After I left art school in Auckland, I moved back to Wellington, where I took a job as the weekend cook at the private psycho-geriatric hospital my mother managed. I even got to live in her boss's former flat there, where I set up my first darkroom.
With a living wage (Saturday paid time-and-a-half for ten hours; Sunday double time) and the whole working week free to concentrate on my photography and music, I began eating out at vegetarian restaurants for lunch. Veggie restaurants invariably provide the best quality and value for your money. At least they used to until hipsters made them trendy. Thank goodness this was the late '70s!
The first one I tried out was run by two women who had recently returned from London, having attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School here (before Prue Leith got her claws into it). Their "restaurant" was little more than a hole in the wall; the shop floor could barely hold ten people, even packed in like sardines. Their kitchen (in plain sight at the back) was maybe three times that size and looked completely disorganised. They offered only two basic savoury dishes on their menu: stuffed jacket potatoes with cheese melted on top and a salad they would carefully construct in front of you, which they served in a milkshake container, dressed with a simple vinaigrette. The queues stretched all the way down Willis Street to the corner of Manners Street.
The Cordon Bleu ethos at the time was really quite simple, though quite taxing to instigate, hence their often arcane methods they taught. Make wonderful things to eat, consider the eating experience, and be sure to provide contrasts. Crisp and soft. Salty and bland. I salute these to women. They did brilliantly with the humblest of ingredients.
6 - 8 potatoes will make 4 stuffed jackets...and you'll have some crispy skins to serve alongside them. Other fillings are equally acceptable; I sometimes add some tinned mackerel for a fish pie vibe.
baking potatoes (maris piper are great)
a little olive oil
a splash of milk
cheese (cheddar is perfect)
Preheat the oven to 200ºC.
Wash and dry the potatoes well. Prick over with a fork, rub with olive oil and massage salt into the skins. Bake for an hour or so until until cooked.
Remove them from the oven and immediately slice them lengthwise down the middle, protecting your hands with an oven glove. Why the rush? To let the steam escape without compromising the skins.
Carefully scoop out the insides and mash with with butter, salt and pepper, and a splash of milk...not too much! Stir in some finely sliced spring onions (and whatever else takes your fancy). I don't add any cheese at this point, but, if you want to add some, go for it.
Use all of the mixture to fill some of the skins till they are nicely rounded mounds. Drizzle a little olive oil into the skins that are left empty, and season with salt and black pepper. Turn the oven up to 200ºC, and back in they go to heat through and crisp up.
Now the grated cheese goes on top, and again they go back in the oven.
Notice how my finished stuffed jackets are only starting to brown? This is the optimum point to take them out of the oven. If they are golden brown and bubbling, you can guarantee the cheddar has turned rubbery.
Let them cool for a while before serving. At the moment their temperature rivals that of volcanoes.
The skins can go back in the oven if they are not yet crisp enough.
Any questions? You can use the comments form at the bottom of the page.
Did you know?
You'll find recipes at the back of all the books in the Send for Octavius Guy series: