I'm pleased to say that i've had my first article for the website 'superyacht content' published. It's on shortcuts that a sole chef could theoretically take, when in a pinch! I hope someone finds this useful or even just an okay read.... I've even let on my darkest secrets that i vowed never to tell a soul.
Of all the infinite varieties of breakfasts, there is one that stands above the rest, and that, in my humble opinion is toast. Specifically, toasted sourdough or seeded wholemeal with butter, marmite and the occasional addition of philly. Or nut butter. Pecan butter with maple syrup and maldon sea salt flakes, what a corker of a combo. Mention of toast and toppings therefore precedes this article as it is only right to do nod our heads to the greatest invention of all time; bread.
There exist, (as we know from the sheer multitude of instagram pages, #breakfastbowls, dedicated wholly to said hashtag), a plethora of alternatives to toast, and partaking in these options is both healthy and provides a great variety to ones first meal of the day. They do say that variety is the spice of life, and what would life be without a veritable helping of spice.
(the original overnight oats):
History: Bircher Muesli was introduced around 1900 by the Swiss physician Maximilian Bircher-Benner for patients in his hospital where a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables was an essential part of therapy.
During the first year the clinic was open, he came down with jaundice, and claimed he became well again by eating raw apples. From this observation, he experimented with the health effects raw foods have on the body, and from this he promoted muesli, a dish based on raw oats, fruits, and nuts.
My version is based on this Muesli, but I tweak it all the time, and prefer to use almond milk. So I can’t write an exact recipe, because really it’s personal preference as to how much fruit, nuts and cinnamon you put in. Also, oats and oat brands are all different in how much liquid they soak up. It’s done by eye, but you can’t really go wrong.
1) Soak your oats overnight in desired liquid. I prefer almond milk, but have used apple juice, rice milk, and coconut water in the past. You can choose your liquid. Put enough liquid over your oats to completely cover them, plus a little extra.
If you forget to soak your oats or want to make a last minute bircher, then leave finely milled oats for about 45 minutes.
2) Choose your fillers, prepare and mix in. My favourites are chopped apricots and chopped toasted almonds. Any nuts or dried fruits will work just fine. Figs are good – fresh or dry.
3) Grate a couple of apples and stir in.
4) To finish, add extra almond milk to achieve desired consistency. I also pretty much always stir in a tablespoon of cinnamon just because I like it. Up to you.
Serve with extra chopped nuts and fruit on top.
Toast your nuts to achieve desired level of toastiness. Not too much as they will taste bitter and acrid. Add to blender and blitz. If nuts not yielding enough oil to blitz down, as will sometimes happen with peanuts, then add a splash of oil to loosen. Either leave plain and unsalted or add a pinch or two of salt to taste.
Raspberry cashew butter:
1) toast cashews
2) blitz cashews
3) add freeze dried raspberries (or whatever other fruit you like)
4) add a little vanilla essence
NB goes very nicely with the bircher, and provides that extra protein kick.
1) Mix oats and chopped nuts in a bowl.
2) In a saucepan, heat a jars worth of coconut oil, half a regular sized bottle of maple syrup and a good squeeze of honey until melted together.
3) Pour over your oats and nuts and mix together well.
4) Transfer mixture to a lined baking tray and bake at 180C for between 25 – 45 mins, or however long your oven takes to achieve your desired level of toastiness.
I vary these, but more often than not will soak chia seeds in almond milk slightly sweetened with maple syrup. I adjust quantity of almond milk at the end to achieve desired consistency. Then I layer this mixture with thick smoothie, or other fruit and nut blends. I made a raspberry cashew butter the other day, and this would be ridiculously good in a chia pot, a full protein fix.
Make a quick fruit compote by taking some fresh or frozen berries and cooking with sugar in a pan for 5 mins or so. Remove from heat. Add chia seeds and stir periodically until the chia seeds have soaked and turned the compote into a ‘jam’. You could make a raw ‘jam’, by simply blitzing the berries cold, and adding the chia seeds, same as above. Takes half an hour minimum for the seeds to fully soak.
Healthy, energy breakfast muffins:
Mix together in a bowl the following ingredients:
1 pot yoghurt (I have been using soya to please the vegan)
1 - 2 pots sugar (depending on how sweet you like your muffin)
3 pots SR flour OR plain flour and 1tbsp baking powder
1 pot neutral oil e.g sunflower oil
1 mashed banana
1 tbsp soaked chia seeds OR soaked linseeds OR 2 tbsp water OR 3 eggs
Flavourings of your choice. My faves are apple, cinnamon and raisin, blackberry apple and cinnamon, strawberry and vanilla and of course, blueberry. Topped with oats for added sustenance. I've dabbled with veggie muffins which are great too. Courgette muffins with toasted pumpkin seeds, and sweet potato with almond.
Cooking for crew can be one of the most rewarding parts of being a chef on a yacht. I know many chefs will probably disagree with that! And really, a few years back, I didn't warm to it at all at first. It was a chore that got in the way of cooking for guests, and it felt you could never please anyone. It was thankless. Rather like this still funny article here, that yacht chefs can all relate to...
It’s what you make of it. I genuinely enjoy cooking for crew. Of course it is rather a lot when you’re balancing it with cooking for guests, but the people around you are your family, and you’re the hand that bears the food. This is a big deal for hungry working people!
Back when I first started cooking on a yacht, I wasn’t a hundred percent sure exactly what I would cook. A new group of people I didn’t know from Adam, unknown dietary requirements and preferences. Unknown levels of receptiveness… How much did they like their last chef?? Were they going to be loyal?? Compare all my food to the previous chef? Would I have a menu plan, would I wing it, would I follow a routine? These were the concerns I had. It’s fairly easy to say now, that these concerns are all ridiculous, because you get on with things, and people really do live in the moment. Literally, one meal at a time.
I think that cooking for crew can be such a daunting thing in your early years, when joining a new boat, not knowing the general dynamic and feel of the crew. Are they healthy, picky, ‘normal’? It’s a topic that deserves attention, and is something that I myself would have loved to have found some solid advice on a few years ago.
My take on it all is that cooking for crew is exactly the same as cooking for the family you have always had around you. People like simple food. It’s without fail the easy and satisfying meals that go down well. Fajitas every time… I’m pretty sure nearly everyone likes them. Lasagne. Pie! But also trying to continuously make new things keeps you the chef engaged as well as being more interesting for the crew. And this is most definitely led by where you are in the world. As I write this, I’m in Athens, and the shops this morning were full of pittas, greek yoghurt, herbs and beautiful fruit and veg. The crew ate chicken and halloumi pittas with a herb sauce and extra add yourself fillings of pickles and chillis. All served alongside some leftover jacket potatoes from the weekend, the filling of which had been scooped out and mixed up with a load of leftover bacon and sweetcorn (and mayo and chives) for loaded potato skins, served alongside a big green salad.
