Cactus Kitchens Part Deux: Michel Roux Jr.

A year and a half ago I was lucky enough to be given an amazing gift to take a cooking course with Monica Galetti. (I also have written about that experience too, where I gutted my first squid, learned to make rice puree and cooked with salsify for the first time.)  My husband and I enjoyed it so much, we decided to splurge and go back and experience cooking with Michel Roux Jr. that we had grown to love from watching British cookery shows and from enjoy a meal at his two-Michelin star restaurant, Le Gavroche. So we headed out early on a Tuesday to traverse to the far reaches of Clapham to see what his day would bring.

The setup is pretty much the same: Go into the kitchen and prep some of the food for later, then head to the dining area where you eat some food and they prepare the kitchen for you to go up and cook the next course you will be eating. It does mean you’re eating over several hours, but the setup works really well as you aren’t rushed to get a bunch of food out at once. The first thing we did was prep the prawns and make the prawn stock for our first course, and prep the quail and peel the grapes for our second course. Michel shows everyone how prep everything, then you are sent back to your respective station in order to make things you need. There’s also wine to drink with your meal, and if you are like me and my husband, we definitely drank a lot to get our money’s worth out of the day!

I actually learned quite a bit in this part of the course. The first being while peeling grapes looks pretty on the plate, it’s a huge waste of time. I don’t think I’m ever going to peel grapes again. Second, quail is really easy to break down. Who knew? It’s always been one of those things that I was afraid to cook at home, but maybe I’ll be doing it again in the near future. Quail for Christmas perhaps? Third is that the intestine in prawns is not the dark line you can see on the inside of the prawn, but actually on the outside. That long, dark thing is really just a vein, and it’s perfectly edible. TIL. I also chatted a bit with Michel about life in Alaska (and how he wants to visit and loves fishing), so I volunteered my dad to take him fishing when he goes. I also told him the story about how while my dad was here visiting, he was showing everyone at restaurants the photo of his fish that he caught. Michel said he does the same thing, so he’s pretty sure they’d get along well.

After prepping, we went to the dining area and had some soup (that they had made for us) while we were waiting for them to set up the kitchen to cook our starters. The soup was a fantastic spiced cauliflower soup, and Michel sat around the table with us, and we chatted with him. Our next step was to make the pasta for the starter. It was a small pasta called Fregola that we made like a risotto, using the prawn stock we cooked earlier. We also toasted some almonds, seared the prawns and plated it up for eating. There was also a bit of ‘Nduja sausage to go with. The whole dish was absolutely fantastic, and I really want to use that pasta again. The sausage was a nice addition, and the addition of lettuce really cooked down the dish. I guess this kind of dish is why Michel is one of the best chefs in the country! You can also decide who plated it better.

The main course was next, and it was time to cook the quail. We needed to cook the sausage meat to stuff the grape leaves, sear of the quail and roast it in the oven and cook some cep mushrooms to go on the side. Unfortunately, I burnt my hand on the pan that was in the oven, even though there was sufficient warning (maybe I had had a bit too much wine at this point). But I managed to work through it and create a very tasty meal. Unfortunately, it was also an insanely messy meal because my stuffed grape leaves kind of fell apart. Whoops! However, I noticed that my husband and I had both managed to make some of the best looking sauce around the table so we were incredibly happy with that.

Finally it was time for dessert. We made pain perdu with pan roasted pineapple and chili. We watched Michel make it first, and it was nice having him explain how to actually make it instead of ways I do it at home. Depending on the bread, you need to soak for longer periods. Brioche is quite soft, so it just needs a dip. Other breads you may want to soak for longer. The pineapple was also fun to shape, and searing it in butter then adding some rum to make a sauce was amazing. Plus the addition of chili really made the whole dessert something special. I decided to go for a bit of a random plating, while my husband was more interested in being a bit geometric. This is something I definitely want to do again at home.

All in all, the whole day was fantastic. Being able to chat with Michel was amazing, and he seems really down to earth. He’s really into his food, whether it’s cooking, eating or teaching, as long as he gets to do it. It’s really inspiring. I did manage to get a cookbook signed to go with the one we got from Monica, and also I got a great photo with him. If you really want a great experience, and don’t mind the price, it’s definitely something I can recommend to anyone, as you do learn to cook things you might not ordinarily make, but it also feels like something you can go home and make at a later date!

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