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Christmas, Cooking and Chefs

My cooking skills didn’t shine this Christmas. The gingerbread biscuits were like bricks, the vegan meringues just didn’t work. The biscuits were thrown out for the birds but I couldn’t inflict the non-meringues on any creature. But we didn’t starve and our meals were suitably indulgent and delicious. Oh, and the vegan fruit cake was moist but crumbly. Still tasted good and my strategy in this scenario is to serve it with custard and call it pudding. Haven’t tried the regular cake yet.

I thought back to the times when I cooked professionally, working with the best and never worrying about failures. For all the years I lived in Singapore it was my role to assist visiting chefs at a yearly gala culinary event. I’d love to visit again and see what’s happening.

It’s an intense learning and motivating experience, meeting twelve accomplished chefs from all over the world and watching them demonstrate their skills. You really had to be there, watching the videos of the masterclasses now doesn’t evoke the excitement and nervous tension that filled the room. We felt the stress of wanting everything to go right; the chefs fussed over the equipment and we hurried to explain, to demonstrate and placate. The audience sat around on bench pews, politely waiting.

It was good to be reminded that classic cooking can’t be hurried. It takes time and patience to produce stocks to be used in sauces which are rich or subtle, satisfyingly simple or complex. It requires patience to prepare ingredients – slicing, paring and shaping for the best results.

Several chefs had Michelin stars. They were there in the room, with me beside them, sharing their expertise. I shivered and rubbed my goose bumps. I was there as a representative of the company supplying the cooking equipment. Mostly the chefs were polite and friendly. I’d worked with chefs for many years and knew the stories about their bad tempers and appalling behaviour were incorrect. Mostly.

The worst behaved chef in all the years was Australian, much to my shame. He criticised the equipment after refusing my offer of a demonstration; he rejected every suggestion and threatened to leave. He yelled and threw things. The crowd cringed and I attempted to placate, suppressing the urge to yell back. Was he nervous? Possibly, but more likely he was under-prepared. His list of required ingredients was quite bizarre.

A gadget crazy young American chef used a mortar and pestle for the first time to grind spices because that was what he was given. He could taste the difference and liked it. He had wanted to throw it all in the blender but had to go along with his Indian chef demonstration partner. A learning experience for him. He was going to teach 10-year-olds to make pizza later, thought it would be fun.

One year the event coincided with Christmas. I created a menu for our company team chef, who had never made a Christmas dinner, to present. It was happily a success and I still count it as one of my proudest achievements! I found a recipe from that year but seem to have misplaced the one for a ‘Merry Berry Meringue Roll’. It was, I think, a marshmallowy meringue roll stuffed with whipped cream and assorted berries. Probably served with a raspberry coulis and topped with a sprig of mint pretending to be holly. I’ll give it a go next year.

Image by RODNAE Productions
Nutty Fruity Turkey Stuffing
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