Faustian Dinner – The Beginning

The last meal of our academic year was an absolute monster. The raw stats are pretty terrifying. Nineteen separate courses, twenty-four guests, four chefs, four service staff, thirty litres of wine, five days cooking, seven hours eating. When I woke up the next day, I couldn’t actually into my shoes because they were too swollen.

The meal was never intended to be such an enormous effort. We had originally planned two meals for the last term but due to various events the first was a non-starter so we decided (naively) to cook for every member at the end of term. The menu was based around the Cardinal Sins, better known as the Seven Sins. This is a fairly tired concept and so we – at first – were wary of it but decided it would be good to try and rehabilitate it and food seemed to offer a good scope for creativity. The menu soon developed a momentum and logic of its own which propelled it into higher levels of ridiculousness.

As a group of chefs we share a philosophy on cooking that goes against quick-and-easy methods endorsed by chefs like Jamie Oliver and the rest of the Ready, Steady, Cook school of cuisine. That’s certainly not to say that such food can’t be delicious, but we believe that food should be challenging, engaging and complex. Food is art and whilst some of our efforts are more akin to finger paintings than the Great Masters our food always aspires to that level of care, energy and emotion. This meal was almost an act of defiance. We wanted to create the kind of food that you slave over for two days simply to create just one amazing mouthful of food; the kind of food that makes people close their eyes when they eat it. We took on more than we could really handle, techniques none of us had tried before, ingredients none of us had used, recipes we were writing ourselves – it had the potential to go horribly wrong.

The menu ended up as follows:

Seven Virtues

Temperance

Samphire • Saffron • Scallop

Diligence

“Blood, sweat and tears”

Blood orange cured salmon • Vanilla Mayonnaise • Grapefruit

Kindness

(Goat’s) Milk & Honey

Chastity

Parmesan custard • Truffle toast

Humility

“Not-So-Humble Pie”

Foie gras • Camomile & Sauternes jelly

Charity

Soup Kitchen

Gazpacho • Toast

Patience

Chicken l’egg?

Smoked chicken • Mango • Guacamole

 

Seven Vices

Greed

“Scallop”

Langoustine dumpling • Seafood salad • Peppers

Anger

Bull Shot

Beef tartar • Horseradish and wasabi ripple ice cream • Bloody Mary

Vanity

Mutton dressed as Lamb

Hogget • Apricot • Onion

Sloth

The Fat Pig

Pork belly • Black pudding • Celeriac • Cider

Envy

Jelly • Tea

Lust

Passionfruit & Chocolate sphere

Trio of Strawberry “Mr Whippy”

Fauxcaine

Gluttony

Petit Fours

Cheese

 

Alternatives

Temperance

Samphire • Saffron • Quail’s egg

Diligence

“Blood, sweat and tears”

Duck • Vanilla Mayonnaise • Grapefruit

Greed

Chicken noodle soup

The recipes for many will follow shortly but despite some pessimistic projections over the three days leading up to the event, it was a roaring success. Almost every dish came off as we intended it to, both in taste and appearance. Of course there were mishaps. One guest accidently squirted Tabasco into his eye, another jabbed himself with the hypodermic needle filled with lime juice and chili (more on this later) but those aside, the meal (almost) matched our ambitions.

We had some amazing staff help us at the meal and our thanks go to all of them. We have set up a system whereby anyone who wants to eat a Mallards meal and be a member needs to help prepare and serve one. This is partly to allow us to be more ambitious and also because doing the cleaning after three days of cooking is almost indescribably soul-destroying. If anyone ever wants to volunteer to be our kitchen porter you will be paid handsomely in leftovers, scraps and spares. The guys who helped us coped brilliantly with some overwrought and emotional people who had been in a kitchen too long. I need to say a big thank you to Josh Rhodes who, though not originally a part of the Mallards, gave up an enormous amount of time, energy and not least cooking equipment to help us with the meal. He’s a very skilled chef and you should follow his blog at after-tastesdotcom as well as eating at the restaurant he is helping to open in Oxford next year.

Rather than labour over all of the individual courses and their particular trials and tribulations here, I will end this here and begin to post them individually. Please do comment saying if there are any you would particularly like to see. We wrote an entire manual to cook from over the four days which contains all our recipes so if you are interested at all we would be happy to send you the entire set of recipes, just drop us an email.

Plenty more to come very soon, got a post on tea ceremonies, street food, dumpling making as well as all the Faustian food so stay put for more.

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