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HH&co backstage - Cook school with Jeremy Lee

HH&co backstage - Cook school with Jeremy Lee

by Sally Abé 28 September 2015

Sally Abé attends the first of Limewood's guest cook schools, hosted by master of British cooking Jeremy Lee.

After a five-year stint in the kitchen at two Michelin-starred restaurant, The Ledbury, Sally is now technical food editor at Great British Chefs.

Limewood is situated in the middle of the idyllic New Forest. Miles away from the hustle and bustle of the city, the hotel is a newly renovated regency country manor house surrounded by greenery as far as the eye can see. Driving up to Limewood it feels as if you are in a scene from a period drama and the inside of the hotel is equally as grand. Angela Hartnett and her partner Luke Holder took the helm in the kitchen here in 2009 and haven’t looked back.

The hotel offers various cooking schools from pasta making to cakes to Christmas, but this one was rather special, being the first in a series of guest cookery schools followed by pop up dinners in the evening. Today the star of the show was Jeremy Lee, the Dundonian master of British cuisine who now runs the kitchen at Quo Vadis after an eighteen year spell at Blueprint.

We arrived to a welcome of teas, coffees and bacon sandwiches and were duly given our name badges (which I am secretly grateful for as I am terrible with names) before being shown downstairs to the cookery school. The room is equipped with a number of workstations with induction hobs and ovens along the walls and a large central station for demonstrations. In the centre of the room is a beautiful long wooden table which was adorned with the produce for the day ahead.

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Jeremy enters the room and instantly owns it, and after a welcoming introduction from Angela, everyone’s attention is drawn to him as he explains the theme of the day (local produce, game) and the dishes that we will be preparing. He talks about the produce with such passion and enthusiasm I think he could convince even the most sceptical of eaters to try a wild bird. He compares grouse to great cheese, rather pungent in smell but “on the tongue extraordinarily delicate”.

We are to make a smoked eel and horseradish canapé, (a take on Jeremy’s signature smoked eel sandwich), a pigeon, beetroot and red fruit salad, roast grouse with bread sauce and game chips and a plum and apple strudel for dessert. This is cooking with the soul of Britain and all its history packed into one day.

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We begin by preparing the beetroots for the salad. While they are baking whole in the oven our attention turns to the fruit, a wonderful seasonal array including damsons, elderberries, red plums and blackberries. Jeremy makes a damson jam, talking us through the process and sharing his wisdom and thoughts on sugar (not too much) and cooking time (as short as possible). In contradiction to most chefs, Jeremy encourages us to use seasonal ingredients in as many courses as possible, if something so wonderful is in season for such a short amount of time then why limit yourself to one dish?

A spoon of the elderberries – themselves prepared with just a splash of water and a sprinkling of sugar – goes into our pans and we arrange the plums around. After a generous dollop of damson jam we cover the pan and leave to cook down to a coulis. Once the beetroots are cooked they get peeled and tossed in with the fruit and the coulis is ready to go.

Next we move onto the strudel, chopping apples, more plums and more elderberries which are cooked down with sugar and mixed together in a big bowl. The simplicity of it all is reassuring; Jeremy does everything by feel and touch (no weights or measurements are used) which puts everyone at ease and makes everything feel achievable, something which is so often not the case with restaurant chefs.

We wrap the fruit in three layers of buttered filo pastry – “more butter!” Jeremy cries, “it’s a treat it’s supposed to taste good!” – before covering it in a generous sprinkling of sugar and putting it into the oven to bake. This is food for sharing and he wants it to look loved not clinical. As Jeremy says, the crispy burnt bits are his favourite.

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The dressings for the starters are our next port of call, with one poor volunteer sent out of the room to grate fresh horseradish. I am tasked with finely slicing red onions to pickle in quality white wine vinegar, sugar and salt. Again we don’t measure, we taste to see if it is right and (shock horror) we use our fingers to do so – actively encouraged by Jeremy, of course.

We next infuse the milk for the bread sauce with onion, clove and bay before moving on to the preparation of the birds. Some of the fainter hearted guests are not overwhelmed by the idea of removing the entrails from a bird but Jeremy makes a great argument in favour of doing it at home. While you could get your butcher to do this for you, it’s good to know how to do it yourself to not only check the quality of the bird, but also to know exactly where it has come from.

We pot roast the pigeons, browning the birds all over in a pan then placing the lid on and cooking for a few minutes before Jeremy comes over and finished our pans of with a flamboyant splash of sherry and Madeira. The grouse, whose entrails have been left intact for now, goes into a very hot oven to roast after being slathered with butter and pepper. Jeremy comes over giving guidance where necessary, but mainly sharing words of encouragement which makes everyone feel like they are doing a great job. He is such a natural with people, patient and informative and everyone is clearly having a great time.

The other accompaniments for the grouse are breadcrumbs, fried in an abundance of butter and finished with sherry, and gaufrette potatoes or “posh crisps” as Jeremy calls them. After around 12 minutes we pull our grouse from the oven and use a slice of sourdough to soak up all the delicious roasting juices before frying it in (more) butter to use as a vessel for the grouse livers and hearts.

We chop the livers and hearts and mix with salt, pepper, butter, sherry and madeira before frying to make the most basic but most delicious of pâtés. It’s a primal thing to eat but just incredible in its own simplicity, something I feel really sums up Jeremy's cooking style in general.

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After a mountain of preparation from the class and a few finishing touches from Jeremy and Ian, the head chef of the school, Angela joins us and we sit down to eat together around the wooden table. The food is served on wooden boards and we are poured a beautifully crisp Dry River Riesling while we tuck in. First up is the smoked eel and horseradish in little red chicory leaves, the bitterness of the chicory offset by the smoky eel, spicy horseradish and sweetness of the pickled red onion.

The pigeon breasts are mixed with the red fruits and beetroots and the earthiness is lifted by crisp green salad leaves. This is an explosion of flavour in the mouth, deeply rich pigeon and sweet, tart fruit are a fantastic combination.

We move onto the grouse, Jeremy gives everyone generous helpings of sherry breadcrumbs and our bread sauces have been combined to make one communal pot of creamy goodness. Grouse is my favourite thing to eat at this time of year and I relish the opportunity to gobble down a whole bird with all the classic trimmings – I will definitely be reassessing eating a boring turkey at Christmas this year!

The strudels are dished out with huge dollops of clotted cream and more damson jam, accompanied by a superb sweet wine called Entice from the Hattingley Valley. Jeremy insists we take home the leftovers, one strudel could have easily fed four people so there is more than enough to fill the boxes that appear.

Happily full, we sit and chat around the table until Jeremy and Angela declare they must go and prepare for the evening service. Overall it was a fantastic day, being both extremely well organised and very hands on. I think everyone learned some new skills and, I hope, a newfound respect for wild food.

 

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HH&co backstage - Cook school with Jeremy Lee

 
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