Alison and her team for all their hard work and goodie bags and to the chefs at L’Atelier for their kindness and patience.
I would surely do that again, anytime. Next time, I'd like to play with the knives a bit more...
L’atelier des Chefs
19 Wigmore Street
London W1U 1PH