It was the second week of the cookery school. Of our original class, only eight were left. We were told that the rest had left, unable to cope with the rigours of class, but none of us had seen them go. They'd left in the middle of the night (though they'd not have had much choice as we did 18 hour shifts in the kitchen), taken silently from amongst us.
I've described the events of the first three days in a previous post; the next four for the week were very similar, with two more people escaping from the stocks group into the group of people considered capable of cooking.
On the first day of the second week, we were given our Escoffier and our Delia. Escoffier was, of course, the Complete Guide to the Art of Modern Cookery and our Delia was the jet black special edition that you can't obtain unless you know the ISBN number and have clearance from MI6. The one where she discusses the use of grenades and net curtains for creating mince when you're in a hurry.
The second week started with a day of wilderness training. We were woken before dawn, issued chef's blacks (similar to chef's white but only used for covert operations) and driven in a van with blacked-out windows to eight different locations, one for each of us. I was the last out of the van; the instructor handed me my menu, crossed himself, and saluted me. I saluted back, and then the van was moving off even as the instructor pulled himself back inside.
I looked at my menu. I was to produce a four course meal; hors d'oeuvres, soup, meat course and dessert. All I had with me were my knives, a length of cheesewire, some matches, and my copy of Delia that I'd taken to sleeping with against my heart. I looked around me -- scrubland, that could have been a heath or a common somewhere, with no signs of human habitation in any direction. Little in the way of edible plants, less in the way of wildlife I could catch, kill and cook. Not necessarily in that order.
I was just turning to look at the tracks that the van had left, when a flash of movement caught my eye. My hand pulled a knife from my bandolier and threw it slightly ahead of the movement, and as the knife left my hand I turned my head to look at what had caught my eye. The rabbit bolted again when it saw my head move, and the knife caught it squarely in the chest. I grinned; now things were going to be a lot easier.
I slit the rabbit from throat to tail and staked it out on the ground, making sure that it was firmly fixed and couldn't be easily pulled free. Then I tracked the van until it reached a road, and headed into civilisation. It took a couple of hours, no more. I came to a small village, and picked the largest house I could find; to my surprise there were only three occupants, a married couple and their daughter. I tied them into their beds, picked up the dog and a couple of pet parrots, and started cooking.
The meal took another couple of hours to prepare, and I was beginning to sweat a little now, as I still had to get back and lay it out to present it. I left the family a dish of foie du chien a la lyonnais on the table as a thankyou for their hospitality and left their front door open when I left so that someone would find them and untie them. Then I hotfooted it back to the scrubland.
The rabbit had done its job; the carrion birds still circling overhead identified where I needed to be, and I had the dishes all laid out before the instructor returned. He tasted each dish, frowned a little at what he felt was underseasoning of the soup, but finally nodded. I had passed.
When I got into the van, we returned to the cookery school. I couldn't help but noticed that there were now only seven of us, which meant that I'd been expected to pass all along. And that the final week of the course was an elimination week.