Did you know that Le Cordon Bleu cookery school on London’s prestigious Bloomsbury Square has a fingerprint entry system? I do now, having had the privilege of taking part in a masterclass in coffee cookery led by acclaimed chef Roberto Petza of S’Apposentu, Le Cordon Bleu and Great Italian Chefs.
I’m not certain this detail makes the most inviting introduction to this piece, in which I will wax on about Lavazza single-origin Kafa espresso, pork lardons and knobbly vegetables, but I remain seriously impressed with this bit of doorway technology. In fact, it was about as new to me as the thought of including coffee as an ingredient in savoury cookery.
Our teacher, Roberto Petza, is from Sardinia where his restaurant S’Apposentu is named after what is traditionally the best room in the house – used only for socialising. Having had a little nose around online, I think I’d like to go there and maybe move in. Quite apart from the amazing, Michelin-starred food, Roberto’s dining space looks so very inviting, with big feature walls in yellow and pink.
I’m also intrigued by the fact that a regional speciality is a pungent soft cheese in which flies lay eggs, so that maggots can work magic on the interior as it matures. Sardinia, Roberto says, has so much fine produce that as a chef he is truly spoiled. Funnily enough, perhaps, Jerusalem artichokes – the distinctively nutty-tasting roots of an American sunflower – are not at all native to the region’s cookery. Roberto discovered them when he found them growing purely for decoration in his grandmother’s flower garden, he says he thought: “good, we can use them!”
When asked his favourite dish, Roberto replies that he cannot name it, or more precisely, and more beautifully, “it’s like saying to your mother, what is your favourite song?” However, he can name some of the ingredients that help to define his food. He particularly enjoys ingredients with bite, like the fennel and radish we use in his artichoke dish and above all else, exceptionally good quality olive oil; Roberto recommends the Sardinian variety ‘Crow’s Beak’. Another Sardinian flavour, spiced citrus coffee, has provided some inspiration for this dish.
The dish, Jerusalem Artichoke with Coffee Dressing, is well balanced, and in my porky opinion could only be improved by larger pieces of pork. The artichokes are cooked whole in a lidded pan with a splash of good oil, coriander seeds, mustard seeds, garlic, shallot, rosemary and thyme. Just a little water is added at intervals to stop the vegetables and spices from catching. The artichokes take 15-20 minutes and this method presents with really delicious vegetables that I could eat a bucket of without anything else.
Because we’re going posh, however, I stick to the recipe and present the artichokes carefully on a plate dotted with cubed fennel, radish, celery, and sprinkle the lot with crispy lardons and fresh almonds. A dressing of Lavazza Kafa espresso and olive oil is drizzled on at the end, then you wolf it down with something like a Georgian Rkatsiteli orange wine – another new discovery for me, and special. As the Le Cordon Bleu sommelier tells us, it’s a ‘surprise wine that doesn’t smell like it tastes’ – the acidity playing with the bitterness of the coffee and cutting through the olive oil.
Other little things I learnt
- Orange wine like the one we had from Antadze Winery is super trendy. It goes well with rabbit, game and Sherpa cheese
- “There is whisking and there is whisking.” We enjoyed a demo from Le Cordon Bleu tutor Nicolas Houchet, who showed us proper whisking, and a ream of other precision patisserie techniques needed to make miniature Iced Coffee Soufflés
- I’m nostalgic about Lavazza anyway, my parents were truly loyal to their Qualitia Rossa, but their single origin Kafa espresso, with its notes of wild cherry and date, probably tops their whole lot
- Le Cordon Bleu is every bit as impressive as I imagined it would be. You’ve got my prints now; can I come back?