I Made Christmas Dinner from Scratch at the Waitrose Cookery School and It Almost Killed Me
Do not attempt while hungover AF.
Remember when you were a child and adults would warn you of freak accidents that could happen in normal everyday situations? Things that could go explosively and tragically wrong in the manner of a Mouse Trap board game, each incident joining an ever-more unbelievable and calamitous chain of events?
It always centred on fairly innocuous stuff like leaning back in your chair, running with scissors, or playing with a flaming bunsen burner. "Don't play with that flaming bunsen burner while running with scissors and leaning back in your chair, Tom," my teachers would say, "because you will burn the whole school down, stab your eyes out, break your neck, and I will have to suspend you."
But Mr Matthews, why did you never tell me about the dangers of trying to cook a whole roast dinner by yourself, extremely hungover, and on exactly zero hours of sleep? I've had an illustrious career in chair-leaning, scissor-running, and naked flame-stroking, but attempting to get through five and a half hours of roast duck cooking while still up from the night before is basically the most dangerous and exhausting thing I've ever done.
Well, let me tell you folks, Mr Matthews is nowhere to be seen at precisely 7.24 on a Saturday morning, when I ask a pal to the left of me what the time is. "It's 7.24 AM," he says, sipping casually on a bastardised cocktail of whatever booze we have left in the house. Oh Christ, I think. This is not going to be good.
To cut a long story short: with waves of bitter dread lapping over my soul, I eventually make it to Waitrose Cookery School on Finchley Road in North London, an amateur culinary college run by the upmarket supermarket chain with classes that teach a "contemporary approach to classic recipes."
Limping towards the glistening building through the opaque morning mist, I am soon confronted by the smiles of my fellow cookery classmates—most of whom are over 45 and seem genuinely happy to be staring down the barrel of half a day's worth of cooking. Although I had spent last night and most of this morning drinking myself into a state that makes you forget about things like personal space, none of the friendly faces let on to the fact that I smell like ash and insecurity. I make attempts at small talk and force down the complimentary breakfast.
We move into the school's pristine Masterchef-style kitchen and an energetic chef named Matt, or maybe Mark, runs through the basics of our stations, including how to clean knives and where to dispose of rubbish. This stuff may sound basic but in my current state, I need a reminder of how to put on an apron, let alone where to wash sharp equipment.
The whole day is to be split between watching our chef demonstrator, who I'm now pretty sure is called Matt, and trying the techniques for ourselves. By the end of the class, we would have mastered cooking an entire Christmas roast dinner from scratch.
This first thing Matt teaches us is how to boil potatoes and create a caramelised onion side dish. This basically involves putting a metric tonne of salt on half a sliced onion and cooking it in a further tonne of butter. I quickly realise that most fancy cooking techniques involve putting salt and butter on literally everything.
Here is Matt's attempt: very nice, very caramelised.
And here is mine: very bad, everything was very bad. Still, at least I didn't manage to fuck up boiling the potatoes or set myself on fire. Yet.
While the sides "rest" and the potatoes are in the oven with even more butter, we move onto today's headliner: the actual duck. Matt teaches us how to cut the tail bone out of the bird, which basically is like cutting a pelvis out of the bottom of someone's arsehole. But, like, for flavour reasons.
I really don't feel like putting my hand up a duck's arse and shoving it full of oranges, garlic cloves, and more lumps of butter, but hey, I'm a fucking professional writer so it's just what I have to do.
The duck goes in the oven with some chopped veg, salt, and butter. It's still only 11 AM. I have another three and a half hours of this.
Next, Matt shows us how to make Brussels sprouts with bacon. He dances around his station like a little elf, tossing pans here, delicately slicing veggies there, and generally making it look like cooking a massive roast dinner is piss easy. Which, let me tell you, it isn't.
After the fun with the Brussels, it's time for a breather. I leave my things in the oven and make a beeline for the free Champagne.
Back at my station and with a welcome jolt from the bubbles, I find a new lease of life. Inspired my Matt's kitchen dance, I turn the roast potatoes, finish the sprout dish, roast a celeriac, and even make a stab at bread sauce. I also manage to fuck the roast potatoes, which is weird because Matt specifically taught how to not fuck up the roast potatoes.
Still, with gravy on the hob, we're ready to go. Which is perfect timing because the Champagne seems to have brought me around from buzzing to drunk, and I'm ready to eat. And what a meal I have in store!
I suddenly understand why people who cook roasts get so sanctimonious about them. They are fucking hard and take ages, especially if you're doing it by yourself and brutally hungover, which most people are on a Sunday morning. One of the weird things about cooking is the pleasure to pay-off ratio, and that ratio is none the more skewed than when cooking a roast. You have to rush around doing all kinds of difficult things with root vegetables and stock for pretty much five hours straight, and at the end all you get is a decent meal. Like, think about wanking for five hours and only getting one orgasm, or having to drink five pints of beer minimum to get a good vibe going. Would you do it? Is it worth it?
Actually, looking at my face in that pic, I think it probably is.
All photos by Jake Lewis.
This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in December 2016.