Not keen on eggs. Now what exactly does that mean? It’s bad enough when people are picky, but something as absurdly vague as that is surely even worse. Does that mean that you’ll eat eggs if you’re served them, but you just want the chef to know in advance that you won’t have particularly enjoyed them? Or does it mean that you’ll eat a quail’s egg, but wouldn’t touch a hen’s egg? That you’ll eat them when used in things like cakes? As punishment for their vagueness, the person in question should be made to eat eggs until they can definitively make their mind up regarding their opinion of them. However, I feel I have got ahead of myself slightly, so let’s back track. I have returned home after being lucky to have spent two weeks working in Simon Rogan’s restaurant, L’enclume, in Cartmel. It was an incredible opportunity as it is one of the most praised and highly accoladed restaurants in Britain, holding 2 michelin stars, 5 AA rosettes, and being one of only 2 restaurants in the country to receive 10/10 in the Good Food guide (the other I believe being The Fat Duck).
Although I have done some restaurant work before, it has only ever been for a day or two at a time, so I anticipated that the hours would take some getting used to and I wasn’t wrong. I worked about 15 hours a day, 9 days in a row before I got a day off, but I feel it must be said that that was probably less than anyone else who was working at the restaurant who had to turn up an hour earlier than me, so I shouldn’t complain.
Luckily the ‘eggs’ request was the oddest thing that appeared on a check whilst at the restaurant. However, for anything above a table of two it was pretty rare that a check came in that didn’t have at least one specific dietary requirement noted. No fish, no eggs, no red meat, no raw meat, no foie gras (not that it was even on the menu!), meat must be well done. The list goes on and on. To their credit the restaurant did deal with every requirement thrown at them . They were more forgiving than I am inclined to be.
The experience as a whole was incredibly rewarding for several reasons. First, although the food is far from being ‘molecular’ in any way, it does make use of more scientific techniques and chemicals that I had been exposed to before, which meant that there were always new techniques for me to see and learn, such as using liquid nitrogen, or cooking with isomalt. Alongside these new techniques and chemicals though, the restaurant puts a strong emphasis on the freshness of its produce, and many of the vegetables are supplied by the restaurant’s private farm which is only a few miles away, and a wide variety of foraged herbs and leaves are brought in fresh every day to be used for service.
Second, I was very unsure before I arrived how much I would actually be able to be involved during service, and whether I would be confined to prep work. However, I am hugely indebted to the other chefs there who were more than happy for me to help out during service and after a couple of days I was allowed to plate the first 4 courses of the menu on my own, and to help out with those that followed (the full tasting menu runs to 21 courses). So I am now a master plater of oyster pebbles, potato baskets with onion ash, radishes with marjoram gel, and deep fried eel with lovage puree.
The amount of work that goes into all the food is truly staggering, and it really does make you realise that the vast majority of diners probably have no comprehension of this. When you’re served your piece of duck breast, around course 16, you probably don’t realise that the duck was first skinned, then the fat was thinned out, cooked sous vide, ‘glued’ back onto the duck, the whole thing cooked sous vide again, before it is seared in a pan and cooked in the oven to be served to you. All for something you’ll probably eat in a couple of mouthfuls.
All this is done for a purpose, and the method of duck preparation is purely to produce the best tasting duck that they believe they can. When this is best achieved through simplicity then that’s what they do; when making the carrot puree, the focus is on making it taste as much of carrot as it possibly can. So it contains carrots. And that’s it. Carrots, cooked in carrot juice for a long time and then blended. No butter, no cream, no stock. And the result is an incredibly fresh, vibrant puree that tastes of exactly what it should.
Overall, although it was enormously tiring and very hard work, it was an amazing experience to be in such a well respected kitchen putting out such high quality food, and I was able to learn a huge amount. I owe a debt of thanks to all the chefs at L’enclume for being so helpful, and Mark Birchall, the head chef, for allowing me to come in the first place. I’ve now got a week to recover, as it turns out I have the back of a 75 year old, then I’m off to do it all again at Le Manoir for two weeks.
As you’ve probably noticed, in two weeks in the Lake District, I failed to take a single photo. Luckily, my family saw my working life as an excuse for a holiday, so bundled themselves up to the Lake District for the second week I was at L’enclume, meaning that, very helpfully, when I got back at midnight every night, they could inform me of what they’d done to entertain themselves that day. So in place of photos of my ‘holiday’, here are two of theirs.
Looks like I was better off in the kitchen. Hopefully I’ll get in another blog before heading off to le Manoir. At the end of my time at L’enclume we all actually went for a meal there, so I’ll write up a review of that shortly, hopefully with minimal bias.