Last night I sliced a shallot with tremendous speed and dexterity. It fell away from the knife in tiny translucent cubes and I was thrilled with my ‘chefiness’. What happened to get me all euphoric over a glorified onion? It’s all down to Brian McCann, the Head Chef at Shu on the Lisburn Road. I headed over to the launch of their 2018 Apprenticeship Programme with a few other lucky bloggers and PR guru Cathy Martin, to get a taste of what working in a restaurant kitchen is like. Then to my delight, (this blogging lark had to finally start paying off some dividends) we were invited to sample our roast halibut and Eton mess with a glass of chilled Sauvignon Blanc. How very jolly.
I was excited, SO excited, that in my haste biking over to Shu that morning , I almost crashed head-on into a school boy cyclist, as he came hurtling towards me in a most devil may care manner. I came crashing down on the cross bar with a powerful thud, and foolishly, had forgotten to wear my padded cycling shorts. It’s a week later and my lady bits are only starting to feel normal.
Thus I arrived, red of face and sore of arse, with my hair in a sensible braid for health and hygiene standards and a pair of trainers so that I didn’t take the toe off myself with an errant knife. I had even forgotten to apply lipstick. This was not the case with the other bloggers, all svelte, bejewelled and in trendy rig-outs. I looked like their Brethren cousin.
But I soon forgot about aesthetics when I got into the kitchen. ‘The knives are sharp and the stoves are hot,’ Brian warned, before we trooped in to start trimming asparagus and shelling peas while we watched sous-chef Matthew whizz up a puree.
One of the first things Brian told us was that he wasn’t at all academic and had in fact ‘failed’ (his words) at school, but always been interested in food. I want to get a raft of disengaged school kids in here, to watch him fillet an 8lb halibut: slicing eight perfect pieces with a few deft flicks of a silver blade. Despite being fluent in French, he uses words I have to go home and look up, like how to serve up ice-cream ‘rocher’ style and ‘brunoise’ his vegetables. I’m slightly in awe to be honest, like Bridget Jones when she concludes her interviews with the freedom fighter from Kosovo admitting she has ‘frankly, a bit of a crush.’
‘Phew, it’s hot in here,’ says one of the girls. ‘Hot?’ Brian raises his eyebrows. ‘The ovens aren’t even on. You want to be on a Saturday night.’ No wonder he has to keep fit. He’s only after running the London Marathon, and he knocks back an effervescent juice crammed beetroot and goji berries while we tuck into the fish and buttery potatoes. ‘I was quite a big fella,’ he says, but then I stopped eating a lot of fatty foods and we eat a lot of veg from the garden now.’ ‘Better for up here,’ he says, tapping his head.
When looking for his next apprentice, he wants passion and a desire to learn, ‘a touch of madness helps too,’ he adds.
His sous-chef smiles when I ask him what it’s like working with Brian. ‘He’s always open to ideas,’ he tells me. “If I think there’s a better or quicker way to do something, he wants to see it. Doesn’t happen that often though.’
It’s been about three years since I’ve been to Shu, but I’m booking a table soon, if only so LSB can see the competition. 😉