Andrew Kay: Pied à Terre

Andrew Kay pops on some whites & steps into the brand new kitchen at Brighton’s award winning Terre à terre

If you know me, well you will be aware that I seem unable to say no. It’s how I ended up being alternative Miss Brighton, how I am about to embark on two months of dancing for charity and how I end up in all kinds of trouble.

Not that I am averse to a spot of trouble from time to time, it keeps you on your toes, that’s for sure.

When the lovely Olivia form Terre à Terre called to give me the nod that the restaurant ws finally opening again I was delighted, Brighton without T à T is like Morecambe without Wise, or Flanders without Swann. When she suggested that I might like to spend an afternoon in the kitchen I jumped at the chance. I have the T à T cook book, it’s my favourite kind of pornography, but the chance to see the kitchen at work was far more tempting. It was arranged that I would join chef Matt for an afternoon and early evening. No commitment was made as to how much I would be able – or even allowed – to do, but I wasn’t going to be picky, this was a treat that any food lover would jump at.

On the day I donned some sensible shoes and an old pair of trousers and turned up as requested. Olivia produced a jacket that was surprisingly big on me, and, after a coffee and a chat with chef Matt, we headed down to the kitchen where he immediately set me to work.

Now I am no stranger to the workings of a pro kitchen, but I am certainly not a pro chef, so when he handed me an enormous knife I did have a flutter of nerves. How long would it be before I was sporting those blue sticking plasters that you only find in pro kitchens?

The new kitchen is no bigger than before but massively improved with a revised layout and lots of smart new equipment. My first task was to make a huge quantity of guacamole.

I make it at home so I was interested to see what differences there would be.

It turned out to be very few, except that I use two avocadoes and they use about 24. It gave Matt the chance to take a look at my knife skills, and having seen that there were no fingers in the guacamole, a real Terre à Terre faux pas that would be, he decided I was ready for more.

Over the next few hours I was given an increasing number of tasks: I separated eggs for the twice-baked cheese soufflés, weighed the butter, cheese and flour too. I trimmed and prepared two huge boxes of aubergines and I finely sliced a large quantity of chestnuts, which I am proud to see I did not nibble at, despite loving them.

It was then that I was introduced to the range and my main task for the day, which would be to prepare the starter for a group of my friends who I had been asked to invite along. Mr R was joined by Mr M, Ms G de V and Mr D, and they were all off having drinks in advance of a 7pm booking.

I was given a choice of which dish I would prepare for them between Arepas Chilli Candy, deep fried corn cakes rolled in spice dust served with chilli chelly jelly, avocado hash, oregano and lime mojo and a candied chilli. Or Congee Shiso Yuzu and Tempura Shiitake, a risotto of kombu dashi and miso finished with black rice served with shiitake and Chinese chive tempura finished with beansprout and shisho leaves in a yuzu dressing. I chose the latter and Matt gave me a demonstration of how to cook it and plate it.

I watched with an eagle eye, there is so much on each plate, so much detail and so much precision, and when he finished I gulped and felt the panic in the pit of my stomach. Before I knew it though I was in at the deep end. An order came in for two portions of my chosen dish and Matt suggested I do it as a trial run. This was me, cooking for the general public. I was terrified, but after a few minutes I realised that if I was to pull it off I needed to settle down, which I did and with a little help from the team I pulled it off.

The practice was good, but it was only a short while before I had to create the dish again and this time for six. It required a lot more thought, multiplying the component parts, making sure everything was ready on time and delivered to the pass looking, and tasting of course, as good as a regular customer would expect.

It was a sweaty business requiring the juggling of many pans and a steady hand when dressing the plates, but when they were all sat there looking pretty it was a very satisfying feeling. I just prayed that my guests would be equally satisfied. They’re a nice lot so they were bound to be nice but I think that they were genuinely impressed and when I waved my uncut fingers in a culinary jazz hands manner they saw that I had been accident free.

Everyone went on to enjoy the pro’s cook their main courses and a couple of desserts and we drank some great wines off the exceptional list.

I had the best of times and would happily go back and do it again, although I am not sure that I could keep up the pace of that extraordinary kitchen for more than the occasional shift. My sincere thanks go to them all for putting up with an amateur in their domain. I was also reminded of the question to which I would also answer no. People often ask if I would like to run my own restaurant. The answer is always no and here is why. It’s bloody hard work, the returns are slim for a very long time and if I ran a restaurant when would I get the chance to dine in restaurants? The answer would be never and that is not an option. No, best leave it the professionals and they don’t come more professional than the team at Terre à Terre.

P.S: Did I mention that Terre à Terre is a vegetarian restaurant? No, and although it is, I seldom think about that, it’s simply a great place to eat.

Terre à Terre, The Vegetarian Restaurant, 71 East Street, Brighton BN1 1HQ, 01273 729051

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