All boats and therefore all crew are different. This has been such a huge thing in my experience. I was cooking on a diving support vessel in the Seychelles last year, and the 15 crew were all absolutely fanatic about fresh fish. Sushi, sashimi, any kind of crudo. So they were catching fish and delivering them to the galley. Life was good! But here on my current boat, there are a good portion who can’t bear even the thought of fish, (unless it’s in breadcrumbs) despite my best efforts to coax them into eating it.
Generally, I’m feeding the crew the exact food that I want to eat myself. Not always the case, but fairly often I’m cooking specifically what I want to eat; the tangible perk of being the chef. Plus I can be relatively health conscious, and aware that what we put in our bodies is the fuel that gets us through the day so this is the ethos that extends to the crew. It’s so important to consider this when cooking for people who are on their feet all day. We all need the right types of energy to keep us going as we need, and it’s my job to make sure that the crew are getting this.
In the unthinkable instance, god forbid, I wake up hungover as sin, then I’m really going to send out some absolutely filthy fried food. Quite probably alongside a crunchy salad for an attempt at health. And in this instance of being hungover, the likelihood is that the rest of the crew will be the same, if not worse, and they’re fairly bloody good at communicating exactly what they want… a chorus of chirping chicks chirp fry up fry up fry up chips eggs poached, fried, or something like that. Or the Vegan pipes up wanting some all bran.
In the same vein, offering your crew a preference sheet or even just getting them to tell you their favourite meals can be a great way of making sure you please them all, by working your way through this list. The likelihood as well is that they’re probably going to be pretty simple things and also comfort food, which will be great for everyone. I know that a real favourite amongst my current crew is tomato soup. They love it. I love it. Winning.
I asked my fellow yacht chef friend Millie for some of her experiences cooking for crew and she said the following.
In some ways I think crew are the hardest people to cook for. Trying to please the same lot is a big challenge that a crew chef is never going to accomplish. Different tastes, preferences, state of crew member (hungover, pretend glutard), fitness fads etc changes every day.
The most difficult part for me is coming up with new things to cook everyone (probably makes me a terrible chef). Pintrest is good for this, but I find you have to be really specific in your searches. Anything Ottolenghi always goes down a treat and the odd fry up on a Monday after a long weekend is always well received. Crew preference sheet can be good for ideas. But crew are generally receptive, the south African guys on the boat are always grateful as are the captains which is a major part of the job.
You’re experience cooking for crew can also be influenced by your head chef. If they’re rubbish at ordering this affects the food cooked for crew. I’ve had it before where the chef has thought she was ordering x amount of kilos of bok choi for example. What came was three heads of such and the order was pretty much consistent like that the whole way through. Not a lot of fun when you’ve had to get up at three in the morning to accept this delivery. But then you get the amazing head chefs that one, get your foot into this lucrative door and those who are willing to teach you everything they know, that you can ask anything without feeling stupid.
I’ve gone from being a stew that cooked for crew, to crew chef and I would never go back. The galley is one of, if not THE most important aspect of both a charter and private yachts. It can affect a whole trip, which could have an influence on any side benefits that are associated with this industry. If the crew aren’t happy with the food they’re given, it could affect the overall running of the yacht which would then have an impact on the guests and how much they enjoy their holiday.
It’s so true what Millie said, about seeking inspiration. I was always looking for inspiration for crew meals in the past, when I felt less confident and things took me longer. I found that guest food was easy, but with the crew, you are cooking for them 3 times a day… indefinitely. They are your harshest critic. You’re only as good as your last meal! I certainly felt that a few times before. But this was all until i one day discovered that crew, like children or animals, respond to sweet and shiny treats. Confectionery wields great power and you should use it. Crew will be very happy with some cake once in a while, but not too much cake, because they will eat it and their health will suffer, and this is your fault if it happens. If they eat all the cake, and grow fat, and their stomach hurts, then you will soon know you should not have made the cake this time, and that you as their chef have failed in this instance and will know about it from everyone. Make sure to read their minds at all times. Feed them cake, but not too much cake because you should know better.
So here is my go to list, which I am sharing and hope that at least one person who stumbles across this finds it useful for those days when the mind goes blank…
I also make bread every day, because I like bread, and bread is appreciated by all.
The easiest piece of advice I can give, is that if you investigate a few different menus from popular chain restaurants around the world – then you will definitely get inspiration for the type of day to day food that people often want to eat. I took this piece of inspiration from another blog someone wrote when I was having a mental blank a couple of years ago on what to cook for crew. The author said check out TGI Fridays or Cheesecake Factory – i thought hell no, but she was bloody right. I’ll list a few below:
And TGI Fridays. (I’ve not been to a TGI Fridays, but the menu seems alright for inspiration when it comes to random crew you have never met before.)
It’s been a while since I consulted my inspiration list, because I really just look in the fridge and play ready steady cook, which works from a waste perspective as well as being the most fun a lone chef can have in a galley. Apart from talking to the vegetables, ordering in live animals which is a treat for the vegans, and playing guess the cost of this tiny tin of fish eggs that costs 5 times as much as it would have done in harrods because we bought it from a yacht supplier. In addition to the fun that this fun game can offer, ingredients as you move around (as you would bloody well hope) are different and it’s nice to be influenced by new ingredients and styles as you travel place to place… i mean, that's literally what we live for as chefs. But, I still reckon I could have done with being handed a list of food for inspiration back when I was starting out :)
I just received some words on cooking for crew from my friend Chris Rowley, an amazing chef on yachts for years. right as I'm coming to the end of this article, and guess what, he sums it up in one paragraph! In stark contrast to my verbose essay. He said:
Well I really don't want to sound like I'm complaining as I actually enjoy cooking crew food. It keeps me busy, it's a chance to experiment and you learn how to get the most out of cheaper quality ingredients quickly. Also you get to eat what you like cooking and eating. I will say that yacht crew members love to complain if it's not uniform, amount of breaks / days off, salary, other crew members, condition of the boat, and the list goes on and on. The food is no exception, but really they eat much better than CEO's of massive corporations. They get so used to an experienced chef cooking for them twice a day great food just becomes normal and they start to forget how much work goes into planning and preparing the meals. I have thick skin so unless someone has a genuine complaint I try to ignore most comments and just have confidence and faith that I'm producing a balanced diet for people to eat day in day out.
If any budding yacht chef, or indeed any seasoned chef stumbles across this and has had the patience to read through the ramble all the way to the end, then I’d love to hear what you have to say! In the comments section below J I think it’s bloody important for us chefs to share these things!!
last year, i made a move back to land. I searched gumtree for a job in bristol, and almost immediately a job came up to work at wild beer co. They marketed themselves as a brewery interested in doing things wildly different. It seemed they were interested in exciting and underused ingredients, and needed a chef to open a restaurant for them. Almost too good to be true! I signed up.
