Dave leaned closer, narrowed his eyes and delivered his long held and fiercely defended mantra………..
“You can’t learn from a fucking book………..you can only ‘know stuff’………without tactile experience you’re just taking information on board. Take Karate for example, I bought the book ‘Karate – Kill people with a Single Punch’ and all I learned how to do was pick up my own teeth with broken fingers…..I had my arse handed to me more times as a result of that fucking book”
He made for an incredible story teller…whether such a book existed I have no idea but I do believe he did spend time searching for his own teeth on more than one occasion.
“Cooking is the same. If you don’t know then a book won’t change that, cooking with someone who knows will change that……books just give you ideas they won’t provide tactile awareness or experience…….you have to get burned, scalded, hurt and work with lunatics if you wanna learn…really learn how to cook…so you gotta spend time with Van if you wanna learn more, you ain’t gonna develop anymore where you are right now”.
He leaned over and handed me the badly rolled joint, it was a Tuesday night 11.30pm, service finished 2 hours ago and we had been watching episodes of Red Dwarf taped from earlier in the day when the conversation rounded on my personal growth in The Kitchen and, according to Dave it wasn’t going well.
Dave was a seasoned chef from Cork, a gnarley working class guy from the West of the City – he worked in the only Michelin recognised restaurant on the coast which was more than a few grades above where I worked. Van was his head chef and had been on the look out for junior for a few weeks after one of his brigade had been arrested for Assault and Battery……and Possession. Van’s cross-hairs had landed on me and he enlisted Dave to set up a month long ‘Stage’* at his joint one town over.
Van was a softly spoken Russian, 6ft 2in in his socks, growly, pointy of feature and large of muscle. He commanded his award-winning kitchen using only his eyes and the deft movements of his hands. Dave was Van’s Sous chef who barked, bit and sacked on his behalf executing Van’s orders which regularly extended beyond his kitchen..this included the sourcing, testing and securing of Vans narcotics….. so the arrest and subsequent incarceration of my potential predecessor now made sense.
So a choice formed in my head as the thick dope-smoke enveloped the TV………work with Van and Dave, learn Bib Gourmand quality cooking doubling as a dope-runner….or stay in the cosy confines of The Kitchen with my own brigade…….
I spent 3 months with Van.
The very first thing he taught me was how to take a gut-shot punch from his girlfriend Reia the head waitress – she regularly doled these cheap shots out to chefs that either annoyed her or turned her on…. I had no clue which I illicited but the gut shots were many, her smile and cocked eyebrow made it kinda worthwhile though. The second lesson from Van however was the mighty Russian Stroganoff.
I’ve since adapted this classic and separated pork from stroganoff – the mash is also a deviation from the traditional rice but that’s my Mum’s influence……….
*Stage where chef move to another kitchen for a limited time to gain experience
Prep time: 10 mins ♦ Cook Time: 40 mins ♦ Total time 50 mins ♦ Serves 2
♣WHAT YOU NEED♥
2 large ‘full’ bone in Pork chops
1 handful of Shiitake and 1 of Oyster mushrooms – roughly chopped
1/2 medium red onion-finely sliced
2 cloves garlic-minced
1 tbs Sour cream
1 tbs Creme fraiche
75 mls chicken stock
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2-3 tps sweet paprika
25 mls brandy
♠HOW YOU DO IT♥
Kick off by cutting the back fat and crackling on the pork – this will allow the fat to render more easily and prevent the chops from curling up. Season them well with salt and black pepper.
Get a wide pan on the heat with a little oil and bring it up to screaming hot, take both chops and stand them up in the pan using tongs fat side down and cook for about 3-4 minutes. This gets the cracking going fast – the actual flesh will take very little time so cook the cracking really well.
Sling the pork into a roasting tray and straight into a pre-heated oven – this is a 15 minute cook so work now on the stroganoff.
Add the onions and garlic to the pan you fried the pork in and cook out in some oil until the onion is softened. Add the Brandy and flame then add the mushrooms, season with salt and fry for about 2-3 minutes.
Step 5 :
Turn the heat way down and add the Sour cream, Creme Fraiche and the stock and simmer until the sauce is thicken, Finish with the lemon juice, taste and adjust the seasoning as you need – its should ‘zing’.
When the pork is done, remove and serve with a buttery mash and the Stroganoff sauce – not exactly conventional….but then again what is?
AMERICAN AMBER by Wicklow Wolf