A Michelin star-studded experience with Theo Randall
As many of you know, I’m a self-taught cook – I own hundreds of cookbooks (sorry hubby!), watch any cooking show possible, visit food markets and food shows at every opportunity, have blogged about food for almost 10 years, made and sold food at Greenwich market, write about food as the Food Editor for LIFE Mags, and have even been fortunate enough to spend the day with Marco Pierre White cooking on a BBQ….but NOTHING prepared me for what I encountered on Saturday when I spent the afternoon/evening at Michelin Star Chef, Theo Randall’s restaurant on Park Lane at the Intercontinental. Whilst I’m still buzzing from the experience, I thought I’d share what went down, and pass on some of the fantastic tips and tricks that I learnt while there.
I arrived at 3pm to help prep for the evening’s service – taken under the wing of Theo’s sous-chef Theodore – a lively, fun and highly talented Chef who put me at ease instantly as we whipped out pics of our kids and oo’d and aaa’d over their cuteness – then he set me to work. I chopped courgettes, de-stalked rainbow swiss chard, peeled potatoes, sliced round aubergines and courgettes on a mandoline (holding my breath with every swipe), chopped and slow cooked sweet datterini tomatoes, picked thyme, and then took a breath with the team to enjoy the most amazing orecchiette (thumb print) pasta coated in a silky rich sauce that set me up for the evening. Once back to the kitchen, things started hotting up…tickets started coming in for antipasti, cast iron pans were piled high ready to transform precious ingredients, and the chilled atmosphere turned to one of excitement, focus and expectation. Theo took up his position at the pass with his cup of tea in a china mug, and then the orders started rolling in. I have never witnessed efficiency, passion and team work like it – squab pigeon flew out of the kitchen (not literally of course – there are no need for gimmicks here), pasta was cooked in what looked like deep fat fryers but were in fact bubbling baths of salt water. Calves livers sizzled, squid tubes curled and when dishes weren’t cooked to perfection, Chef’s remained unflappable, communicated and pushed through again. It was a truly amazing sight to see, and to be a part of it was a dream. Here are just a few of the things I picked up in my time at Theo Randall’s…
Put a cork in it
To slow the flow, and prevent you from having to keep putting your thumb over the top of a large bottle of olive oil, a wine cork is positioned in with a little slice shaved off the side to allow just the right amount to flow through.
Hearts full of flavour
To cook artichoke hearts – instead of cooking them in water on the hob, line a deep baking tray with foil, then a little baking paper, then place the artichoke hearts in with a drizzle of olive oil, salt & pepper – cover the top of the tray with foil so that it’s completely sealed then put in the oven to cook for around 45 mins or until soft (thanks to cool, calm and collected Chef Luis Rodriguez for showing and sharing that tip with me).
De-stemming swiss chard
Hold the leaf and let the knife do the work to chop off the tough part of the stem
You say potato…
Bread soaked in the juices of the squab pigeon and then fried off like deep fried bread works amazingly as the carb element to the dish – no need for sides of mash or roasties here.
Give the olive a whack with the bottom of an espresso cup – the olive splits making it easy to remove the stone (I wish I’d have learnt this tip 3 years ago – it would have saved me biting bits off of every olive at speed to serve up to my screaming, impatient toddler in restaurants).
Gently does it
When boiling potatoes, simmer them low and slow for a long time rather than fast and high to prevent them from cracking.
Savour the flavour
Putting part boiled chopped potatoes in to the pan with fish while it’s cooking helps to soak up the juices from the fish, flavour the potatoes and give everything an extra lift.
There was so, so much more, but I’ll save it for sharing when you come to The Cooking Shed. Thank you to Theo and his amazing team for such a unique, money can’t-buy experience, I feel truly blessed. The smells, colours, amazing produce and seamless way that you all work, and the passion that you put in to what you do for a sustained period of time is unlike anything I have ever seen before. I felt like a kid in a sweet shop who didn’t want to leave. Theo has kindly invited me back…once I’ve calmed down from this high, I’ll certainly return, and only wish I’d experienced the buzz of a professional kitchen 15 years ago when I had the stamina and energy to make it my full time career. For now, I’ll continue to inject my enthusiasm in to the lesson plans for The Cooking Shed so that the experience isn’t just limited to one person, but passed on to all.