The brief was simple. Open a restaurant in bristol where we could focus on wild food and pairing with the beer. Only there was one hitch. They had signed an agreement with a restaurant in London called Hook who did fish and chips! A dream come true... ha ha. Anyway, in good spirits, I thought why not. It could be fun and we would get to push the wild food and pairing it with the fab beers on the side. So off I went to london to train with Simon from hook. (Who incidentally, does make fantastic fish and chips!) Fast forward a few months, and we have a number of wild food dinners under our belts, mushroom and seaside foraging days, and working with the brewery and being involved with the beers. Certain beer pairing events, such as for Nogne O, and for the rainbow project were a lot of fun, and getting to be involved with the making of the lobster beer - oh my! See the slide show at the top for more detailed pictures.
The head chef had left at their other restaurant in cheltenham, and they asked me to act as head chef in both restaurants and oversee the whole food direction of the company - to become their executive chef. Things were going well. I was interviewed by crumbs mag in Bristol and created a recipe to go in a british chefs recipe book - it was all rather fun!
And like the classic plot of any movie, there had to be a twist... A spanner in the works. And so it happened, the tables o so swiftly turned with the recruitment of a new head of the bars, whose goal it was to sort out costs and spending. What that actually and rather brutally meant, was an end to the dinners, the foraging, and unfortunately the creativity. It was hoped that cutting costs and creativity weren't mutually exclusive, and that some happy compromise could be attained, but alas, no. The lady who came in had a narrow and strict focus, accompanied by an particularly bland and banal background, so exploring the excitement of what previously existed was simply never going to happen. Think of the most obnoxious person you know, and multiply. in fact, as a chef, it was bordering on impossible to have a conversation with this person, who threw up every time she ate. I jest not. A year into being fitted with a gastric band, she could only eat small quantities at a time. She was very open about the fact that the gluttony could not be suppressed, and would eat and eat a rate too great for the band. Therefore, all lunch meetings, or even coffee meetings, because there would of course be cake, would intermittently be interrupted by several dashes to spew in the loo. It was revolting. As well as simply embarrassing. To answer in to this person, to discuss and make decisions on food, was nigh on impossible. People don't leave jobs they say, they leave bosses, and it's fairly safe to say what happened here. The problem was, she marketed a particularly shiny facade and brand of sickly sweet to her superiors, so they were never going to see this. And that was a true shame.
Thus my enthusiasm dwindled and then it was gone. So much hope changed to... just good old fish and chips! i can assuredly say though, that I am fairly capable at frying....
The worst thing was, when I left the company, they resented me so much for quitting, unable to see why i could have possibly left, that they stopped communicating with me. And refused to pay my fuel expenses, leaving me £500 out of pocket. They said I could claim it back through the taxpayer. And guess what? I wanted to, but I couldn't. I hope they don't do that to anyone again. Believe me i asked many times for the money, and Andrew, Brett, his wife Fleur - they all ignored me. Charming isn't it, to work your socks off, pour your heart and soul into someone else's business, and end up burned. Such is life. Their financial director, a person who i had really thought was my friend, sent me two impersonal responses directing me to the taxpayer. What do you do? it's too small to claim back, but you're still out of pocket. And all the while, you watch this company crowd funding to raise a million to open their new brewery. Preaching their values and continuing to maintain the mantra of being wildly different. i never wanted to dislike this company, but i have no choice. They Donald Trumped me. And suddenly the beer doesn't taste quite so sweet...
I never regret an experience, and truly learned a lot along the way. Not just standard life lessons about the workplace and people, but a lot about beer and pairing this with the food, unlocking a real passion for beer which i will never look back from. Plus, I met some fabulous people along the way as well. I wondered at first, would i miss the potential to work towards my original goal with them, food with a little flair, paired with the beers, but then it hit me hard. I want to do that for myself - i want to work for myself, to show people what it is that i have to offer, what i've learned along the way.
I'm back on yachts, saving some pennies, seeing the world by boats, experiencing different cultures and food on the journey and i don't regret it one bit. What a fantastic lifestyle working on yachts can offer you, how much you can learn along the way, and cooking for all the different guests that pass through. Experimenting with food and new ingredients, and all the while, saving a tidy tax free salary for that end dream business. I can't say it's going too badly! Every day is different, and there is no office in sight! The people aren't too bad either :)
As a cook, in my experience, it is hands down the most common question you can expect to be asked.
So you must have a signature dish? What’s your favourite thing to cook? What’s your favourite food?
I’m sure some people have honed and perfected their answers, if only for pure ease of conversation, but I’ve always felt too variable to ever really say. I oft jested that it was butter, to raised eyebrows and an assumption that I was hooking butter into food left, right and centre. Not the case I must add; I prefer a lean way of cooking. Everything in moderation I suppose. I digress. Highlighting this observation is no aversion to these enquiries, it simply addresses the unassuming matter that truthfully, I didn’t know and it caused me to think – I must know. With the simple rectitude of an unabashed foodsayer, it is incredibly easy for me to say that I really like most foods. Being both excitable and fickle, I’ll boast a flavour of the week, run with it unreservedly until the next condimentum tempus. Talking condimentum’s… they’re up there. Sriracha! It’s with confidence I cite condiments as a top and most noteworthy food-stuff. Alas, I digress once more; I have given the original question sustained thought, and have realised that each time, I draw the same conclusion. It actually is, butter. Butteriness. Take bread and butter. A slice *cough* delicate spread of sea salted butter on fresh sourdough. Hell, a slab of smoked butter on seeded rye sourdough. Oh and make it cultured won’t you? On baked goods; scones, crumpets, muffins. Butter as a vital ingredient in many tasty and delicious dishes. Butter as a compelling and convincing argument for the bliss of pure simplicity. Butter as an example of nature taking care of itself. An example of natural preservation….
Because when the cream is churned to make butter, it separates to form two substances, the butter and the buttermilk (or whey) that naturally have longer keeping abilities than the original raw cream itself.
Thus, to conclude this realisation, respectfully and thoughtfully, I’ve compiled some matters on butter and a few of the better, butter related things in life.
Tenuously beginning with; Malolactic fermentation and butteriness in… wine.
Malolactic fermentation is the process in winemaking in which tart tasting malic acid, naturally present in grape must, is converted to softer tasting lactic acid. Malolactic fermentation is most often performed as a secondary fermentation shortly after the end of the primary fermentation, though sometimes it will run concurrently, and is standard for most red wine production and for some white grape varieties such as Chardonnay, where it can impart a ‘buttery’ flavour from diacetyl, a bi-product of the reaction. Diacetyl is an organic compound, a yellow / green liquid with an intensely buttery flavour. It occurs naturally in alcoholic beverages and is added to some foods to impart its buttery flavour. Diacetyl arises naturally as a byproduct of fermentation. Sour (cultured) cream, cultured buttermilk, and cultured butter are produced by inoculating pasteurized cream or milk with a lactic starter culture, churning (agitating) and holding the milk until a desired pH drop (or increase in acidity) is attained. Cultured cream, cultured butter, and cultured buttermilk owe their tart flavour to lactic acid bacteria and their buttery aroma and taste to diacetyl. Now we’re talking.
