Sunday 10 December 2017

The great Mother's Day cook off

Graham Clifford and Joe Donnelly

On Sunday morning in kitchens across Ireland, many grown men will find themselves in unfamiliar territory as they endeavour to make a scrumptious breakfast for their other halves – with the assistance of little hands.

With mum usually given a sleep-in on Mother's Day, dads can be found beavering away downstairs, the sweat building on their brow.

The kids will offer egg-breaking and toast-buttering services. With the big day drawing very close, the Irish Independent's Joe Donnelly and I decided to get some tips from a leading chef.

With our respective broods in tow, we called in to see Andrew Rudd at his Medley cooking venue on Dublin's Drury St.

The supermarket chain Aldi supplied the ingredients and to spice things up Team Joe and Team Graham were asked to compete against each other with Chef Andrew judging which of the dishes scored most for presentation, texture and taste.

Here's how we got on....


Team Graham assistants: Molly (7), Aoife (5) and Aodhan (2).

On the car-ride up to Dublin, my eldest daughter Molly plucked up the courage to voice her concerns.

"But Dad, you can't cook," she said in her charming, straight-to-the-point style.

In fairness, her words did nothing to alter my confidence levels, which were already on the floor.

Since getting married, my wife Catherine has taught me how to make a few dishes. I do a mean leek and potato soup and am proud of my scrambled eggs and bacon, but I'm far from at ease in the kitchen.

Still, I'm determined that on Mother's Day, I will help my children produce a lovely breakfast for their mum.

Feeling like an imposter, I enter Andrew's kitchen and, when I discover Joe is a dab-hand in the culinary arts, my heart sinks. This could be embarrassing!

Thankfully, Aodhan isn't bothered – he's spotted a box of chocolates on a nearby table and spends most of his afternoon figuring out how to sneak them into his gob without anyone noticing.

With aprons tied and chef hats in place, we get a quick run-through of the dishes devised for us by Andrew.

I'm to make a potato tortilla with tomato, onion and ham. If you're thinking that sounds easy, remember I have three young children running between my legs, I'm in a competition against a very competent Joe and we're against the clock – oh and did I mention I can't cook!

Molly and Aoife gather the ingredients while Aodhan plays with my apron strings.

From Joe's half of the kitchen, I get a great sense of calm and control, flavoursome aromas take flight. But on our side, confusion reigns and we haven't had the best of starts.

"Did the children chop those onions?" asks Andrew as he peeps into my pan. "They did indeed," I reply without making eye contact and lying through my teeth. Let's just say they could have been chopped more finely!

Aodhan and Aoife peel the mushrooms, Molly finds the eggs and I'm sticking religiously to the recipe.

Though he's well known to crack an egg at home, Aodhan adopts a different style here. Every time he taps an egg on the side of the bowl, it explodes all over his hands. He's delighted with himself.

With time running out, I find myself chucking in the assorted ingredients (minus the tomatoes, they got lost along the way!)

The tortilla bubbles away for a few minutes before being placed in a pre-heated oven.

Twenty minutes later, Andrew retrieves the dish and calls everyone together for the grand unveiling. I prepare myself, while the children look at me with apprehension on their little faces.

Through squinted eyes I'm amazed to see the tortilla looks, smells and tastes like – well, a tortilla dish!

But is it good enough to win this cooking challenge?

Joe Donnelly with his sons John (4) and Ben (8)

Team Joe assistants: Ben (8) and John (4)

Eggs Benedict is something I've seen on menus but never felt plucky enough to replicate.

I was apprehensive when it became apparent that I had to face this challenge for the Mother's Day cook off. Even more fear-inducing was the prospect of having to do this with my children as 'helpers' – all under the watchful eye of chef Andrew Rudd.

The demonstration made everything seem simple. It felt like being on the set of a cookery show. I was distracted by all the wonderful kitchenware, appliances and beautiful knives.

While I should have been paying close attention to Andrew's method of preparing Hollandaise sauce, I was eyeing up a nice lemon zester and wondering if I could subtly encourage my youngest to accidentally put it in his jacket pocket.

On the subject of Hollandaise sauce, I was most concerned about this aspect of the contest. Separating egg yolks and whisking and diligent seasoning are something I usually leave to the professionals. That's why God invented the ready-made variety.

The coin was flipped and, typical me, I ended up with Eggs Benedict while Graham got the tortilla. By coincidence, I recently decided I'd better learn how to poach an egg. For the past few weekends I'd been going through dozens of eggs trying to perfect the technique.

However, it's a different ball game when you're in an unfamiliar kitchen, working against the clock and being ably assisted by an eight and four-year-old.

The two boys seemed more concerned with investigating the array of Aldi products on display. Remarkably they discovered some chocolates and a cake among all the fresh fruit, vegetables and other ingredients.

"Quick lads, I need another egg," I'd call out, as I tried to keep the Hollandaise from curdling and attempted not to burn the English muffin.

"In a minute, Daddy," said the youngest, with an apple in one hand and some sort of raspberry chocolate cup in the other.

Eggs Benedict is all about timing. I had my sauce just about ready, the muffin was toasted and on the brink of burning, so it was time to poach the egg.

Hang on, did I put the lemon juice into the boiling water or not? I couldn't remember. Oh well, just squeeze in another bit along with the egg. Now where is the slotted spoon to take it out? The younger boy is using it as a light-saber.

Eventually, I plate up what certainly resembles Eggs Benedict, with a bit of smoked salmon and chopped dill and chives scattered on top – if nothing else I'm going to make it aesthetically pleasing.

The moment of truth arrives and Andrew samples our dishes. I know for a fact my Hollandaise is a bit heavy on the lemon, but at least the poached egg is a modest success. The chef is very complimentary and says he actually prefers a nice kick off the sauce. I'll take that plaudit – even if he visibly grimaced as he tasted it.


COOK OFF 002.jpg
The great Mother's day cook off


When Andrew announces a tie in the competition, Molly jumps for joy, calling out "we didn't lose, we didn't lose". High praise indeed!

This cooking challenge proved that even the most amateurish of cooks can make something tasty once recipes are followed to the letter.

You'll enjoy the process of making that special breakfast on Sunday, and, what's more, your children will be bursting with pride as they help carry the tray to their mother's bedside.

What the lads cooked for Mother's Day:

Poached Eggs Benedict


Potato Tortilla with Tomato, Onion and Ham


Irish Independent

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