Luke Branch – Diary for Alimentum stage

Luke Branch

Restaurant Alimentum, Cambridge

12/05/15 – 16/05/15

DAY 1

My first day in the kitchen. I arrived 15 minutes early & met Slawek the larder/pastry chef, once Adam the Jnr Sous chef arrived, he put me to work with Slawek.

I helped set the section for lunch, my first job being the ‘Canapés’, a Feuille de brick cone, baked for 20 minutes, placed in a bowl of mixed peppercorns to stand it upright, filled with a layer of pea espuma, lemon cottage cheese, another layer of pea espuma, a fresh pea & to finish a sprig of pea cress, the opinion of the kitchen was that it resembled an ice cream cone.

My next job was to set the ‘Amuse Bouche’, I had to horizontally halve cherry tomatoes so the seeds were on display, sea them & semi-dry them in the oven at 80oc, then I had to take 3 of each heritage tomato & cut them differently; into wedges, slices & concasse, arranging them of a tray lined with a j-cloth.

I prepared sous vide onions for the ‘Eel A La Carte’, peeling them, colourings them & vacuuming them in emulsion; asparagus for the ‘Asparagus A La Carte’, barbing it, scoring it 3cm from the tip, peeling it from there down, & then cut them to exactly 10cm. Next I prepared eel portions for the ‘Eel A La Carte’ & cured & smoked salmon for the ‘Salmon A La Carte’

To finish setting up for service, I picked & cut chervil, parsley, dill & chives; unwrapped & checked the service fridges & cleaned the surfaces, larder pass & the kitchen to restaurant window.

Service was quite quiet, but that being said it was only a Tuesday, I was in charge of the canapés & the amuse bouche, which every table have. In the order that they have canapés upon sitting, bread upon ordering, amuse bouche next, & then depending on the menu they have ordered, (‘Fixed Price’, ‘A La Carte’, ‘Taste of Alimentum’ or ‘Chefs Tasting’) they have their next course.

After service as every day, we cleaned down, scrubbed the floor, checked for mis en place & then if time went on breaks, to be back at 5:00pm for staff food or 5:30pm for service.

Before leaving I made a couple of the lobster savarins for the ‘Lobster A La Carte’ lining a savarin mould with cooked spaghetti, then piping a mixture of chicken mousse, diced lobster meat, chervil & reduced lobster sauce.

Each day a member of staff is nominated to do staff food, so if there was a chance to go on a break in the afternoon, we were told to be back by 5pm for staff dinner or 5:30pm for service.

In the evening we set up together, service wasn’t particularly busy, but Slawek let me plate a few dishes;

The ‘Quail A La Carte’, a dish comprising of 5 dots of broccoli puree, 5 dots of peanut & lime puree, crushed peanuts, toasted & puffed wild rice, 2 pieces of charred broccoli (1 piece for tasting menu), 2 quail breasts & legs (1 of each for tasting menu), steamed bok choi, lime zest & quail jus.

The ‘Lobster A La Carte’, a dish comprising of the savarin of lobster, steamed for 4 minutes, with a salad of sliced mixed chicory, frisee, 11/2 orange segments, chive batons, chervil & orange dressing place in the middle, with lobster pieces & lobster sauce around the edge.

The ‘Salmon A La Carte’,  a dish comprising of a zig zag & 4 dots of grapefruit semi-gel, 1 spoon of each salmon dice, dill, lemon juice & rapeseed oil, pressed into a square mould on the plate, pickled radish segments, mixed freshly sliced radishes, fennel cress & to finish horseradish granite.

The ‘Eel A La Carte’ & ‘Wild Mushroom Fixed Price’ broths, the first a bowl filled with freshly diced apple, 2 pieces of confit chicken wing & onion warmed under the salamander (1 of each for tasting menu), 2 pieces of Eel sealed on the planche (1 of each for tasting menu), & burnt onion & eel broth in a side dish for the customer to pour over themselves. The second dish is a bowl with sautéed pancetta dice, wild mushrooms & pearl barley, finished with chives, moulded in a 45mm round ring, with parsley puree squeezed on top, & a side dish of burnt onion & pancetta broth for the customer for pour over themselves.

