CHRISTINA MARTIN'S FRENCH-CLASSICAL BASICS
Maitre Chef de Cuisine and Commandeur Associé de la Commanderie des Cordons Bleus de France
I was deeply saddened to hear that Christina Martin had passed away.
I will always remember sitting in Christina's office at the age of 16 - a whole year before I needed to be there. This was my interview to be accepted into the Christina Martin School of Food and Wine. For me, getting into this course was not an option. My heart and mind were set. I have to admit I felt intimidated but, at the same time, I was in awe of Christina's absolute dedication to the industry. From that day I grew to understand and appreciate her constant insistence for perfection.
After serving a few years at Hartford House I bumped into Christina at the Good Food and Wine Show in Durban. She greeted me by name and said how proud she was of me. This was a definite 'feel-great' moment.
I thank Christina for teaching me the French-classical basics which are the cornerstone of my food today. Her energy, determination and dedication to training me will always be remembered.
She is sorely missed. My food journey started when I was brought into this world - well almost! However, my training and my first encounter with French-classical basics came from the Christina Martin School of Food and Wine. With Christina's recent passing I thought it appropriate for me to give you a few of her recipes that were ingrained in me. Combinations I will always remember and flavours that transport me to those training days. Such happy memories!
That first intimidating interview resulted in my being accepted - and the opportunity to savour the most delicious, crisp-and-chunky whole-almond biscotti. Christina had a large glass jar filled with them. It was love at first taste! I remember thinking 'this is what I call an office'.
As students we were exposed to many different cooking styles, and functions ranging from top-quality private home dinner parties and gourmet restaurant food; to deli combinations, in-store launches and cocktail parties - all very stimulating. We would make whatever the menu dictated, fill the clients serving dishes and they would return home for their dinner party for which, they led their guest to believe, they had spent the whole day preparing. One specific dish I remember often preparing for this type of occasion was Cape Malay pickled fish. Guests always went crazy for it.
A preferred choice of mine was coronation chicken with toasted almonds. I had never eaten this before my training days and always jumped at the opportunity to make it. Poaching and stuffing apricots into chicken breast, wrapping in plastic and poaching was a method I enjoyed. This is probably the reason I use the sous vide (cooking under vacuum in a water bath) process today. The creaminess of the sauce, the fresh fruity flavour with the crisp freshly-roasted almonds makes a delicious light-lunch option. Serve with a freshly-picked herb salad.
A dill-and-tuna ring always seemed to be on examination papers - and yes, I got tested on this for my starter in the mid-year practical exam. Still today, the aroma of dill reminds me of this dish. I recall being extremely proud of my creation. Now when looking back I cringe at the simplicity - or was it naivety - of my effort. I guess we all have to start somewhere...
I remember trying a potato croquette (mashed and thickened potatoes, piped or shaped, covered in flour, egg and breadcrumbs and deep fried). This was a dish I had never attempted but chose it for my exam. Madness! I opened one of my French recipe books the night before the test and decided it would be the starch component of the meal I was to prepare. Let me just say the end result didn't look anything like the recipe-book photo! I learnt a huge life lesson that day. Never experiment on guests. Always test and reassess before including a dish on a menu.
Rich, hearty pies with homemade quick puff pastry always excite me. This recipe is so easy. There is no reason to ever buy a commercial, ready-to-make roll. The rich, buttery aromas and flavours of homemade puff, from the minute the heat of the oven hits the pastry, are incomparable.
Christina's bread-and-butter pudding, with her chocolate variation, was always a hit on the Saturday lunch buffet. This is a true classic that will be appreciated, forever.
The stories from that year outshine any other year. Christina was hard but she definitely got what she wanted out of us. She understood what the industry was looking for and she pushed us until we 'preformed to impress'. Everything we cooked went to a paying guest so consistency and quality were imperative - there was no room for imperfections. If we got something wrong we would work all night until the required quality was achieved. From day one we were in an atmosphere that represented a working environment so we all knew, early in the course, whether we would have the tenacity needed in this industry.
Enjoy cooking up a few of my favourite dishes.
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