Sunday, 24 September 2017

A night with Vitality & Michael Caines

Last night I was treated to one of the most special nights out I’ve ever had, courtesy of Vitality, Great British Chefs and the man himself, Michael Caines. As an avid competition enterer, I have huge amounts of faith in the law of averages and that for every train journey spent frantically entering competitions, one day, something excellent will come of it. And this was an excellent prize.

In the last couple of years, both my desire and ability to cook has massively developed – thanks to having my own kitchen, and realising that cooking is extremely therapeutic. So, the chance to be shown how to cook properly, as well as be cooked for, by a double Michelin Star chef was really exciting. The chance to bring one of my oldest and most foodie friends, Shabnam, along too, made it even more so.

Arriving at Divertimenti on Brompton Road, we didn’t really know what to expect but quickly found ourselves with champagne in one hand and canapes in the other. We were given the chance to browse the shop, admiring all the beautiful kitchenware that “we’ll buy when we’re old and rich”. With consommé consumed and beef cheek bonbons devoured, we made our way to the cookery school to be greeted by Michael and his team. I had expected that we would be making 3 different courses, eating them as we went along, but Michael had already prepared our starter which was ready for us to enjoy. I’ve made a mushroom risotto, but it didn’t taste anything like this one. It was very rich and creamy without being too heavy, and topped with roasted quail and a quail’s egg which was a delicious added touch.

Then it was our turn: steamed salmon with cauliflower and saffron couscous. Whilst Michael demoed the recipe too us, I wasn’t convinced I was going to like it. Couscous? Mayo? Cauliflower? But we got stuck in, didn’t make too many mistakes, and it was delicious. I’ve never had couscous that tastes of anything but slightly fruity dust, but this has definitely converted me. It was ready in 20 minutes, and it was great to learn a recipe that’s something I can practically make again at home.  My knowledge of wine doesn’t go much beyond “this is Lambrini, not wine” and I’d never really realised the impact of having wine that is very well paired with your food. We were given a glass or two of Domaine des Gandines Macon Peronne 2015 to enjoy with our salmon, and it was hands down the nicest wine I have ever tasted. I may be a wine convert, as well as a couscous one.

Just as we were finishing our main, the Vitality team upped their game and presented us all with half an hour and a £50 voucher to spend in store. For Shabnam and I, it was like a kid in a sweet shop. After huge amounts of deliberating and working out the best, and best value combinations, I settled on some really sleek salt and pepper grinders and a more rustic pestle and mortar – two items that have been on my (very middle aged) wishlist for some time!
Desserts are my best friend and my nemesis. I want everything but lactose intolerance means that I often watch everyone else have everything, and I have a cup of tea. Not today. We were presented with some autumn berries, icing sugar, berry sorbet, lemon and pistachio curd, pistachio nuts, meringue, edible flowers and lavender scented honey; and Michael demonstrated how we might present it, professionally. We had to make our own plates, and there was to be a prize for the most artistic. I don’t take competition lightly, and have never spent so long arranging berries, so when I was awarded a £150 voucher to use in one of the Great British Chef’s restaurants, I was over the moon!

The rest of the evening, spent enjoying our dessert, sipping one of the most unusual, smoky cocktails I’ve ever seen, smelt or tasted, and having a Q&A with Michael, was wonderful and relaxing. We felt like true VIPs, not only having sampled lots of delicious food but being so well looked after. We left feeling very full, with our chosen voucher purchases, a goodie bag including a signed cookbook from Michael, petit fours from Michael’s new restaurant and some other cooking treats, and having had a really fantastic night. Thank you Michael, Vitality and Great British Chefs for a very special evening, and I can’t wait to go and spend my restaurant voucher!

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