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Monday, 6 June 2011

All because of Lemon-Thyme Ice-Cream...

“Everyone here’s lovely, except Gareth – we love Gareth but he’s a .....”

Brilliant, I think, ‘Gareth’s a ....’ – That’ll be the title of the post (whenever I get round to writing it up).

Except it’s not the title (that’s explained below), because he’s not. Not really, but someone’s got to get the stick I suppose.

But to begin at the beginning, I was invited into the kitchens of Mark Greenaway at the Hawke & Hunter for a Saturday night service to see just what it was like in a real kitchen; I couldn’t wait, though I had no idea what I was walking into – would I actually get to cook or get stuck watching at the pass? Would I get on alright or would the serious cooks get annoyed by the intrusion of a tubby bloke who’s out of his depth?

I asked Twitter what I could expect, “keep the fridge doors clean”, “bring marigolds” and “ask him about the cheese” were the most helpful replies. Thanks guys.

Which all meant that I was walking in blind to Mark’s kitchen, the first thing that hit me was the heat – easily 35 degrees, the second was “no wonder pro kitchens can rest meats for 10 minutes without them getting cold, their kitchens are BOILING everywhere.

I was introduced to the team, Ian, James, Paul and Gino D’Acampo (not the real one but let’s run with it for kitchen in-joke reasons) as well as the service team which included Gareth; Mark showed me his new kitchen and the pieces of kit he’d replaced since taking over the kitchen (nb, if my wife’s reading this a Waterbath and then a Thermomix would be ideal presents come Father’s Day and Christmas) and introduced me to Ian who was on Larder and James on Pastry who I’d be helping, just like a demi-comis or something.
And then service started, I was plating the confit duck with beetroot carpaccio, hot orange jelly and raspberry dressing as well as sending some amuses of pea espuma dressed with truffle oil and mint; the amuses were easy, Isi gun and a steady hand was all it took, the duck however was a nightmare. It needed four identical globes of raspberry dressing in each corner of a square plate and a straight line extending from each one along the edge before beginning to plate the rest of the dish, Mark is exacting and nothing beyond perfection left the kitchen, it took me on average 7 plates to get the lines straight and consistent enough to satisfy him; the upside of this was a few extra pieces of duck which were otherwise going to waste. Well, I hadn’t eaten that night, don’t judge me (seriously, it was lovely, you’d have done the same).

As time went by, I was struck by how relaxed it all was, there was no shouting (except at Gareth and he does invite it) or stress and before I knew it we’d pushed our way through all bookings plus a good number of walk-ins with what seemed like little effort; proof that if you get the Mise en Place right, everything else follows, in this case for North of 60 covers.

And so to Pastry where I was plating a few deconstructed Eton Mess’s (great dish by the way) with James who was of a similar age to me and had not long started in kitchens following a career as a nurse, that got me thinking...

Looking back, I had a great time with some top blokes (even Gareth) and I stood the heat but did I do any cooking? Well, no. Mark needs to protect his reputation (7 plates, remember) and also the work goes on throughout the day so that when we come to service the foreplay’s been done and it’s just moneyshots all round.

So, will I go back again? Yes, if they’ll have me – though next time I want to do some of the heavy prep too, try my knife skills alongside the pros and really get to play with the stocks and sauces, geek that I am.

As for the title of this post, that was how this adventure came about; Jacqueline O’Donnell of The Sisters and I were talking about Lemon Thyme Ice-cream for a dinner party (it goes really well with roasted pineapple) and she suggested I try my hand in a real environment and volunteered Mark; and I’d like to thank them both for that because, for a food geek like me, it was an amazing experience.

Incidentally, you might wonder why I’ve not reviewed the restaurant – basically Mark’s become a chum and so I’m probably not objective; in fact as I’ve received his hospitality then I’m probably slightly conflicted (when I review, I do it as a paying guest with the same expectations so the good and the bad are fairly reported).

Anyway, unless you’ve had your head in a bucket of sand, you’ll have come across some justifiably cracking reviews of this new venture; it’s got great food, exciting flavours and wonderful portion size (in fact, the only down side – make sure you leave room for some of his top desserts); so do yourself a favour and go there – as well as being great in the evening,  it’s got to be one of the best business lunch venues in Edinburgh.

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