In alcoholic beverages, at low levels, diacetyl contributes a slipperiness to the feel of the alcoholic beverage in the mouth. As levels increase, it imparts a buttery or butterscotch flavor. Jolly good.
Now, back to Nordic butter maker Patrick Johansson. I worked alongside Patrick when he came to restaurant Noma to make butter, for 3 weeks while I was a stagiare picking herbs and cleaning ants. I had the opportunity to ask him several questions, about how exactly he makes his revered ‘virgin butter’ that is so incredibly popular and well received at Restaurant Noma. He adds a culture to the cream before churning, so the butter will develop that distinct lactic taste, and then churns it. They stop churning when the first butter granules form so that all the buttermilk is retained, unlike most butter which first rests and is then washed to remove as much buttermilk as possible. This means that the butter, due to the presence of the buttermilk, holds a hell of a lot of flavour and a fresh acidity, but it shortens its shelf life.
It’s hardly as though you’re going to let it hang around…
Butter it is.
As a Devonshire girl, I appreciate the simple things. Bread, butter, and of course cheese. It’s trendy, to eat sourdough these days, which I'm sorry to say induced some initial and wrongly placed reluctance and misgivings. Thankfully I now have my head screwed on.
A sourdough uses biological leavening, as opposed to other breads, which rely on cultivated forms of yeast. A variety of naturally occurring lactobacilli and yeasts are present in flour. When wheat flour comes into contact with water, the naturally occurring enzyme amylase breaks down the starch into the sugars glucose, galactose and raffinose, which sourdough’s natural yeast can metabolise. With sufficient time, temperature, and refreshments a new or fresh dough will develop a balanced, symbiotic or stable culture. This culture will cause the dough to rise if the gluten has been developed sufficiently. The bacteria will ferment any maltose that the yeast cannot metabolise, and by products are metabolised by the yeast which produces carbon dioxide gas, leavening the dough. Obtaining a satisfactory rise from the sourdough takes longer than a dough leavened with bakers yeast because the yeast in a sourdough is less vigorous. In the presence of lactic acid bacteria however, some sourdough yeasts have been observed to produce twice the gas of baker’s yeast.
To make sourdough, you need a starter. I advise to find someone who can pass down some of their starter, that you may nurture to become your own. Some starters are incredibly powerful, as often the owner can attest to. I was lucky enough to get mine when I spent a week with the Chefs at River Cottage HQ in Devon. If you cannot inherit a starter, then it is all relatively straight forward, in that you will mix flour and water, and leave for 3 weeks. Click here for a recipe.
After you have your starter, you are ready to go.
I follow Chad Robertson’s Tartine Bakery Method:
Autolyse is a process developed by Professor Raymond Calvel. of the world of bread. Mix only flour and water together and let sit for 20 minutes. Then add your salt, and if using yeast, then your yeast. Autolyse can last for up to 3 hours. Results vary based on your flour.
Chad Robertson recommends a longer autolyse, 2 – 3 hours, in breads with a higher percentage of whole grain flours. Though for his basic sourdough recipe, it is 35 minutes, as per the recipe above. The length of time allowed for the autolyse will affect the amount of kneading required once the levain, or sourdough starter, and salt are added. Including an autolyse phase in bread making will mean a shorter time spent kneading and mixing. Too much kneading can result in an over oxidised dough, which detracts from the finished breads colour, flavour and texture.
Final notes on sourdough;
Sourdough is considered to have better inherent keeping qualities than other breads, due to the lactic acid produced by the lactobacilli, and is especially important in baking rye based breads, where yeast does not produce comparable results. Some bakers have conducted extensive research into the length of the fermentation and cooking time. Chef Zachary Golper, of Bien Cuit Bakery, has a lot to say on the matter, and in fact it is this book that I plan on reading next, to further understand how to make the perfect loaf.
Thanks to Wikipedia, for the Science.
Best Baking Wishes to All.
Wild hop shoots thankfully can be found growing all over the place. Preferring moist, alluvial soils, and by that I mean 'fine grain fertile soils deposited by water flowing over flood plains'. Thanks free dictionary. Hops like fences and things to climb and grow around - I found these little shoots growing on some wire fencing by the railway in Chiswick.
The Latin name is Humulus Lupulus, meaning that to my basic mind they sound rather more like a spell from Harry Potter.
Everyone loves hops, since they make beer. Indeed Adnams have just this year been calling on the general public to find and send in their wild hops for a wild hop beer; you'll get a bottle of the brewed wild beer in return. It's the hop flower though that brewers are interested in, leaving the very useful and tasty shoot for the rest of the foraging world to take on.
The shoot or tip is a tasty asparagus like vegetable that should be treated carefully and delicately, in that it requires very little cooking. A quick saute or steam and you are done. Lots of people add these dainty shoots to risotto's or omelettes, or as an alternative vegetable side. Since they're so pretty - I prefer to make these a focal point on the plate.
I am going to be serving these along with some fresh silken cheese and a noma style lemon verbena 'tea' broth at a wild foods evening coming up.
Having first handled these out at noma, it makes sense to me to prepare a dish in their honour. To prepare these when out in denmark we would take a turning knife and very delicately scrape the outside layer from the stem, since it is finely bristled, and we don't want to eat that. This preparation is essential.
I'm following a recipe for a silken fresh cheese. The other day when I made a fresh cheese, it was far crumblier and more ricotta-esq. I'm looking for a cheese that I can elegantly quenelle onto the plate and rely on hops as adornment and other finishing touches for texture.
To make the cheese, heat the milk slowly to 30c, add the buttermilk, cream and rennet. Do not stir. Once at 30c, transfer straight to a silicone lined container and cook in the oven at 37C for an hour to an hour and a half until tofu like in texture.
That's all, on hops, and cheese. Such an incredibly straightforward and rewarding process.
[Apparently, Charles Darwin entertained himself while sick in bed in 1882 by studying a hop plant growing on his window-sill. He noted that the tip of the stem completed a revolution in 2 hours.]
I'm thrilled with this information as right now, I'm not feeling very well, and hops are my focal point too.
On the 28th November, i am very excited to be taking part in a wild foods showcase evening with expert forager Chris Hope and some other incredibly exciting chefs and food partisans. (Note the poster above says that i work at noma, which is no longer the case, i spent some time there earlier this year but now work at michelin starred Hedone restaurant in Chiswick.)
The evening is set to be a full evening of festivities and celebrations surrounding what we can find on our doorsteps and with plenty of wild food going around to taste and of course plenty of wine to accompany this.
