This article dates from the time when Marc Fosh was executive chef at Reads Hotel, prior to opening his own restaurants in Palma.
“An experience suitable for the keen cook and not for the faint hearted!” it says there and that “participants will be responsible for a dish during service that evening.” Now, don’t get me wrong, I am a real foodie and a passionate cook, but I simply could not imagine to work in a team of professional cooks in real time and to prepare one of those fabulous, well-balanced dishes Marc is famous for, on call. I had this vision of a furious chef, shouting at me because I didn’t manage to cube shallots in evenly sized pieces or just because it took too long. “Hell’s kitchen” if you want, just without the television crew.
So in the end, I was quite nervous when I arrived at Reads Hotel. Marc Fosh met me personally and with his charm and nice sense of humour I began to relax immediately. The idea of the Master Chef for a Day experience, he explained, was to give an insight into how a Michelin star kitchen works and to have fun. According to Marc many of his guests were actually curious to get a look behind the scene. So he came up with two ideas to offer this unique experience: one is the Master Chef for a Day the other one The Chef’s table which is set in the heart of the kitchen where guests can enjoy a special menu whilst watching the chefs at work.
The Master Chef ‘s experience starts at 11:00 with an introduction to the team and the different stations. You will then help to prepare the “mise en place” for the same evening and will select and learn one of the dishes from the menu. From 16:00 to 19:00 hrs the crew breaks up and the guest cook has time to relax and recover during a well earned massage treatment in the spa. This is followed by a light dinner, before everybody comes back to the kitchen to start the evening service.
After a bit of chit-chat Marc and I headed for the kitchen and I got my cook’s jacket and apron. The morning preparations were fun and the atmosphere in the kitchen surprisingly relaxed. There was a wealth of tips and tricks to be gathered, too many to remember them all. Marc suggested that I’d be responsible for ”loin of lamb in saffron crust with paste of red peppers and cardamom milk” that evening. I started to panic. When I told Marc about my worries and asked him to be patient he laughed “It is simply not my style to shout around in my kitchen” he said “if I loose my head, my staff will become more nervous and things will become even worse”. Nothing you would like to risk in a Michelin star restaurant, of course. But does he never get mad?
“I do have my moments” he admitted, “but I try to keep my anger inside and let it out later”. So we started to prepare “chlorophyll of red pepper”, which is the real essence of red pepper taste, achieved by cooking, blending and filtering it for several hours. I got a quick lesson as to how to bone a rack of lamb and how to cut peppers in wonderfully tiny, equally size cubes. The crust for the lamb came together easily out of yellow pepper cubes, olive oil, saffron, breadcrumbs, thyme and a twist of Flor de Sal, in this case blended with Mediterranean herbs. The trick to get a perfectly caramelized crust on the meat was to use just a few drops of oil and to pre-heat the pan well, than drizzle on a little more olive oil, once the meat was in the pan. Green cardamom pods were bathing in hot low-fat milk in the meantime. And before everything came together on the plate, the milk was frothed up with some soy lecithin.
The result was delicious, the way each ingredient was enhancing and supporting the individual flavours was just divine. And that is exactly what Marc’s cooking is about: first class ingredients, pure flavours and a perfect balance. Asked where he sources the products he explained “Most of the products I buy locally, the vegetables grown here are excellent and the variety of fish available on the Palma market is still very good.”
Wild fish has its price though, but farmed fish would never make its way into his restaurant. His favourite local food? “Sóller prawns”. His opinion on the hype about molecular cuisine? “The world would be poorer without it, but you wouldn’t want to eat it in most of the restaurants around. The good thing about it is that it teaches us a lot about the science in cooking and that it makes people think.” I was hoping for a tip where to buy meat and game, but here even Marc Fosh relies on international sources, “It is just too hot for the cattle here, the heat changes colour and flavour of the meat.”
While we were chatting the crew was coming back to the kitchen for evening service. The pressure set in immediately, the place started buzzing. When the first guests arrived to the restaurant, orders were flying back and forth in a wild mixture of English, Spanish and German. Plates were rapidly filled, decorated and delivered. It was like Marc was conducting a big orchestra! Suddenly I heard “Lamb saffron, table 8”. My heart skipped a beat. What did I have to do first? Under the watchful eyes of Sous-Chef Felix I cooked the meat, topped it with the crust and off it went under the Salmander. Marc himself added the finishing touch to the plate and the waiter left the kitchen with my loin of lamb. What would the guest say, I was wondering. After a while the waiter came back with praise from table 8, I got a friendly wink from Marc. “An experience suitable for the keen cook and not for the faint hearted!” it crossed my mind – true… and definitely lots of fun!