Inaugural Meal

The Horror. Had we known exactly what we were about to commit to I think we may have entertained second thoughts. That said, steeped in blissful ignorance we naively set about planning and executing our first dinner party. We had all cooked dinner parties before but not with the ambition of this meal. Our ambitious designs would soon to be put to the test; some would not survive…

We never planned this meal as the first of the dining society, because we had never planned the dining society. However, as the plans to do an extravagant dinner party went on it became clear that this would be an apparently sensible direction in which to go.

Without a theme on which to base the meal we collaborated on coming up with six different courses, with each of us doing two of them on the evening. The menu was as follows:

  1. Salmon mousse, dill smoked salmon and salmon ceviche with a cucumber infused sparkling gin and tonic jelly
  2. Ham hock and foie gras terrine with a sauternes reduction
  3. Pork belly with black and white pudding, carrot and cardamom puree and a cider sauce
  4. Mallard breast with cherries and hoisin and a beansprout ‘bird’s nest’
  5. Hazelnut praline parfait , caramelized apples and an apple and brandy jelly
  6. Magdalen Tower: the gingerbread monstrosity.

Perhaps the most ridiculous idea we are ever likely to have, Tom decided that we should make a replica of Magdalen tower: (insert photo) out of gingerbread. Yes, Gingerbread. He would later regret this decision. It seem pretty feasible at the time, panels of gingerbread glued together with royal icing, some melted boiled sweet windows, easy. This will be revisited later.

All this was to be cooked in the JCR Dining Room kitchen, we’re pretty lucky to have one; few other colleges do. It serves the purposes of most members of the JCR pretty competently, it has hobs, two ovens, a fridge-freezer, all the basic kitchen equipment that comes as standard in the Western world. There are however some issues with all this. It was installed within the last decade but due to the high levels of abuse it has suffered over that time it has taken on a slightly dilapidated atmosphere, think East Berlin circa 1985.

The ovens have had the temperature indicators around the dials worn off after years of abuse, shrewd calculation and a protractor were required to estimate correct oven settings. Unfortunately one of the ovens suffered a hamstring injury in the weeks leading up to the meal, resulting in the door only opening about 30 degrees, just about usable but only just. The hobs, clearly at the cutting edge of technology when they were made are of a digital touch button design. This is theoretically fine but they have the unfortunate tendency of sporadically switching themselves of. If they have ANY water dropped on the buttons they immediately stop functioning, like some kind of hydrophobic narcoleptic. They required CONSTANT VILIGANCE.

Other than these primary issues, the dishwasher barely functions and the hot water boiler appears to have the capacity of an octogenarian bladder. It isn’t quite kitchen hell but it seems like the kind of place that culinary dreams go to die.

However, we did have some fun with our new culinary toys.

Determined to overcome all these obstacles we set about tackling the jobs in front of us. For Tom. In charge of the Gingerbread Tower, this essentially meant baking about twenty batches of gingerbread in the aforementioned ovens. During his second batch Tom, sensibly attempting to save time had put some gingerbread mix in the hamstrung oven. Getting it in was fine, getting it out was significantly less so. Tom succeeded in burning his hand and in retaliation lashed out at the already wounded oven. He actually managed to break one of the hinges which made the oven much easier to access, but reduced it to the role of DIY ‘salmander’ suitable only for grilling. Undeterred he pushed on.

I won’t go into all the details of the cooking process, it took us three days to prep everything. One thing which we (where ‘we’ indicates only me) became vaguely obsessed with was making best use of all the carcasses we had. Olly had butchered the mallard himself to get the breasts so we had seven of these things lying around. This combined with bones we had picked up from the butchers resulted in us (me) making five different stocks over the course of the weekend. We used just one of them. I don’t know what quite went wrong with the mallard stock but it had a distinct faecal note to it; it wasn’t used.  White chicken stock, vegetable stock, mallard stock, pork stock, all thrown away. Oh for the joys of the simple brown chicken stock, I’ll never make anything else.

 

 

 

Tom’s efforts had progressed pretty well.

 

First Floor

 

Finished!

A consequence of using royal icing as glue was that Tom, in the process of building the tower, ate approximately his own bodyweight in icing. Had it taken him much longer to complete diabetes would have been a genuine concern. The tower stood at 90cm tall upon completion and it was (gingerly) placed in a cupboard for safe keeping overnight. It had taken Tom fourteen hours of his life.

Sunday was D-Day, we had to deal with JCR brunch before we could get on with anything else. Basically every week the JCR cooks a massive amount of greasy shit for students hungover. In order to maintain control of the kitchen for the whole weekend we had volunteered to cook it, this was a Bad Idea.

First things first though, we needed to make sure everything was safe and where we had left it, the fridge was checked and the cupboards were scanned. We turned our attention to the cupboard holding the tower. If a picture says a thousand words, then a good percentage of those would be expletives.

 

Circa 10pm Saturday Night

It tasted like Sadness.

Circa 8am Sunday Morning

Tom went for a Lie Down whilst Olly and I started on brunch. It passed without much comment, Tom, suitably calm, rejoined us at some point during the cooking. Cleaning it up at the end was a proper clusterfuck though, we shouldn’t have done American pancakes. I was also baited into trying to drink a glass of ‘maple flavoured syrup’; nightmare.

 

 

Due to a general lack of forethought we actually spectacularly failed to take photos of each of the dishes, this was a massive oversight and will not happen again. Space in the kitchen was eaten up with alarming speed and we ended up being reduced to slicing mallard breasts on a chopping board on a chair. It was carnage. Pretty much everything went out of the kitchen in the way we had envisaged though. Tom’s mallard course was a particular favourite with the guests. The gingerbread tower had been rescued by Olly’s suggestion of putting it underneath slates covered with candles in the middle of the table. All the guests then blew out the candles and unveiled the gingerbread. This was a wonderful idea, however, the heat given out by sixty tealights was roughly equivalent to a minor solar flare and the slates had heated to an extraordinary degree. Despite some slightly singed fingers it went down pretty well.

The wine for the meal was generously provided by Tom Putter, one of our guests of honour, the father of one of our close friends. It was incredible. He also very kindly bestowed the society with two handcarved and painted wooden ducks from America. There really is no getting out of the society now, we have mascots and everything.

Yes that is a jeraboam of red wine.

The kitchen after the meal was looked like it had a low yielf nuclear device detonated inside the oven. We were ill-prepared to take it on after having cooked for three days. The logical reaction was to get pretty drunk and see how it went. This seemed to work out pretty well all told.

The first meal was a real baptism of fire, it was hugely enjoyable and a great platform to build from, we certainly learnt a great deal from it. We have instituted a set of rules for the Mallards now, from this meal we had our first two:

  1. No vegetarians.
  2. NEVER work with gingerbread.

I will post about the next meal as soon as I have time, probably at some point this week. Let me know your thoughts, we have proper photos for the next one. If you want recipes or anything else let us know. Your feedback would be amazing so please do comment.

Quack quack,

The Mallards

 

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