Myself, Chris, Hugo and Owen will be hosting the evening and there will be a series of films, nutrition talks, wild food cookery demo's, workshops, and photographic displays...all washed down with wild food and drinks from the bar.
It is set to be a great evening all round and also lots of fun!
If you'd like to come along to this event - you can see more details and purchase tickets by clicking here.
I hope to see you there!
This week i needed some energy packed breakfast bars, on the go food to take with me on my journey to work. I bike to the train station and get a 10 minute slot on the train to pack down a quick portable breakfast snack before getting off the train and biking the rest of the journey to work. I start at 7am and work through until 12 midnight 5 days a week, and with little time to stop to eat in the morning, I need something healthy and energy packed to fuel a busy day of mis en place in the kitchen. So, I came up with these bad boys as something to look forward to every morning and know it's the kind of food i want to be putting in my body every morning.
Oat, chia, cashew, honey, almond and cranberry bars.
50g butter (or coconut butter)
80g chia seeds
2 tablespoons honey
1 - 2 tablespoons agave nectar
2 handfuls cashew nuts (toasted first if you like)
2 handfuls almonds (toasted first if you like)
1 - 2 handfuls of dried cranberries
1 - 2 teaspoons sea salt flakes, i used maldon
1 bar lindt 80% chocolate
10 - 15 bars depending on the size you want
Place 50g butter in a saucepan and melt, add 250g porridge oats and mix together. Soak 80g chia seeds in water and allow to expand to form a cooked tapioca type consistency, a gelatinous mixture, and add to the pan with the heat off. Stir together. Add two tablespoons of honey and one to two tablespoons of agave syrup, measuring the sweetness level according to your own taste. Add a couple of handfuls of cashews and almonds, and a handful of dried cranberries, a teaspoon of sea salt flakes and stir to combine. Transfer to a lined baking tray and bake in the oven at 150C for twenty to twenty five minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
At this stage, i decided i wanted to turn these nutritious bars into a slightly more decadent breakfast snack and since i don't consume any chocolate at any point in the day other than this, i melted a bar of lindt 80% dark chocolate in a bowl over hot water and transferred to a piping bag in order to drizzle somewhat erratically over the bars, with another sprinkle of sea salt flakes and a touch of crunchy demerara unrefined cane sugar, the ultimate finish to my ultimate bars.
I then packed these up in baking parchment and individually wrapped them to take one each day on the go. And i have to say, these are pretty goddam perfect for the mornings, i love them and will be making my own breakfast bars each week now changing up my ingredients and looking for the best combination.
This week - I'm doing macadamia, cranberry again (i love the sweet sharp tang these bring), and yoghurt drizzle. The great thing about the ponsy 'drizzle' is that you get the taste of the slightly more indulgent topping without eating a whole load of actual badness, it's just a smidgen, and really when you think about it - we're told a square of dark chocolate a day is good for our hearts - so i say why the hell not at breakfast when you most need that extra buzz to get going with the day! And onto the salt, i know it's frowned upon, but i love salt, and since i make all my own food i monitor what goes into it all, and i know, i need that salt in my diet. Plus it makes the bar freaking awesome...
Obviously, if you don't want butter, chocolate, or honey, and you want more of a raw foods bar - apply the same recipe, minus the honey and add more agave nectar and use coconut butter instead. Then cook it at a lower temperature for a longer time in order to dry the bar out, you just won't have those tasty caramelised edges... I cooked mine, but will be experimenting with more 'raw' bars in the future.
Working in an industry fuelled by passion and making those necessary compromises to achieve and get a good reputation in that industry is a double edged sword and can be at best - exhilarating & intensely rewarding, but exhausting, since you really are living on the edge emotionally and because you haven't stopped in days (and I mean, you really haven't stopped for anything), and at worst downright soul destroying, panic attack inducing and basically kinda gnarly. But, the ups make up for the downs and that's why you carry on. It's a bizarre kind of love affair, a type of eating disorder I suppose. You love eating, so you cook, you cook so much, you don't eat, when you stop work, you're so exhausted - you forget to eat, go straight to sleep and then on your days off, when you've finished sleeping, you eat defiantly and aggressively, testing the very limits of gluttony. Call me Gargantua mwah ha ha.
After some cheffy soul searching out at noma, the worlds best restaurant, I came back, did a couple of trials in restaurants in London and against the odds (it wasn't my type of restaurant, on paper), I took a job at Dinner by Heston. Fera at Claridges had been the restaurant calling to me, but my trial didn't leave me feeling enamoured. Don't get me wrong, the food looked pretty, the chefs all seemed genuinely nice, but something didn't sit. Dinner had asked me to start on the 1st September, leaving me a couple of months biding my time freelancing for an events company and doing some private work here and there. Even though Dinner by Heston is considered by 'the world's 50 best' to be the 5th best restaurant in the world, for some reason I also wasn't feeling totally at one with the idea - as in, I was honoured and privileged to be offered a position there, but looking back on this, I felt how could I possibly turn down such a great opportunity? I started to get excited about what i would learn and lo and behold before long I had started at Dinner in the mighty Mandarin Oriental hotel in Knightsbridge.
The job wasn't all i had cracked it up to be, almost in line with my underlying suspicions, and understand - i wanted this to work. You don't wait two months for a job, that you feel honoured to have been offered, to then expect it to fail. But it wasn't for me. Dinner by Heston was a restaurant manned by a huge brigade of chefs; i don't know, maybe 30 - 40 at one time, to meet the demands of the restaurant. Serving 120 covers for lunch and 170 for dinner was a huge feat that the restaurant met daily very smoothly and with very little fuss. It's a calm pass, and when you see Ashley there, leading the pass, it's genuinely inspiring, you don't need a manically pressured and loud service, it's when it runs smoothly and calmly that continuity and standards are met. Serving 2 michelin star food at that volume is a great coup that they are rightly proud of and during a pep talk where the team was congratulated on working so well and seamlessly together, they hoped to be able to improve on this and up the number of covers next year to 175 perhaps. The goal of the restaurant, it is safe to say, is a long way from any aspiration I ever had or indeed want. It's a different kind of animal. The menu changes rarely - items move around perhaps once a year, if that, as far as I could see, and was informed. Firm favourites stay - the meat fruit certainly is an iconic dish and is what contributes to the incredible reputation of the restaurant. According to another team talk, apparently it is one of the most instagrammed food images of recent years. So i was at least pleased to be working on that section making meat fruits for my very short lived time at that restaurant. It didn't take away from the fact though, that my personal passion for food revolves around the seasons and change. Spontaneity and the ability to adapt to new ingredients and learn about these, at the same time. A constant evolution of the seasons and ingredients. Understanding better the soils around us and what these give to us. There sadly was going to be none of that in the restaurant. Certainly I would have learned the Heston way to perfection, because when you are doing something 300 times a day, to factory like precision, you can eventually do that work in your sleep. How boring, if you're like me. After resigning and explaining my reasons, I couldn't quite muster up telling the incredibly nice chefs at Dinner that I didn't feel quite inspired there, as they honestly are so passionate about what they do. It was a learning experience none the less, these days I certainly don't believe in mistakes.