The ‘Asparagus A La Carte’  a dish comprising of, a ‘G’ shape line of watercress puree, 5 asparagus spears cooked in asparagus juice for 2 minutes, a fried duck egg, seasoned with freshly ground black pepper cut with a 65mm ring, wild garlic, pickled morels & finished with morel dust.

After service we deep cleaned the kitchen, taking the planche’s back to new, & scrubbed & mopped the floor.

DAY 2

My second day in the kitchen, again I was with Slawek on Larder, I went through most of my jobs that I had done the day before, helping set the section for service. I prepared asparagus, feuille de brick cones, crumbling feta, cutting heritage tomatoes and other jobs, sadly there wasn’t a great deal to do as it was a slow start to the week, but that so, it gave me more of a chance to get involved in service and see and experience more.

After service we cleaned down, and me and another stage, ‘Mikey’ went off to grab a coffee in the centre of Cambridge.

The evening service wasn’t particularly busy but it was admirable that even on the slightly more quiet services, the team didn’t switch off or lose focus, and maintained their high standards.

luke branch - carrot a la carte

DAY 3

On my third day I got to meet Richard, the senior sous chef, he was covering the saucier section for the day.

I got to help him with his mis en place starting with making a small batch of chicken mousse; it is used in the kitchen for the lobster savarins on Larder and the wild garlic & pigeon boudin on Saucier. Whilst the mousse chilled in the fridge, Richard got me to help him tie the ballotines to shape Rump Cap he had trimmed & portioned. Once they were tied, the were vacuum packed, 9 to a bag, leaving space between them for heat to circulate, and water bathed at 49oc for 5 hours, this allows the enzymes in the meat to break itself down and in essence only cook the meat to rare, but tenderise it.

Next I picked down the pigeon and prepared a chiffonade of wild garlic for the Boudin, mixed it all with half the mousse I made earlier, cooked off a small amount, and checked the seasoning and once it was correct I had to pipe and roll ballotines the size of a 1p coin and tie them ready to be cooked.

My next job was to dice lobster tail and claw meat for the saucier and larder section, it is mixed through the lobster sauce a la minute or mixed through the lobster savarins.

In the afternoon after service Richard went through my order with me for the ingredients that I need to prepare my dish for him & Mark the next day, & what pieces of equipment I could use in case they were different to what I had to use used in my original mock up.

For the evening service we had around 20 covers booked and Richard said that I would do the sauce section and that he would oversee me. So in every time a check came on order he would talk me through it and sometimes show me.

By midway through the night I had a written stage by stage list in my notebook for when the different menus came on order, as timings were crucial, it looked something like this,

“Chefs Tasting   “Taste Of Alimentum

  1. Lamb, water bath 62oc 20mins, rest.
  2. Quail on, pan, butter, oven 3 mins
  3. Fois Gras Called – nothing
  4. Pork loin, water bath 20mins, rest
  5. ½ piece of Mackerel on Planche
  6. 1 Quail leg in jus
  7. Chicken called – nothing, ½ piece of cod, water bath 6 mins, rest
  8. Pork belly coloured 4 sides
  9. Get sauces on, pork & apple & fish & raisins
  10. Cod away, 2 mins oven, & caviar dressing
  11. Get Bass (1/2) + 1 Lango out
  12. Lamb away, seal on planche
  13. Eel called – Nothing
  14. Serve Quail
  15. Seal Bass, 3-4 mins in oven when away, sauté Lango’s, butter, lemon, taste, season
  16. Seal pork loin & heat for 4 mins in oven with belly

I feel that service went well, and that Richard liked the way that I cooked and conducted myself.

DAY 4

Friday, and we were preparing our mis en place for the changes to the chefs tasting, as well as me preparing my dish for Mark and Richard.

For the new menu I prepared the goat’s cheese mousse with fennel jelly and the raspberry jelly savarins and chicken mousse again for the a la carte.

My ingredients for my competition entry arrived, and I got most of my prep done by lunchtime leaving a few little jobs that would be best done closer to the time, such as smoking the mussels and picking the micro herbs and cooking the sole and crab.

Lunch was pretty busy compared to the previous days, so I just tried to help out wherever I could. After lunch we cleaned down and I weighed out the bread for the pastry section, then I finished preparations for my dish.

