Last week the mighty Stratford Chef’s School brought an entourage of teachers, directors and students to Toronto for a day of instruction in the kitchen by Chef Emily Watkins. With not even 24 hours in Canada and just coffee and innate passion for food did this young chef based in Oxfordshire (an hour outside of London) did she lead three teams of culinary students in preparing today’s lunch.
I was invited to watch, photograph, engage and ultimately try out this lunch prepared by students of Danforth Tech and some Stratford students under the guidance of Chef Emily Watkins. At 20 years of age, she left an office job in favour of moving to Italy to follow her passion and learn to cook. She worked without pay, no knowledge of Italian – armed only with a determination to learn the skills that would make her a worthy chef. After her three years in Florence she honed her craft under Heston Blumenthal at the Fat Duck and also worked as a private chef in London.
Today, Watkins is one of the UK’s fastest rising chefs and she is now free to express her own ideas as Chef at The Kingham Plough in Oxfordshire, England. This country pub serves up English country fare and as Chef Watkins relates, “the approach is simple, seasonal and earthy”. The menu changes daily and 85% of her suppliers are within a 10 mile radius of the pub.
Most of my morning was spent watching the Chef orchestrate the culinary students deliver a lunch that would begin with poached eggs, followed by a seared duck breast and finished with a warm chocolate mousse. Watching the entire meal be prepared from start to finish and then to be able to actually taste the meal for yourself was both entertaining and educational (yes I am still learning).
The first course was the crisp hen egg with spinach purée, crispy bacon, watercress. The highlight was the crispy bacon and the poached egg that was then dredged in flour, egg and Panko then fried until golden. Gonna have to make this meself!
The main course was seared duck breast. The students were instructed on how to score the the duck fat in a cross-hatch pattern then properly sear the meat for colour, crisped fat and to a medium doneness (pink). The base of the of the dish would be braised lentils that were cooked much like a risotto would: mire poix, herbs and then gradual amounts of stock were added until they were cooked. Another neat side was the caramelized endive that was both savory and sweet.
Dessert was a light, very well-whipped chocolate mousse that had a delicious topping of candied orange peel wonderful orange cookies good for a sweep in the mousse or with a coffee or tea! Until the next post, here’s the recipe for the seared duck breast and the braised lentils, enjoy!
4 duck breasts
coarse salt & fresh pepper
fried sage for garnish
1 cup of green lentils
1/4 cup butter
2 Tbsp. olive oil
extra-virgin olive oil
4 shallots, diced (1/3 cup)
1 carrot, diced
approx. 1 litre of chicken stock
2-3 Tbsp. chopped fresh sage
- Rinse the lentils well. In a pot add your butter, oil, shallots, carrots, and sweat until softened then add the sage. Now add the lentils, some salt and pepper and stir. Add the stock one ladle at a time and stir-in and continue to add stock until the lentils are just tender. Remove from the heat and reserve.
- Take your duck out the fridge and pat-dry. Score the fat in a cross-hatch pattern with a sharp knife and allow your duck to come to room temperature. Season the breasts with salt and pepper and place a skillet on your stove-top over medium-high heat and place the breasts fat-side down and sear for 3urn over and sear the other side for a minute then turn over again and sear the fat side again for another minute. Repeat the process twice more then remove the breasts from the pan and allow to rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.
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