I went back to freelancing and continued my search for the perfect restaurant job, feeling a touch disheartened that the right restaurant wasn't out there for me. A ludicrous notion, I know, in the capital city of England, but I couldn't quite find where I thought would be a perfect fit. Maybe it didn't exist, and as one of my freelance colleagues suggested to me; perhaps restaurants weren't the right move. I didn't buy that though.
So back in October, I had a trial at Hedone restaurant in Chiswick, a michelin starred joint voted 63rd best restaurant in the world. What I saw at my trial won me over - they are a restaurant very romantically fuelled by passion alone, a changing menu in accordance with the seasons, and one that honestly doesn't make a whole lot of profit based on the quality of ingredients being served to guests. Go there! it's amazing! I can't endorse it's food enough, each day I am blown away. Head chef and owner Mikhael changes the menu daily, spontaneously dependent on ingredients and mood. Something that's right up my street. He is an ingredient driven chef, believing in using only the best quality ingredients, no compromises. In fact, he is well known around London as being one of the few chefs who buys based on quality and not price and as a consequence has a great reputation with suppliers. He is vastly knowledgable. To top that, they make their own bread in their on site bakery which delivers, frankly, phenomenally. Their bread has reached international status, heralded by harsh critics as being the best they have ever had - the best in the uk at the very least. Whether it is or not, I don't care, it's astounding. The secrets of this trade, i wanted to learn.
So now, I proudly work at Hedone and each and every day I learn something new and exciting. It fuels the very reason I chose to do this, and makes me believe I will learn so much here and really be a part of something special before I choose to one day venture out in the big wide culinary world on my own.
My fingers are crossed!
For anyone out there who has thought a little about perhaps hosting or wanting to go to a supper club, and wants to know a little about it, here is my first and very exciting experience of hosting a supper club...
Last week myself and partner hosted a supper club at our flat in Wandsworth. Not having done one before and not knowing quite the general etiquette or rules for this particular branch of dining institution, we were relatively unequipped. I mean, we knew how I thought the supper club should be run, but beyond that didn't know what to expect, who would be coming, how the direction of the evening would form. What if the conversation ran dry?! Shit. Coupled with the pronounced notion that it could be an actual re-enactment of 'Come Dine With Me' with diabolically pretentious guests critiquing my food, like assholes, and picking holes in my decisions. Cool, not worried at all then...
So, starting with picking a date, followed by the development of a very vague outline of a menu, I posted details of the event online through the website 'meet up'. You can click here to see my posting (and also some pretty fab reviews from my very lovely guests!).
Having capacity in our flat for 8 people, I was pretty stoked to see places claimed within a day, and conscious that we were going to have to do some monster re-jigging in the flat to make extra space for the guests. Logistics. Much like the kitchen space was going to have to be maximised for plating all the courses I had in mind.
(To the left is my Mackerel starter.)
Onto the money - payment comes through paypal in advance so funding the evening was in advance, pretty tidy in case you just so happen to be living by the skin of your teeth...
The premise of the evening was british seasonal fare, meaning the menu wouldn't be finalised until the week leading up to the event, so I could source the best quality and most bang on season produce. A few weeks prior to the event, I started making syrups and vinegars from seasonal foraged berries (which i previously posted about). The blackberry and hawthorn vinegar was tasting particularly good in my mind, and my gut instinct was telling me it was going to be an epic partner to a tasty bit of venison. Thus, I had selected my main course and later devised the rest...
Scouring borough market, whole foods, and supermarkets for the best produce was my aim, and I indeed finalised my menu which, despite all the planning, left me with very little time to spare to sit down for a much needed glass of fizz before the guests arrived!
So, at 7 o clock on the dot, we welcomed our first guest, and the rest trailed in from there, meeting (thankfully) abundantly flowing conversation and a full evening of seasonal fare.
Here's the menu:
Welcome drink -
My version of a 'Jamaican' - cold steeped hibiscus tea, with Vodka, Orange, Burnt Orange and mint.
Canape 1 -
Marinated heirloom tomato with goats curd yoghurt and basil
Canape 2 -
Salt cod brandade with gentleman's relish and sea purslane
Canape 3 -
Crispy chicken skin with hibiscus granita and sorrel
Starter 1 -
Earl Grey Smoked Mackerel with Gentlemans relish, carnival squash, pear, kale crisp and nasturtium
Starter 2 -
(Homemade) fresh cheese with rosehip and yeast emulsion, malted sourdough croutons,
Fermented barley grains with sorrel reduction and chestnut mushroom
Slow cooked shoulder of venison with venison reduction, blackberry and hawthorn, celeriac puree and a celeriac sheet.
Earl Grey baked custard, with whisky caramel, almond meringue and creme fraiche
Unfortunately - due to the hectic schedule we gave ourselves of plating up in our small kitchen, and the number of courses, neither myself or partner remembered to take pictures of everything, frustratingly, but in the gallery below at the bottom of the page are a small selection from the evening...
Supper clubs can be as easy or as hard as you make them, i made mine a little tricky - lots of courses, but I wanted to impress! In the future, I would without doubt simplify things for myself, but then again, that's half the fun, and I kind of thrive on the challenge.
What's really great, is that you get to hear feedback from complete strangers, not friends who may be biased, and when it ispositivve feedback, it's something that you honestly really want to hear. I hope to god they weren't lying, but I don't think so! Here's the feedback that was posted on the meet up website:
An amalgamation of a beautiful setting, lovely company and fantastic food (oh that venison!) by an extremely talented and creative chef... Thanks for a thoroughly enjoyable night Harriet and Richard (and for the ski-tips!), I'd say let's have this supper club on a weekly basis :-)
Harriet Mansell is a delightfully friendly and fabulously skilled chef! Her supper club with her lovely partner Rich, is the best I have ever been to!!
A seriously talented chef. Inventive and surprising dishes, very well presented. Great ambience. Cool evening.
Lovely exciting food with unexpected twists. Beautifully done!
Fantastic night with exceptional good, company and atmosphere! We'll done Harriet and sous chef Richard! You nailed it!
Can't wait to do the next one!!
I'm incredibly excited to be posting news about my Autumn supper club, which is taking place just two weekends from now. Through the Meet Up website, I have posted my supper club and feel honoured to say I have had lots of interest, and will be opening my house for a full evening of supper and merriment on the 25th October. With the help of my partner, we will host and hopefully delight guests with a very British and Autumnal themed menu.
