Celebrity Chef In Residence for the Stratford Chefs School
Last week, I was invited to a lunch prepared by Chef Emily Watkins and a class of about 20 culinary focused high school students at the Danforth Collegiate and Technical Institute. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to watch this world class chef work and teach. I hoped that I would be able to also learn from her and I wasn't disappointed.
At 20 years old, Chef Emily Watkins left behind her office job and moved to Italy to follow her passion; cooking. Speaking no Italian, this brave lady walked into a restaurant in Florence and accepted a non paying kitchen job. Within three years, she was junior sous-chef and spoke Italian fluently. She returned to England and worked for Chef Heston Bumenthal at Fat Duck in Bray, and as a private chef in London. Today Watkins is one of England's fastest rising chefs and has her own restaurant, The Kingham Plough in Oxforshire.
This lunch was hosted by the Stratford Chefs School (SCS). Chef Emily Watkins was invited to the Stratford Chefs School and will spend time with their students during her time as Celebrity Chef in Residence. This gives the students access to this chef's amazing talent. Chef Watkins is excited to be working with school as she is a huge believer in Peer training. She also believes she brings a unique perspective to the kitchen - "I think women are quieter and less reactive, which encourages the team to be calmer, rather than running on stress."
For our lunch, the high school students were split up into 3 groups, one group for each course. Each group was lead by a Stratford Chefs School student; Blair Chami (starter), Cortney Zettler (main) and Randi Rudner (dessert). I enjoyed watching the SCS students embrace the leadership/mentoring role with the high school students. The kitchen was a buzz of activity. Each student was focused on their individual tasks while Chef Watkins offered guidance and hands on instruction. Every student I spoke with enjoyed the experience and would do it again.
As much fun as it was to watch the activity in the kitchen, I was getting hungry and couldn't wait to taste this delicious meal.
Our starter course was a Crisp Hens Egg, Watercress Sauce and Bacon. Beautifully executed and delicately flavoured.
Our main was Breast of Duck, Evesham Lentils & Braised Endive. A rich & delicious main. My favourite element was the lentils. One of the best I've ever had.
Dessert was a comforting Warm Chocolate Mousse with Orange Cookies. A perfect ending to an wonderful lunch
Crisp Egg With Watercress Sauce & Bacon
Recipe by Chef Emily Watkins
500 gr (1 lb 2oz) watercress, washed and stems removed
Splash of white vinegar
5 Eggs (1 per person, plus 1 extra for breadcrumbing)
300 gr (10 1/2 oz) fresh breadcrumbs
Vegetable Oil, for deep frying
150 gr (5 1/2 oz) unsmoked bacon lardons
1. To make the watercress sauce, bring a pan of water to the boil and have a bowl of iced water ready. Blanch the watercress in the boiling water for about 2 minutes until tender but still vibrant and green. Drain and plunge into the iced water. Lift out of the water and whizz in a blender with a little of the cold water until you have a smooth sauce.
2. For the eggs, bring a pan of water to a simmer and add a splash of white wine vinegar. Stir the water around to make a mini whirlpool and crack 4 of the eggs into the pan. Poach the eggs until the albumen is firm and the yolk soft (about 3 minutes). Lift out and place into iced water to chill. Then set them on kitchen paper to dry.
3. Beat the remaining egg. To breadcrumb the eggs, carefully place them one at a time in the flour, then dip in the beaten egg and lastly in the breadcrumbs.
4. Heat some vegetable oil in a saucepan to 180C/350F. Meanwhile, cook the bacon in the frying pan (there's no need to use any extra fat - the bacon will cook in the fat running out of it) until crisp, and warm through the sauce.
5. Gently lower the eggs into the hot oil and cook until crisp and golden. Lift out the eggs and place on to kitchen paper to absorb the excess oil. Place a spoonful of the sauce on to the plate, put some bacon on top and lastly a crisp egg.
Enjoy some more photos from our lunch.