Catz Dine with Me: Testing the St Catharine’s college cookbook

A college-sick Catz student tries to bring a taste of Cambridge to home

According to the infamous Student Room pros and cons list of the Cambridge colleges, St Catharine’s is host to a Michelin star chef. In fact it claims to have ‘the’ Michelin star chef, stolen from St Edmund’s –  which raises a number of questions, not least why a Michelin star chef would choose to work for college formals, in which a large number of the students are too tipsy to properly taste the food.

While I love my college dearly, and am always happy to sing its praises (as the writers of the pros and cons list also clearly were – one of the only cons was that “the lawns could be smoother”), the food is not typically described as being Michelin standard.

So, when the Catz catering team released their recipe book earlier this month, it seemed the perfect opportunity to test this Michelin star rumour once and for all. Without the influence of a speedily drunk £3 bottle of wine, who knew what new realms of flavour I would experience?

Day 1 – “Seared salmon with lemon and parsley risotto”

All this needs now is an artful dollop of sauce – take that, Gordon Ramsay!

I have two theories regarding why the creators of this cookbook used the word “seared” rather than “fried”:

1 – The elusive Michelin star chef was using one of his restaurant tricks to make the dish sound a bit fancier than it actually is

2 – It was an attempt to avoid porter outrage at their flouting the college’s clear ‘no-frying’ policy

Despite being a fan of both salmon and risotto, I have never thought of putting them together, nor can I remember having them together at Catz. However, this ended up being one of the most successful recipes that I tried. It was very easy to make, and the instructions themselves were clear enough that I could follow along with few problems.

The real test of course was whether or not mum liked it –  luckily for St Catharine’s reputation, she really did! Her one criticism was that the risotto could have been cooked for longer, but unfortunately that error cannot be attributed to the Catz recipe and instead can only be blamed on my culinary skills.

Michelin level – 4/5

Day 2 – “Herby diced potatoes”

Is there anything better than a crispy, herby potato? No. 

If there is any one food at Catz that could make a case for us having a Michelin star chef, the herby diced potatoes are it. The catering team at Catz should be considered potato whisperers, talented in all varieties of potato based dishes. When filling out the Google form asking which recipes we wanted, all three of my options contained some form of this vegetable. They are that good <3

Now, I have to admit, I have made three attempts at this, and while each has been an improvement on the last, none of them have quite matched the ones we’re served in college.

My main struggle with this dish was an inability to cut a potato into cubes, because however hard I tried, they were always slightly misshapen.

However, aesthetics aside, they tasted AMAZING. The combination of herbs (rosemary, sage and thyme) is a definite winner. The outside was crunchy and salty, while the inside had the texture of those fancy fondant potatoes you get served with roasts in nice restaurants.

Michelin level – 5/5 (would happily eat these for breakfast, lunch and dinner)

Day 3 – “Chicken curry”

We won’t discuss the spice situation, but at least it looked edible

Unfortunately, this was where we started to run into a bit of trouble. The title should probably have signalled that this one would not be of Michelin standard, as unlike the first recipe, there were no jazzy adjectives to alert us to its fanciness.

Theoretically the recipe should have been very simple, in fact it was only two short paragraphs. However that was not the case, and the recipe itself was rather vague, leaving ample room for pitfalls. The recipe instructs you to add a large amount of water to the curry, that is meant to reduce, and then thicken when the yoghurt is added. However, adding the yoghurt to the hot (very watery) curry caused it to curdle.

After waiting for the recommended 30 minutes in the hopes that it would stop resembling the large vat of curry that’s wheeled out for school dinners, I called in backup.

Mum took one look at the sad, watery orange mixture in front of me, and immediately started adding a load of ingredients that weren’t on the recipe…

The end product was okay, it thickened up after adding ground almond, but it wasn’t spectacular. The recipe didn’t include any chilli or spices, other than “spice paste”, and was clearly lacking in flavour.

Michelin level – 1/5 (Points deducted for needing unspecified ingredients)

Bonus – “Tiramisu”

Tira-miss-u (and by “u”, I mean I miss the proper hall desserts)

Finally, I of course had to sample one of their desserts. As someone who is pathologically against measuring, or any form of precision when cooking, I try to avoid baking or dessert making under normal circumstances. The tiramisu recipe was by far the easiest, and could (to my relief) be more aptly described as ‘assembling’ rather than ‘cooking’.

However, even with its simplicity, I again ran into problems. Primarily, strong complaints from Mum that there wasn’t enough alcohol in the cream. This resulted in me doubling the recommended amount of sherry… It still wasn’t deemed strong enough.

As with the curry, I had to go off piste from the recipe. “A taste of Catz” recommends simply dipping the sponge fingers in the coffee mixture, and then putting them in the bowl. If you are intending on trying this recipe, avoid doing this, and instead pour the coffee mixture onto the sponge fingers, until they look evenly coated and have turned a darker brown. Without this extra coffee, the sponge fingers will be incredibly dry.

Michelin level – 3/5 

Conclusion – does Catz have a Michelin star chef?

Although the herby diced potatoes were impeccable, and I would recommend the recipe to anyone that asked, the other recipes were less overwhelming and I probably won’t be turning to this recipe book very regularly. So ~drum roll please~ on that basis I would have to say that (sorry Catz!) the college does NOT have a Michelin star chef.

All image credits to writer.