Fordyce Maxwell: I felt I could come off the subs bench at short notice if needed. I wasn’t, so didn’t
Not the preparation and cooking of asparagus mimosa, confit sea trout and Paris brest, you understand, which Kevin was taking us through with skill and humour, but the unobtrusive, efficient way in which Willie cleared, washed and replaced used pans and utensils.
That is an important job and he did it well. But with a penchant for clearing and tidying – occasionally, as has been pointed out, before the cook has finished with a utensil or as someone takes their last forkful – I felt I could come off the subs bench at short notice if needed. I wasn’t, so didn’t, but the thought of an alternative career choice is always comforting.
My attendance at a Martin Wishart “Learn then lunch” morning at the chef’s eponymous cookery school and restaurant might seem unlikely. Pushed to it I can cook – I’m not bad at soup making and can follow a recipe, but thanks to Liz’s sterling efforts I seldom am pushed to it and have no ambition to change that happy state of affairs. But when my daughter Jacqueline thought of the learn and lunch as a Christmas present for her mother she thought I might also enjoy something outside my comfort zone. And I did, not least because watching any good professional at work, no matter what that work is, is worthwhile.
Like Rick Stein, Kevin might upset the salt police. “If you don’t have salt, you don’t have flavour,” he replied to one of many questions from our attentive group as we studied his work either at cooker level or via the big overhead mirror. But anyone else, certainly us, could only be impressed as he calmly worked his way through the jobs to a spot-on timing culmination and a rush to taste.
Nothing was left to chance. All ingredients were weighed out in advance and he followed the recipe. That came as a surprise to some gung-ho cooks amongst us, but he said that failure to follow the recipe or not weighing ingredients is when mistakes are made. He’ll be pleased to know that I agree.
Meantime, Willie continued his invaluable straight-man role. As Kevin set pans and utensils aside after use, Willie removed, washed and returned. It was as much a masterclass as the cooking and I plan to incorporate a couple of his deft moves into my own routine. Then on to an excellent lunch, tour of the kitchen and a chat with the man himself. Next, an all-day get-stuck-in, practical class? Possibly for one of us. Two if Willie would like a day off. «