So a week has now passed and Chef du Jour 2012 is over. I had a great, if sometimes frustrating day, doing something that I had wanted to do for ages, work in a professional kitchen.

I arrived at around mid-day on my cooking day and over coffee discussed the plan for the day with Kate, the proper head chef.

Fenns Quay is a great little restaurant with room for around 60 covers (get me with the cheffy terms!). However, the kitchen is smaller than mine at home! How they do a normal service in a space that small defies belief and is testament to the skill and camaraderie in the Fenns Quay camp.

Proper chefs were around to help me, but they had a busy service themselves, so for the most part I was left to my own devices, which suits me as other people just get in the way!

My menu for the day was:

Amuse Bouche: Carpaccio of beef on a homemade horseradish blini

Fish: Smoked salmon and prawn crepe with fennel salad and oyster crème

Main: Chicken stuffed with Toulouse sausage and pistachio

Sweet: Raspberry baked Alaska.

My feelings on the food:

Amuse Bouche

The amuse bouche beef was stunningly good. It’s easy when you have great produce. I felt my blinis were a little too “heavy” but the feeling of the judges (more about them later) was that this was the best course of all (no accounting for taste eh!)

Fish

I added tarragon to my crepes which added a depth to them which was good. The seafood delivery was quite late, so they were made a little late for my liking. I would have liked to have chilled them more and allowed the filling flavours to grow a little more, but this is a professional kitchen and I have to work by its rules, and if the fish man is late, the fish man is late!

It seems I am the only person in Cork who knows what “oyster crème” is! It’s just cream, oysters, lemon juice and pepper, blitzed. Only Olivier (French cook) and me seemed to like it!

Dish went out looking good and got decent enough reviews from the judges (more about them later).

Main

The main was a major disappointment for me. I would normally use chicken thigh meat for this dish, but on this occasion it was breast meat. As there was a full restaurant service happening at the same time as my little party, the kitchen became very busy. Unfortunately at the exact time I was ready to go with my main, the kitchen had a table of 6 to get out, resulting in a delay of around 10 minutes for me. This meant the chicken breast became a little overcooked and the wine reduction reduced too much. This is Ireland and they like their meat overcooked (I saw at least 4 well done steaks being sent that evening) but this is my party and it was overcooked.

As a result of the delay plating up became rushed and it didn’t look as good going out as it should have.

Comments from the judges (more about them later) were as expected and deserved, it was a little on the dry side.

Sweet

Meringue is a staple of mine, but it’s a bugger in a hot kitchen and in a rush! Eventually we got them all out and they went down a storm, but I pulled out of adding raspberry coulis to the egg mixture to make them go pink, and I will never, ever, ever pipe meringue onto a baked Alaska again. The piping squeezes out all of the air, making it rubbery rather than light and airy.

The judges (more about them later) loved them, but to be fair, everyone loves them. I wasn’t really expecting anything different.

 So my days cooking were complete. Very enjoyable it was too.

Positives

Confirmation that the stuff that I cook for fun could cut it on a restaurant menu

Not breaking into a sweat and panicking when the professionals were doing just that! (loved the throwing of the whisk in particular!)

Cooking for 14 people and my estimated (supermarket prices) cost of the whole meal being less than the amount paid by 1 person (ever the businessman!). How much GP?!

Watching real chefs do their stuff. It’s bloody amazing how they time everything and make EVERY plate look the same!

Frustrations / negatives

The delay in my main going out, no ones fault but it did spoil it, plus deciding to go with breast meat not thigh.

The biggest frustration was the realisation at the end of the meal that two of the three judges (told you I’d come to them) had not eaten all of my meal due to “food allergies”. I have no problem with everyday people thinking they have allergies to certain foods but to call yourself a foodie and sit on a judging panel of three and not eat 25% of the meal is frankly wrong and makes a mockery of the whole process. Add to this, at a later event I overheard one of the judges refer to a hard Irish cheese as “a bit like a brie” it makes me wonder………

Overview:

Chef Du Jour it is a fantastic event that needs greater support from the apathetic residents of Cork. Kate and the team at Fenns Quay are very brave to put the event on, but it needs to be publicised more than on just twitter and facebook. The local press hound me weekly for stories about the health club, I am amazed that none ran with this story.

I also have reservations about asking people to pay to have their dinner cooked by a total amateur, and not know what they’re going to be eating. I’m not sure if there’s a way to overcome this (other than openly publicising the menu, obviously!) but it may have been a factor in people not wanting to commit their hard earned cash to a “surprise” dinner.

I can’t thank Kate enough for giving me the opportunity to say I have cooked in a professional kitchen and people paid for it.

Would I do it again? No, I had fun but I’ve done it now.