Cook school confidential: cooking with bread

Cook school confidential: cooking with bread

by Great British Chefs 11 April 2017

We invited chef Merlin Labron-Johnson of the Michelin-starred Portland restaurant in London to Le Cordon Bleu to help extol the virtues of real bread. Take a look at the dishes everyone cooked.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews as well as access to some of Britain’s greatest chefs. Our posts cover everything we are excited about from the latest openings and hottest food trends to brilliant new producers and exclusive chef interviews.

Good flour, yeast, water and salt is all that’s needed to make a really good loaf of bread, but all too often we rely on industrially-made, additive-filled sugary alternatives. However, with the rise in popularity of sourdough and a whole movement dedicated to spreading the word about ‘real bread’, the UK is starting to sit up and take notice of just how special bread can be.

That’s why we organised a cook school and demonstration all about bread at the legendary Le Cordon Bleu in London. Hosting proceedings was Merlin Labron-Johnson, one of the hottest chefs in the capital at the moment – he took time out of his busy service at the Michelin-starred Portland and more relaxed Clipstone to share his love of proper bread.

Merlin knows just how important quality ingredients are, and he was keen to wax lyrical about his favourite flour supplier, Gilchesters Organic, based near Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The chef makes all his own bread in-house and believes Gilchesters Flour is the best in the country. But foodies cannot live by bread alone, so Merlin incorporated it into two of his most famous recipes.

To start, the chef showed the group how to make Brussels sprouts with burnt bread purée. The base was made up of burnt toast, black garlic (which lent the dish an almost aniseed flavour) and sticky, caramelised onions whizzed up into a smooth purée. This was simply topped with flash-fried sliced sprouts and sweetheart cabbage, drizzled with brown butter and raspberry vinegar and a few flaked almonds.

The sprout dish combined the earthy bitterness of black garlic and burnt bread with sweet sprouts and cabbage
Le Cordon Bleu's own Dominique Moudart showed the class how to plait bread
The Easter bread before and after baking

Food waste is important to consider in any kitchen, be it professional or at home, and it’s a topic Merlin is particularly passionate about. That’s why his second dish made use of something that is all too often ignored – calf brains.

While the cook school was all about the versatility of bread, it was clear that the brains were going to steal the show. Offal has a sense of bravado about it and brain is possibly the most visceral of the lot, despite being the least ‘in your face’ in terms of flavour. It’s actually very mild and creamy, with a foamy texture similar to sweetbreads. They’re simple to cook, too – once the brains have been soaked for twenty-four hours in milk to remove all the blood and poached in stock for ten minutes, they can just be dredged in seasoned flour (again from Gilchesters Organics) and fried in butter and lemon juice.

Merlin then whipped up a simple sauce made from veal stock, capers and parsley, which added another layer of flavour. There was still one thing missing from the dish, however – the bread. A slice of very crusty, flavourful sourdough was toasted and placed on the plate, with the perfectly cooked calf brain plonked on top. If you want to give the recipe a go yourself, take a look at the recipe here.

Once everyone had polished off their brains on toast, it was time for Le Cordon Bleu’s own chef Dominique Moudart, a master baker who knows how to create some of the finest loaves in the world. He demonstrated how to make a sweet Easter bread, plaited and filled with sweet dried fruit. It was like the nicest, lightest brioche the group had ever tasted, and certainly looked the part. Everyone left with a new appreciation of bread – both baked from scratch and incorporated into recipes – with a realisation of how important quality ingredients are when baking at home.