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Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Learning to cook and taste wine with L'atelier des Chefs

A while ago, for the "fun" part of our company awayday, we went to make our own lunch at L'atelier des Chefs cookery school in central London.

With around 40 of us there, we divided into two groups - the others preparing our mains whilst we had a quick introduction to basic wine-tasting techniques from Guillermo, an IWC judge originally from Chile.

In a brief yet impressively comprehensive introduction, Guillermo covered all the basics of tasting for a group of mainly novices who nodded appreciatively as they discerned a hitherto unnoticed level of complexity in the two wines we were tasting.

However, to my thinking, the wines themselves were a little eccentric for an introduction and very different from the sort of thing I would have expected.

A South African Chenin Blanc for around £6 showed lots of herbaceous elderflower on the nose, but had a harsh acidity on the palate which was quite challenging and not universally popular.

The red was, if anything, an even more leftfield choice - an oaked Gamay from the Loire. Not entirely devoid of merit, it was however mainly a mouthful of tannin and thin acidity and hardly crowd-pleasing. At around £10, it also seemed poor value.

The tasting finished over, we swapped round and moved on to preparing the starters and desserts.

"Andy", not "chef"
Our instructor, who preferred to be called "Andy" rather than "Chef", again gave us a quick, but rather superficial tour through some basic techniques of chopping celery, pulping garlic with the back of a knife and making crispy croutons for the starter and hand-whipping a vast quantity of cream for the dessert before adding in a rather scrumptious mix of coffee and brandy.

These were made into soup and a layered mousse dessert respectively - our mains being duck breasts served with a salad of endives and pureed potatoes prepared by the other group.

It certainly was fun to prepare our own lunches and having them served to us by colleagues prompted plenty of humour; the wine was a little disappointing, but the food was good and we were given the recipes afterwards, although I must say I have not bothered to repeat any of them.

However, I had been hoping to learn either some new techniques or gain some insights from a day with a professional chef, so it was a little disappointing at the end to find it had been more of a "play" session - playing at being chefs - rather than an instructive lesson; the chopping section, for example, seemed to be mainly about showing us the kind of flashy-looking knife skills C-list celebrity chefs love to demonstrate on daytime cookery programmes.

Overall, despite the obvious skills, experience and professionalism of the instructors, L'atelier des Chefs' schtick seems to be aimed rather at the young, self-consciously trendy and easily impressed. As the person in charge of our company finances, I also found it rather expensive, as it proved more costly to prepare our own meals, albeit under the supervision of a professional chef with several assistants prepping and clearing away, than to go to a restaurant for an equivalent meal.

However, the real objective of the day from a company perspective was to have fun and get to know each other a bit better and in that respect the day certainly delivered.

L’atelier des Chefs
19 Wigmore Street
London W1U 1PH
Phone number : 0207 499 6580

Website - http://www.atelierdeschefs.co.uk/

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