On the cards, to kick the evening off, are an array of snacks, of course. To showcase the best of what's out there at the moment. Carnival Squash... A fresh cheese starter with Hawthorn vinegar, Rosehip emulsion and Malted Sourdough Crumb. For main, Cured Mackerel, Kohlrabi, Apple and Sea Herbs. Dessert is to showcase of a few of the best things from the Autumn, though one thing for certain is that one of the dessert dishes will be ever so warmingly whisky related.
Click HERE to see the event posting.
So, to help get everything prepared for the upcoming feast, I went looking for extra rose hips on my walk home from work at the end of last week, and rather stumbled across a secret(ish) field, full of Sloes. Untapped by South Londoners. Needless to say, I got right involved. Quite the find, and meaning that a batch of sloe gin is sitting getting, preparing itself, hopefully in time for the supper club. For anyone who has not made sloe gin before, it's the easiest damned thing. Just clean your sloes, if they are ripe then no need to prick the skins, place in the freezer overnight to simulate that first frost and encourage the skins to split. Sterilise a jar, simply by heating it to 140C in the oven, leave to cool, then add your sloes, the gin and some sugar. I'd say only add a couple of tablespoons of sugar at this stage as you can always add more later if needs be. Then leave the sealed container for at least two weeks, ideally a month or so, to infuse, and make sure that in this time you show it a little bit of love and attention by giving it a move round or a gentle shake every day.
I've also just finished making a very tasty hawthorn & blackberry vinegar to be used on the evening and have been working on a reduction to accompany some venison, one of the evenings first forecast snacks. Plus the rose hip syrup is all ready, sat in the fridge, waiting to be whizzed up into it's accompaniment for the fresh cheese and also to form a key part in below's cocktail... my autumnal take on the classic Agua de Jamaica, or Jamaica Iced Tea.
The Agua de Jamaica I experimented with yesterday simply involved cold steeping the hibiscus for around 2 hours, then sweetening with a little brown sugar and adding some lemon to balance out the sweetness, and of course, some vodka. I was pretty happy. It is a little summery right now, but the dry citrus, sorrel notes, appeal to my taste buds very much. To 'Autumnal up' this summery cocktail, I'm going to get some clove spices, if I can find some then in the guise of wood avens, but if not, just the normal clove. Instead of the Lemon, I will add orange notes with some flamed orange zest, plus a dash of the freshly made rose hip syrup instead of the brown sugar. Plus a touch mint for both contrast and colour. Winter Pimms, if you like... If anyone wants the full recipe, let me know and I'll post it.
Finally, one other thing I will most certainly be including in my autumnal feast, probably my favourite fruit from this time of year, is the classic Fig. Figs, Honey and Cheese... too good. I made some Fig Tarte Tatins yesterday, below, and that's exactly what I realised they were missing, the honey and the cheese. Never omit the cheese; that's my motto.
Since coming across this wild plant for the first time whilst foraging in Hampstead with Chris from Ipso-Phyto, and being ever so excited that I hadn’t known about it before and how wonderfully healthy and also tasty it was, harbouring none of that horrid bitterness you quite often get with foraged plants, I have been feeling an enduring sense that I must oh-so-casually come across it again. A five mile round walk in Sidmouth, and I didn’t spot a single specimen. The notion of unexpectedly stumbling across this plant, as I had rather envisaged, and reveling in delight at knowing what it was, just has not happened. I feel rather downcast that a trip to Devon didn’t result in any ‘purse gathering, but also appreciative of the fact I didn’t get out into the wider ether of wild Devonshire lands due to a rather restrictive albeit very enjoyable schedule of seeing friends and family during a fleeting two day visit. On the train journey back, whilst inspecting my I-phone snaps, and though gloomy at ‘purses absence alongside my bag of mixed berries (haw, sloe, black & hip), I felt a sense of certain excitement that upon arrival back at the Wandsworth Ranch, I could head out onto the fields of the Common, and seek out the elusive purse. To top this off, I spied some rather innocuously growing on a nearby empty track when the train pulled into one of the many stops, rather annoyingly out of reach!
Any forager in the know will tell you that this ‘weed’, is in fact very common, so goodness knows my strife. Quite possibly I was drunk in Devon and couldn’t see those diminutive heart shaped leaves just feet in front of my face. I’ll not know. At least until next week when I head down and cover the same turf again, and even some wider more exhaustive terrain to see exactly what other odds and sods I can gather.
Back to the Common, on my walk home from work today, I didn’t come across any either. I did however stumble right across an untapped mini field area of sloes so gathered those to my hearts content to appease the gathering need. Rely on London to sort you out when you firmly believed you had fallen short.
I also found this rather fabulous photograph of a spread out specimen on a really great and interesting looking website – http://wildcraftvita.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/shepherds-purse-sauce-capsella-bursa.html
So as promised, a couple of blog posts ago, here are some recipes, the first of which I’m starting today. I plan to use it in exactly the same way I have ever used any foraged herb, which is simply to use it in place of a green I would otherwise have bought from the supermarket, but with a touch of smugness knowing it’s totally organic, healthy and free.
Stir Fry Ready Salted Shepherd’s Purse
1) Chop the Shepherd’s Purse into bitesize pieces
2) Cover liberally with Salt and leave to stand overnight. This will extract a lot of the juices and leave you with a product that will fry with finesse.
Use like the Chinese and add to Chinese food, Stir Frys, Dumplings, Wontons etc.
Or replace more standard greens with these just generally.
Make an omelette, saute as a side, or dress up nicely and add to a salad.
The heart shaped leaves are just so pretty so why not dry these out, oven bake them on a low heat and sprinkle with Maldon Sea Salt for a lighter and very beautiful crunch to a salad.
The possibilities are endless.
Simply Raw Shepherd’s Purse
Since it’s all edible, and as mentioned above tends to not have any of that bitterness often associated with foraged greens, simply clean it up, chop it to your fancy and go straight ahead and eat it raw. In salads, or as a herb to garnish endless other dishes.
As the medicinal benefits of the ‘purse are considered pretty high, and because traditionally it was used to prevent bleeding, I’m going to go straight out there and assert that it must be a pretty good thing to eat, especially if you suffer from Lady Problems. It’s also been said to help with fever. Fundamentally, we know it contains a wide range of vitamins and minerals, all essential to our daily diets and since it is also very tasty, in a radish / cabbage like way, I am very happy to know about and use this plant in my diet. Bonus points for the heart shaped leaves making the 14th February a walk in the park…
I’m on the lookout for ripe rosehips down in bountiful Devonshire to stock up on some cordials, syrups and jellies.
Roses of all varieties are one of my all time favourites, the flavor can be so delicate and fragrant and add so much to dishes both savoury and sweet.
I’m not interested in an artificial or heavily perfumed taste in my food, so making it at home really means I can control this incredible flavour.
I also have a dish in mind, made from fresh cheese, rhubarb vinegar, rosehip oil and syrup...
