I was recently invited to spend a day at Cactus Kitchen, a key member of the Roux Estate and if I was to summarise in one sentence – Cactus Kitchens exceeded expectations in every way!
I’d heard great things and am of course a huge fan of Michel Roux Jr but when the address I was given was off a side street in Clapham High Street, I was relatively apprehensive.
However, as I made my way through the huge turquoise door a cosy, renovated house was revealed and straight away I was made to feel welcome.
Firstly, we were given a tour of the Saturday Kitchen studio tour (yes they film James Martin there every week too!) and it looked just like what you see on TV and it’s fully functioning. I was busting to get my name on the Omelette Challenge Board, and excitingly I was told that is a possibility if I came back on the Saturday kitchen tour (that’s now well and truly on my Xmas list!)
We made our way upstairs to the cookery school, were seated, given an apron, fed some fresh and crumbly pastries and energised with coffee and tea. We were told about the history of the kitchens, our day, the chef we’d be learning from and most importantly what was on the menu.
Starter: Poached salmon with a salad of lentils, orange & watercress served with salsa verde
Main Course: Duck breast served with wild mushrooms, roasted shallots and red wine sauce
Dessert: Caramelised banana soufflé with chocolate sauce and peanut butter ice cream
My mouth was watering at this point and I couldn’t wait to get started. After being taken to the kitchen on the top story of the house, it was time to meet our chef – Toby Stuart.
Toby Stuart has been working in the kitchens since 1994, initially trained by Gordon Ramsay and now a very firm fixture of the Roux family. He had a genuine passion and love for food and cooking, the whole class were excited just listening to him.
The way the day ran was that Toby would present and demonstrate how to make the dish and then we’d go away to our well-kept cookery areas, where all the ingredients were laid out! Lesson number one – a tidy work place means a structured chef!
The initial building blocks that we made were the banana soufflé base, which was then put aside, and then the lentils.
The starter we made was a light salad, filled with cooked lentils and a citrus dressing and topped wire perfectly fish stock poached salmon. The salsa verde, so fresh and herby, topped off a very tasty first course.
Then onto main course – after cleaning all the wild mushrooms for the ragu, and slowly roasting the banana shallots and duck this exquisite dish could be served. The best advice was making sure I re-used the duck fat for the different components, so that taste wasn’t lost! Also, always add a sprinkle of lemon juice to your red wine jus!
And finally on to dessert. This was one of the first times I’d made a soufflé, and I was quite panicky that it wouldn’t rise! But we seemed to have a fool-proof recipe.
I love the idea of serving these on the table fresh out the oven and dressing them on the dining room table in front of your guests. Using your spoon to put chocolate sauce in the middle is an absolutely great shout as well!
We ate each dish as a group, with all of them paired with the appropriate wine. It didn’t matter if you were there by yourself or as a group – there was a great atmosphere and buzz all day.
I’m not going to give away the recipes and all the secrets because I sincerely believe that anyone with a passion for food and cooking should try this course out. Instead I’m going to share with you my highlights of why it’s the best cookery course I’ve been to, so far:
One of the key things I learnt was that to perfect a dinner party – you have to break your recipes into building blocks; with three dishes to make its not as simple as following the recipes in sequential order.
Therefore, during the course you’re not just taught how to make 3 fantastic and well-matched dishes which then become your speciality (although I’m not sure anyone would complain if you whipped up this menu everytime they came round!!) Instead the course teaches you how to be a better all-round cook. This was the first time the theory around “building blocks” has been shared with me – and I can now see how you can tie some of the concepts we were taught, into many dishes going forwards.
Based on these building blocks, here’s what I’ve made over the last few weeks:
– Seabass with new potatoes and salsa verde
– Omelette with salsa verde and goats cheese
– Poached salmon with grilled asparagus
– Fillet steak with red wine jus
– Simple chocolate cake served with chocolate sauce and banana ice cream
Further proof that what is taught can’t only be executed on the day – I remade the duck main course the Saturday after school and it turned out perfectly.
I’m trying out the full 3 course menu in a couple of weeks, for 6 people! I’ll let you know how that goes.
Overall, this was a fantastic experience and I’d recommend it to any foodie – no matter your cooking experience. Thanks Cactus Kitchens.