Back in August, my thoughtful 16 year old son (yeah I know), bought me a cooking lesson for my birthday at the Forestside Cookery School (www.forestsidecookeryschool.com) in Belfast.
The School is owned by Chef Stephen Jeffers and they run lessons for pretty much every taste of food. Unsurprisingly, I elected to attend the Game lesson. By pure coincidence Nick was attending his own lesson that day in Ashburton Devon.
The day started at 11am so no need to get up early on this particular Saturday morning. Relief. The apprentice chefs congregated in the dining room and I think there were about 18 of us all in all. After a brief introduction we were ushered through to our workstations in the kitchen where Chef Jeffers, with trademark Irish humour, gave us a brief summary of his cooking career to date. He also regaled some stories of when he was a chef at the Clandeboye Estate. Some of the food we were due to prepare was the same he would serve the guns on shoot days. Music to my ears. Furthermore, Chef Jeffers spoke positively about the methods employed by country estates for local produce and sustainability that those of us involved in shooting already know. It was great to hear an independent chef speak so enthusiastically to a group of people for whom this information would be new.
Following the introductory chat, we got down to business. The meat for today’s recipe comprised of Venison (Red deer sourced from County Wicklow), pheasant (provided by the Portavo Estate – see our video to follow the processing of these birds) and duck. The main course was to be a game stew, but we were also going to make a game terrine. Desert was a stuffed apple with ice cream.
As with most of these types of lessons I think, the process is a description and demonstration of what to do by the chef which we all then try to replicate. We didn’t have to we worry ourselves with the constant tidying up or sourcing of the herbs, spices and other accompany ingredients as a team of two lovely ladies took on all of these duties with speed, enthusiasm and efficiency. We were spoilt to the core!
Whilst the venison was already partially cut and prepared, we all had to debone our pheasants and duck. I thought I would be pretty good at this having done it many times before but every day is a school day. I’ll never breast a bird again without first taking the legs off.
The four hours in the kitchen flew by. We never felt pressured for time but our dishes were ready before we knew it. Chef Jeffers and his team repeated the description and demonstration phase with the admin support throughout the day so at no time did you ever not know what you were doing or not have exactly what you needed to do it. For the short time we were cooking we must have all felt like seasoned chefs….well O.K. just not too out of our depth!
We sat down together to ‘break bread’ and eat our creations. Its amazing when you eat something you have some reservations about due to the ingredients and then have your eyes opened to a wonderful experience. I think it’s the understanding of the ingredients and how to mix them to create a ying and yang that works perfectly that is the signature of a great chef. I would never have thought of adding butternut squash into a game stew but now don’t understand why I haven’t always done that!
Likewise, I’ve never been one for terrine, but the one we made here has changed my appreciation of this dish. I’ll certainly be making it again, regularly. It was simply delicious.