In the second of our two-part report on Gardner Merchant's latest masterclass, taught by the Savoy's Anton Edelmann, Diane Lane watches the participating chefs put their new-found skills into action
With seven hours to go, Gerry Daley, chef manager at the Irish Gas Board in Cork, has been put in charge of the main course. "I'm fairly nervous, but expert help is just a shout away," he says. Daley's first task is to prepare the cabbage "sails", because they need time to dry out so they stand upright on the plate. This involves trimming the leaves into triangles, brushing them with melted butter and keeping an eye on them in the oven.
The rest of the brigade has also been given orders by Edelmann's sous chef from the Savoy, Eibhear Coyle. "That's what he brings me for - to tell people what to do," explains Coyle. "Doing this banquet for 100 people at the hotel would be easy, but it's more difficult here with unfamiliar equipment and a different brigade."
Difficulties are compounded by the fact that the main kitchen next to the banqueting room will not be available until 5.30pm. Consequently, the preparation will be done in two training kitchens and must be finished in time to move across to the main kitchen when it becomes vacant.
In one of the training kitchens Tricia O'Donovan, chef manager at ADM in Ringskiddy, has the solo task of preparing the petits fours: scoops of ice-cream hardened on dry ice and dipped in white or plain chocolate. "I'm hoping to learn something new," she says. "This is all about keeping in touch with what's happening."
Alongside the petits fours area Aoifi Kane, chef manager at Schering Plough in Rathdrum, admits being daunted by the task of assembling the canapés. "Some preparation has been done, but I'm making a list of things to do," she says. Five hundred hot and cold canapés have to be sent out at 7.30pm, with the hot ones being cooked 10 at a time.
Kane suffers a serious setback in mid-afternoon when she discovers that the goats' cheese, which she believed was already marinating in oil and herbs, is untouched. "I'd have done that first, had I known, because it's supposed to marinate for 12 hours," she says.
The remainder of the afternoon then passes without too many problems and there is quite a relaxed atmosphere among the brigade as they peel and blanch asparagus, trim and sear salmon fillets and stuff the main dish of guinea fowl with pistachio mousse.
The move into the main kitchen goes smoothly, but in what seems like no time at all 7.30pm is suddenly upon the brigade and the laid-back ambience gives way to a buzz of excitement and anticipation.
Three chefs in a row are now frying goats' cheese, grilling goats' cheese and chutney topped with cream, and frying scallops so the hot canapés can be assembled and join the cold ones prepared earlier. The canapés are then whisked away to the appreciative guests, among whom Edelmann is mingling, happy to leave the brigade under the watchful eye of Coyle.
On a long table in another kitchen sit about 120 asparagus crowns that took one-and-a-half hours and the whole brigade to assemble and fill with crab meat. Four chefs, clutching containers of lettuce leaves, sun-dried tomatoes and balsamic vinegar dressing respectively, make their way down the table completing the starters. After inspection by Connor Gahan, chef at New Ireland Assurance in Dublin, the plates are released to the guests to be demolished in a fraction of the time it took to assemble them.
There is a moment of relaxation until Coyle calls everyone to their stations for the fish course. As the last of the starter plates comes back, the brigade take up their places in a production line along two trestle tables set up for the pass. As the plates are passed down the line, pea purée, salmon fillet, a quenelle of ratatouille, red pepper diamonds, sauce and a tuile are added under the direction of head chef for the evening Paul Burton, Gardner Merchant's brands product development manager. The plates are all out by 9.40pm.
Their places are quickly taken by a second production line for assembly of the main course. Coyle, in charge of heating the guinea fowl, retrieves trays of the birds from the oven after 11 minutes, as Edelmann pops in to see how things are going and to congratulate the brigade on their fish course.
Finally, the moment everyone has been dreading is upon them: time for the soufflé dessert. The tension is evident as the entire brigade gathers around the ovens where the dishes will be cooked. In front of the ovens are tables covered with plates on which raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, redcurrants and blackcurrants await the arrival of their crowning glory.
But the man in charge of dessert, Tim Ryan, chef at All Hallows College in Dublin, is feeling confident. The test run with six soufflés in three different ovens went well and the appropriate temperature has been written on each oven. At 10.50pm the first trays of soufflés sitting in bains-marie go into the ovens. Ten minutes later Coyle is pacing in front of the ovens on which 18 other pairs of eyes are fixed. The tension dissolves as soufflé after soufflé is turned out in perfect shape, and there is relief and smiles all round.
"I didn't expect the soufflé to go so well," confesses Coyle, "but it was perfect and the salmon was spot on. It's gone really well." Edelmann agrees: "Thanks to the Irish spirit and some very good chefs, it was great. But who am I to judge them?" n