My neighbour and good friend and I have been waxing on for the last few months on how it would be great to cook together. This Saturday all that hot air and ideas of grandeur will indeed become reality as we are going to prepare a feast for eight. The occasion is the departure of our good friends and other close neighbours that are flying the nest of our street and moving to another area…ok about ½ kilometre away but that’s still some distance.
Not one for diatribe and idle banter I will not burden you with comedy of errors that has enforced this move, suffice to say that we will be sad to see our friends leave the street, and therefore Saturday night is going to be some culinary send off.
I have never worked in a professional kitchen, or indeed had the perverse pleasure of being battered and bruised in one of those reality cooking shows; which for some is less about cooking and more about how to throw a hotchpotch of countercultural personalities in to a room in which they proceed to throw metaphorical custard pies at each other. So, to share a kitchen with another is new territory for me. I think it’s a great opportunity to learn as well as impart any knowledge I have. Of course the key is how well we work together and if compromises can be made.
It’s quite amazing what the power of the grape does to your creativity. After a couple of glasses of a cracking cabernet merlot the creative juices were flowing, and after four hours of umming and ahhing, cogitating and gesticulating, we finally came up with a menu. And whatsmore we were at one in who would do what and when and how etc.. This is going to be a superb night I can feel it in my bones.
Yesterday we went shopping for the comprehensive list of ingredients. It’s fantastic when two people that love food go shopping for food. You get caught up in the whole experience of it; there’s no rush because every tomato, pepper, micro-herb, leek, pea, bean, apple is carefully prodded and smelt and conversed over; often with “wouldn’t it be great to make this out of that”. And then, where possible, sampling is a necessity; from cheese such as the aged Comte reserve to cured meat such as double smoked pancetta. When the sampling has finished it’s of course then time for lunch!
The first port of call was the fruit and vegetable purveyors, a 60+ years establishment here in Melbourne. Their appeal is that the produce is always wonderfully fresh and eclectic, with a focus on local ingredients that are in season, rather than just imported produce (which is also great). As winter is upon this antipodean land the emphasis is on produce such as peas, broad beans, Jerusalem artichokes, Brussels sprouts, celery, cauliflower, spinach, turnips, apples, lemons, limes, and pears to name a few.
Next was the really fun bit; the ‘special’ ingredients. We are talking about ripe French and Italian cheese, apple-wood smoked meat, couverture chocolate, pasta made in the outhouse of a master pasta maker in the hills of Italy, wild dried mushrooms, cultured butter from the Charentes-Poitou family in France…I think you get the drift.
I am from England, and the one thing that really has saddened me over the years is the decline of the butcher, in favour of the behemoths that are supermarket chains (horsemeat definitely not on the menu). I am, therefore, immensely honoured and grateful to have three butchers in our local street, one of which will go to the ends of the Earth to get what you need. I needed a few kilos of lamb bones for lamb stock, and in no time at all the butcher had collated a variety of lamb bones from different carcasses, chopped them all up in to stock sized pieces and packaged them – not a service I am familiar with in Tesco’s (UK supermarket chain if you’re not from those parts). An early visit to the butcher usually means that I can get everything I need; which in this case I did.
So, with the shopping mission accomplished today will be the mis-en-place (posh way for saying preparation) and then the final cooking will take place tomorrow, the day of the dinner party. If there is one snippet of advice I can give you, whether you are working in tandem or on your own, it is to plan your cooking. Make a list of everything you need, even if you already have it. And really importantly, create a time line (pencil and paper is the best) of when you need to prepare and cook different components. I guarantee that once you do this the whole process of creating and cooking really will be immensely pleasurable.
I will share the menu with you after the event, as we have shrouded it in secrecy, and of course there will some recipes. Stay tuned…