It may sound like a cliché to call Diane Holuigue ‘Australia’s Julia Childs’, but with her wealth of knowledge and ability, the comparison is only natural. Her impressive career spans formal training at Le Corden Bleu and L’École de Perfectionnement Lenôtre in Paris as well as writing for, and editing many of Australia’s best culinary journals. Her extensive knowledge and experience is recorded in thirteen books, but most recently, a hefty 752 page tome titled ‘A Lifetime of Cooking, Teaching and Writing from The French Kitchen’. Di has been conducting classes from ‘The French Kitchen’ for 45 years and has reportedly taught 64,000 people.
Thanks to the Husband, I was fortunate enough to spend a glorious day in Di’s kitchen, basking in delicious aromas and eagerly absorbing her freely dispelled knowledge. Her large kitchen is filled with enough red crockery to serve a small army and an enviable collection of copper pots and pans. It is a large but cosy space, perfectly equipped for our group of seven eager cooks.
Some classes I have attended are heavily focused on preparing a specific meal, which whilst delicious, you may not ever attempt again. Although the group works to build a delectable four course feast, the six hour preparation time is crammed full of miscellaneous tips and the teaching of techniques to build your cooking skills. This is a class that experienced home cooks will enjoy as much, if not more, than a person who struggles to boil an egg. The techniques taught are entirely practicable and adaptable for every home cook. As pragmatic Di writes in ‘The French Kitchen’, “it is the logic and the technique behind cooking that allows us to put a great meal on the table”.
Soufflé Au Fromage & Soufflé Aux Crevettes
After hearing so many stories of soufflé failures, I had never attempted to make one, let alone a seemingly daunting task such as prawn soufflé. Di demystified the process with her no-nonsense, direct teaching style. Her teaching resulted in the creation of a perfectly risen soufflé. The prawn soufflé was my delegated dish, and I was surprised at the relatively few steps involved.
The prawn soufflé involved creating a ‘prawn essence’ with the prawn shells, and used the prawn meat in the soufflé. The result was a gloriously pungent and rich liquid. I even departed the class with some leftover prawn essence for my freezer!
|My ingredients at the ready. Note the prawn essence!|
We discussed at length, and viewed, the difference between egg whites whipped by hand and egg whites whipped with machines. The verdict, do not use a machine (yes, even your Kitchen Aid or Thermomix!) to whip your egg whites for your soufflé.
|Ready for the oven, with baking paper "collar" to guide "the rise"!|
Although I may not make soufflés regularly, the skills regarding the roux creation, the prawn essence and the egg white whipping are invaluable. These skills are equally transferable to the creation of other sauces and egg based dishes.
Similarly with this recipe, I found the techniques involved in the recipe, rather than the result itself, to be of use. Di demonstrated and discussed the differences in cleaning and preparing whole squid, calamari and cuttlefish. I’ve cleaned and gutted fish, but always incorrectly assumed that squid was more difficult to clean than a fish due to the presence of ink sacks. The squid dish itself was coated in a deliciously crunchy and inventive crust of panko and wasabi pea. The squid was served with a yogurt accompaniment and a freshly made mayonnaise. The mayonnaise was so delicious I will never purchase store made mayonnaise again. Yet another skill I’ll be looking to incorporate more often into my cooking.
Canard Roti, Sauce A L’Anise Etoile
Next up, roast duckling with star anise red wine sauce. The main techniques involved in this dish were the preparation of the demi-glace and the duck reduction and the method of trussing the duck.
Di also demonstrated the trussing of the duckling, executing the trussing with the skill of a surgeon, as she pierced the bird with the needle bundling the bird into a net parcel. The bird is perfectly shaped and ready for the oven.
We had extensive discussions regarding the demi glaze “base” and the subsequent duck reduction, followed by numerous tastings to experience the development of sauce resulting from the additions of the various flavour elements. The time required to prepare a proper demi-glace is well spent, and produces a result far superior to store bought stock. For example, if your demi-glace is destined to accompany duck, it is created with the neck and the wings. If destined for beef, it is made with beef trimmings or mince. The additions to demi-glace sauce can then vary between redcurrant jelly, pomegranate molasses, balsamic or fruit based vinegars depending on the dish is used for. The result – a delicious sauce with depth and intensity.
|Draining the fat from the ducklings|
Le Concorde is essentially layers of chocolate meringue sandwiched together with chocolate mouse and decorated with meringue “spikes”. A most impressive, rich dessert which I’m looking forward to replicating. Unlike the soufflé, the egg whites for the mousse are able to be whipped in the Kitchen Aid. The technique in this dessert which hit home for me was the technique of piping the meringue, and the creation of the “spikes”. Once you’ve mastered the piping bag, the creation of the “spikes” is so simple, but created such an impressive dish.
|Preparing the layers|
|The finished product|
I’ll be kept busy pouring over Di’s latest book, a delightfully descriptive and instructive text filled with not only technique and recipes, but stories of adventures past. I look forward to future classes with Di in order to build my technical repertoire. As Di says, “home cooking is a mix of common sense and application” and on that basis, in the kitchen “just use your nous!”