I paned my crab discs and deep fried them then unmoulded my tomato consommé jelly and sat it on top of the hot disc, the jelly is set with agar agar so it will not melt below a temperature of roughly 800c. I finished it with a dot of avocado puree and micro coriander and basil and sat it on a swipe of the avocado puree.luke branch - amuse bouche

Before eating, Richard asked me to explain the amuse bouche. I explained that I wanted it to be cleansing and refreshing as a mimic of a tomato, crab and avocado salad, with different textures and temperatures adding different dimensions to the dish.

Upon trying it we all agreed it was very nice, I initially said I felt the tomato was lost in the amalgamation of the flavours but Richard stated and was right in saying that the tomato lingers afterwards and that actually he would have liked to have had more of the avocado puree. Adam felt that even though coriander was present in three of the elements it wasn’t overpowering but subtle and flattering.

For the next dish I started by water bathing my sole ballotine and cauliflower puree for 15 minutes at 620c. Whilst these were cooking and warming up respectively I started to cook my sea herbs, cauliflower leaf and smoked mussels in an emulsion of the smoking cooking liquor from the mussels, with butter. When everything was ready I drained my herbs and ballotine on a tray with a j-cloth and began to plate, placing dots and a swipe using a pastry comb of cauliflower puree. I then created a bed of the sea herbs and mussels and laid the ballotine on top and sprinkled it with browned milk powder crumb.

Again Richard asked me to explain the dish to which I said it was a mimic of a sole meuniere as the sole was sous vide in beurre noisette and finished with toasted milk powder. The garnish was meant to be a taste of the sea.

We tried it and Richard complimented it saying the fish was cooked perfectly, Adam added he liked the use of the cauliflower leaves. But they both agreed in criticism that the fish lacked seasoning, to which quite embarrassingly I admitted that in rushing to plate, before sprinkling the milk crumb I was supposed to season it with the citrus salt I had prepared earlier. We then tried it with the citrus salt and the dish was then without criticism.

I was very happy with the results and went into dinner with a beaming smile on my face!

DAY 5

Today was sadly my last day and I had to be up early to check out of the bed and breakfast, but also I was excited to get to work.

I was put to work with Steven on the garnish section and my first job was to cut celeriac fondants, next I had to peel potatoes for the fine noodle that they wrap pigeon and wild garlic boudin with. Steven got me to help with his mis en place by vac packing a lot of his prep and set up for service. I then prepared asparagus, and truffle shavings which I laid on a tray wrapped in Clingfilm, rubbed them with truffle oil and wrapped them.

For lunch I carried on with little prep jobs staying out of the way but managing to keep an eye on the service.

Mark Poynton came in the kitchen and actually offered me a job, to which I was flattered but had to decline because I have put in motion plans to move to London with my girlfriend. I am truly disappointed that I could not accept this fantastic offer.

We didn’t really stop that afternoon as there were plenty of jobs to do around the kitchen and lots of cleaning.

In the evening it was very busy, but service went smoothly and to the same high standards as throughout the week.

I was carving the meat on the pass throughout the night for Richard and passing him the puree’s and sauce’s relevant to the dishes that he was plating or warming the plates relevant to the dishes we were away on.

Towards the end of the night Richard said as a thank you for my hard work throughout the week, I could choose a starter, main & desert off of any of the menus.

I had the following;

Wild Mushroom off of the fixed price, a broth of pancetta and onion, served with wild mushrooms, pancetta, pearl barley and parsley.

It was delicious, moreish – yet enough, as anymore and you would want to eat it all day and would never make it to your main course.

Next I had the Cauliflower A La Carte, a dish with roasted, blanched, caramelised, shaved and pickled cauliflower, finished with pom molasses, nasturtium, pomegranate seeds and grated 97% chocolate. I was asked why I ordered this and I answered that I was simply intrigued by how it would all taste together and that I had to try it.

My final dish that I chose was the Strawberry A La Carte, a dish with a strawberry and white chocolate marquise, white chocolate aero, (which I learnt how to make), chopped fresh strawberries, blue nasturtium & white chocolate & rapeseed oil ice cream.

It was a delicious & light dish, the sweetness of the white chocolate balanced out with the bitterness of the rapeseed oil.luke branch - strawberry alimentum

Upon finishing my week at Alimentum, I had a beer with Richard, we wished each other the best & I left feeling that I had had a great week, learning a lot and thoroughly enjoying myself, given the chance again given different circumstances I would happily work at Alimentum with Mark, Richard & the team.