Thought For Food

Thought For Food

This month, our own celebrity chef, Rosemary Shrager discovers anything can happen…

Having never been to the country before, I have just spent three weeks in India working on a documentary for BBC2 and it was an experience of a lifetime.

What struck me was the kindness of the people, wanting to please us, making sure everything was perfect and the generosity was overwhelming.

We decided at one point to do a tea party, and invite the whole family we were staying with, around 30 people!

‘No problem’, I thought, so I went shopping and found a place that would be similar to our local Indian corner shop, to buy everything. It had most of the products I wanted. The owner was getting very excited seeing what was going into my basket, so he offered me tea, water or anything that I desired. I opted for a bottle of water.

Eventually I put all the bits and pieces into a taxi, drove back to the house and got everything out on the table in a side room; the kitchen was quite small.

My menu was orange and lemon cake, profiteroles with crème patisserie, brandy snaps, orange tulies, shortbread, lemon tartlets and baby meringues along with egg mayonnaise and cucumber sandwiches. First I made the shortbread mixture and put it into the fridge to rest and then made the lemon mixture for the tarts, which also went into the fridge to chill along with the brandy snap mixture.

Next came the cake. The oven was on 180oc with me not realising it was new with the blue plastic still on it in places.

It hadn’t been tested and unfortunately thetemperature gauge seemed to be different to those on our ovens.

Result? The cake was burned black. Never mind. (I lost it.)

Then suddenly I had the family coming in to cook their lunch and I found myself in the corner sitting on a plastic stool. I could just about reach the stove and I had a baby oven to my right on the work surface. So, I made the profiteroles with no piping bag – who needs one – and they were great; beautifully cooked to a nice golden brown.

I put them on the top of the small oven to cool then put the final tray in, I could only cook one tray at a time. In the meantime the family lunch was nearly finished cooking and the chapattis were going out.

Now I could continue.

I decided to turn the heat down on the main oven by 30oc although not having the benefit of a working temperature gauge it was trial and error. I cut the shortbread biscuits and placed them onto the baking tray. The next thing I smelled was burning; yes the biscuits were black. Now we knew the thermostat was gone.

OK Rosemary, back to the drawing board. I had lost two bakes so far and had one and half hours left until the party. I had some vol-au-vent cases and chicken on hand so quickly made a white sauce and steamed a chicken breast adding some cheese. I had to get something on the table.

Then, just as I was getting the profiteroles out of the oven, I broke the stool I was sitting on. The profiteroles ended up all over the floor and there was pandemonium. Everybody was trying to pull me back up while I was pulling down, trying to stop the hot shelves from falling onto people. It could not have got any worse.

I managed to get up and carried on as if nothing had happened. Everybody else was in total shock. “We have a party to finish”, I bellowed.

I then proceeded to make three brandy snaps at a time because we really only had one shelf. At the same time I gave instructions on how to do the sandwiches. The chef was bemused and didn’t quite understand the crusts had to be taken off and they had to be neat.

I was duly ticked off by the owner of the house for throwing away the profiteroles they thought could be used for something. OH NO, they could not be used after falling on the unbelievably dirty floor.

By now the tea was very late and we all ended up with was chicken vol-au-vents, lemon tartlets, brandy snaps and sandwiches, but not very much of it.

All this amounted to four and a half hours work! It was an afternoon of cooking I will never forget. But then I should have remembered that we were in India where anything can and does happen…

Speak next month.