Rory Welch – Diary for stage at Sir Charles Napier

Chefs Stagiaire Award Semi Finalist Diary – Rory Welch

The Sir Charles Napier

Day 1

I arrived at the Restaurant at 8.30am. It wasn’t the easiest place to find and it took some searching for but when I arrived I found it to be a stunning setting off the beaten track in Oxfordshire.  I entered by the front door so it gave me a chance to see the dining room. It has the relaxed feel of a pub with its casual seating and furniture but still has quality in abundance and the required contemporary touches, for example tables are laid with solid silver cutlery.  I met the team that I would be working with for the day. Antony, the Head Chef wasn’t working that day so I would be spending the day with the sous chef Trystan, Junior sous Sam and Chef de Partie Theo.

Trystan gave me a tour around the kitchen and then showed me where to get changed. To start the day I was working with Theo on the larder section. He had me preparing the heirloom tomatoes to confit, crispy frying vegetables for garnishes on the mains such as artichokes, aubergine and shallot; he also had me cutting julienne kohlrabi for the crab starter. The atmosphere in the kitchen was really relaxed.  The guys were having a laugh and were very welcoming towards me and made me feel right at home.  My first impressions of the kitchen were that it was a very well used kitchen and that the team were doing very well with the equipment that they had available to them. For service I was on the pass with Trystan, watching the brigade work and tasting the components of a full dish on one spoonful.

One of the desserts I tried was salted caramel, chocolate and peanut terrine, olive oil fluid gel and lime ice cream. The way the components of the dish were put together were very clever.  The bitter and salty chocolate terrine was made more smooth and palatable by the olive oil fluid gel; then the palate was cleansed by the sharp citrus of the lime ice cream. Delicious! It wasn’t really busy on this day which was good in a way as I was able to really quiz the chefs on what they were doing and they willingly gave me time and help in order to understand what they were doing.  It was a good first day, the start to a great week.

Cornish Crab with Kohlrabi, White Soy and Coriander

Salted caramel, chocolate and peanut terrine with lime ice cream

Pictures: Cornish Crab with Kohlrabi, White Soy and Coriander. Salted caramel, chocolate and peanut terrine with lime ice cream

Day 2

Day 2 of my stage at the Napier I arrived at 8.30am. Today I met the Head Chef, Antony Skeats, a very nice guy from the North West who quizzed me a lot about where I work, what I do there, the sort of food we serve, hours we do etc. I was then set to work and put onto the sauce section with Sam the Junior Sous Chef.

I started by making a mushroom ketchup for a rib of beef dish they serve for 2. They have a few different flavoured ketchups with a technique and product I’ve never seen before by making a fluid gel which is just like a thickened liquid from either fruit of vegetable; the product they use to do this is Gellan F. This I found really interesting and it is something that I will take back to my place of work.  I then prepared the mire poix for stocks and together with Sam made 3 sauces, the iberico pork sauce, lamb sauce and bouillabaisse sauce. All 3 sauces were packed with so much flavour but the one that really stood out the most for me was the bouillabaisse. It was cooked very quickly, simmered for a timed 1 hour, then rapidly reduced until it was really concentrated, taken off the heat and left to cool. It was then emulsified with olive oil with an immersion blender like a mayonnaise, something I’d never seen before. It was thinned down with a little cream and seasoned with salt, Pernod and lemon.

I then made the fresh gnocchi for the cod dish which I had only made it once before so it was good for me to be able to practice this classic technique.  For service I was on the pass again but with Antony this time. Whilst there only 10 booked things got busy and we ended up doing 30 covers.  I helped with the plating of the dishes when it was busy; the brigade were much focused and the service ran like clockwork.

Cornish Cod with Tomato and Mussel Ketchup, Gnocchi and Tapenadesir charles napier chefs june2015

Pictures: Cornish Cod with Tomato and Mussel Ketchup, Gnocchi and Tapenade

Day 3

On Day 3, I worked on all stations around the kitchen on this day doing a variety of jobs for all sections such as making a herb oil using olive oil, hard herbs such as Thyme, Rosemary, Garlic and Bay Leaves which were gently warmed on the side of the stove then taken off the heat left to cool then the herbs passed out. Hispi cabbage for the iberico pork dish was cooked with this herb oil.  It was cooked sous vide 85 degrees for 25 minutes; the herb oil gave the cabbage a real depth of flavour.

Something else I did which I found very interesting was that on a service when cooking meat and fish. They don’t finish their meat or fish with butter taking it to beurre noisette stage and basting, instead they make a big batch of beurre noisette and when finishing their meat or fish they have a finishing brush and brush it with this butter which gives you a more consistent product and saves lots of money on butter; this I also thought would be very useful!

One thing I found when working here and admired, was the way the chefs were very quick, very focused and meticulous on a morning getting the prep done. On service I was on the larder section, cooking and dressing plates.  I was in charge of the pigeon dish and chargrilling the asparagus for the asparagus starter; both dishes proved to be very popular. Looking around when it was busy I noticed that the team still paid great attention to detail and the high level of concentration and consistency shown by the chefs was a great thing to see.

wood pigeon

Pictures: Wood Pigeon, Heritage Tomatoes, Balsamic Onions and Smoked Tomato Dressing

Day 4

My final day at the Napier I started by helping out on the meat and fish preparation. On this day it was explained to me by the chefs that most of the meat and fish for the weekend arrives today, and lots came in!!!! From live crabs and lobsters to Iberico pork loins, beef fore ribs sides of hake, cod and diver caught scallops.

I learnt a new technique, cooking lobsters sous vide in a water bath, and the way they prepare their sides of fish by skinning heavily salting, rinsing and rolling in cling film really tight and vacuum packing so the shape is perfect, something I also had never seen done before.

Throughout the week I have seen absolutely stunning produce, from meat and fish through to vegetable and fruit. For example the fruit and vegetable supplier brought some raspberries that he grows himself on his farm and they were hands down the best I’ve ever tasted!! It was clear to me that it’s not just the skill of the chef and the techniques used but it’s also about sourcing the best produce no matter the cost.

I had a fantastic week at the Sir Charles Napier it was great to experience a different restaurant style to what I am used to. I’m very grateful to Antony Skeats and his team for finding time to explain things to me and making me feel at home in their kitchen. They made me feel so much at home that I was offered work with them on a permanent basis which flattered me and I’m seriously considering. Amazing experience – thoroughly enjoyed my week.

Rory Welch, June 2015

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