On the subject of roses more generally, there was a very interesting dish developed at noma made from an egg yolk cured with beef garum, small discs of potato, rose pulp and elderflower. Eggs, potato and flowers? Not a combination expected to be quite as pleasing as it was.
Another very simple but very incredible combination I have swiped from Denmark is charred rose petals on a rye crisp with brown butter emulsion. All you have to do is roll out very thin rye dough; I like mine to be seeded, and bake it on a mid-temperature until crisp. Then, make a brown butter emulsion which is incredibly simple to do in that you brown some good quality butter, I prefer to make my own, and emulsify it with oil and seasoning, then place the freshly charred rose petals on top. Simple.
There are two types of rosehip syrup I am interested in making. The first is the more standard version of a syrup that you cook to reduce. Some people say that you need to top and tail the rosehips but there really is no need to do so since for this recipe you are going to pass the mixture through muslin or some kind of tammy cloth. You will just want to either chop the rosehips into smaller pieces or briefly blitz in a food processor. Use approximately 1kg rosehips to 1kg sugar and 2L of water.
Rosehip Syrup – Cooked.
1. Place the rosehips in a saucepan with approximately half of the water and bring the water to the boil. Once the water is boiling fully, cook for 15-20 minutes, look to see that the rosehips have started to really soften and break down slightly.
2. Next, strain the liquid through muslin into a clean bowl or container and leave the liquid to sit until cool, approx. 45 mins to 1 hour.
3. Return the pulp to the pan and add the remaining water, again bringing to the boil and cook for a further 15-20 minutes, the point being to extract as much flavour as possible.
4. Strain the second batch and add to the first batch.
5. Place the combined liquids back in a clean pan and boil to reduce the liquid by half. If you are looking for a more intense syrup, then you can continue to reduce this liquid even further. At this stage, and also depending on the use of your syrup, you can make a decision. If the liquid you have obtained is cloudy, then that is ok if clarity is not an issue. However, if you do want or need a perfectly clear rosehip syrup, then you can at this stage freeze the mixture. Then turn it out as a solid block of ice so that it thaws and passes through a couple of layers of muslin into a container below. This will clarify your liquid and leave you with a perfectly clear mixture that you can then heat back up to the boil and pick up the following stages. I would suggest that depending on the colour of your syrup, you may want to leave it cloudy as it is part of the charm, but this process is good for reference.
6. Once the liquid has reduced sufficiently, add your sugar. Again, note that the sweetness of the syrup that you want will be determined by how much you put in but also that the greater the quantity of sugar in the syrup, the longer it will preserve for. I suggest that 1kg is right for 1kg fruit. Once the sugar has all dissolved, let the syrup boil for a further 5 minutes, allow it to cool and then place in sterilized jars or containers.
The alternative Rosehip syrup method is very simple, the wait is much longer, but the end product has not been subject to any heat and so therefore it is ‘raw’ and perfect for advocates of the raw food diet. You retain all it’s nutrients and goodness, and believe me, there is a lot to retain. Sixty times more vitamin C than in orange; there is a reason why, in times past, many families made their own rosehip syrup and give their children a daily spoonful as it was known this provided a base This method was described to me by Chris from Ipso-Phyto, an incredible London based forager– check out his website here.
Rosehip Syrup - Raw
Take equal quantities of Rosehips and Sugar and layer these in a container, and leave for approximately 6 months. If the Rosehips are not as ripe as you would like, then score them to help the extraction process. The sugar will work to slowly extract all the flavour and the result will be a beautiful pink syrup that you shouldn’t even need to pass as the hips have been left whole. §I’m pretty certain that you could then use the rosehips themselves and dehydrate them to make some further goodies, but we shall see how I get on with that one in 6 or 7 months time….
Now onto the good stuff…. Rosehip Brandy…
approx 1kg rosehips (depending on ripeness and also your preference) to 1.5L Brandy and 300g sugar. Sugar can be white or brown – take your pick depending on the richness you want in your brandy. If you go for brown, expect a slightly more caramelised flavour.
1) Wash Rosehips
3) Place rosehips in a sterilised container or jar, the one you wish to keep your brandy in, then cover with sugar and place in a cool place overnight.
4) Pour your brandy over the mixture the following day and add your flavourings of choice. Common flavourings are cinnamon and cloves and a touch of lemon peel. I would suggest that infusing your brandy with some Wood Avens, if you can find some, would add that extra medicinal quality to your brandy, but if not, then straight up cloves will be just perfect. I like the idea of adding a touch of cinnamon, perhaps a 3 inch piece of stick, a few cloves, maybe 1 or 2 as I am not such a clove fan, and a small amount of lemon , orange or grapefruit peel, perhaps half a fruits worth, or less. I would also, if you have some, add some rosehip syrup for extra intensity.
5) Seal the container and let it stand for a minimum of 2 weeks in a light place.
6) Once you are happy your liquor is sufficiently infused, strain and pass into the bottle(s) or container(s) of your choice, and allow to stand for a least a further month prior to serving.
So there we have it, some rosehip goodness for the month of October and some festive brandy merriment for when the cold, harsh winter months hit….
Or really, just an excuse to share this bad boy round and eat it with some cheese….
What might you expect to find when foraging in London? Some half eaten pizzas, chicken bones, rotten veg perhaps. Not if you know what you're looking for. And really, we ought to know a little more of the world around us. After all, we are a small country, in the grand global scheme of things, and we are facing essentially quite chronic annual growth in population and problems of thus feeding the world. Basic sustenance starts at home, if we understand what we can eat; we can source basic sustenance and locate those all important anti-carcinogenics and super foods we so persistently hear all about. This is not to say we can rely on looking at the world around us and finding foods to complete our diet, it's that we shouldn't be ignoring a world of produce that is wild, natural and with potentially incredible health benefits. Why not know more about the incredible produce of our home land? If something is grown in the land around you, then it's provenance is known, we can better control it's background and we can hope it's going to taste a whole lot better too. How exciting to know something you can't buy in the supermarket is going to help your next meal taste fabulous, if you know what you're looking for. Wild herbs and plants have incredible new flavours, or rather perhaps they aren't even new, they just haven't been used in common place food before or for a very long time. Since the advent of supermarkets, lets face it, we were bound to become lazy....
We hear all about the incredible health benefits of goji berries and acai, but we don't always consider what is lost when these products are shipped from across the ocean, in terms of nutrients and also more generally in terms of sustainability and the many modern day considerations we should be taking into account when it comes to food and, well, just about everything really. If we can get the same nutrients and amazing health benefits from British grown produce, then surely we really should educate ourself and start looking at our own front doorstep. It's all perfectly fresh and untravelled, healthy and has all the medicinal benefits that botanical advocates have known about for years.
Above, we found Shepherd's Purse, a member of the cabbage or umbellifer family, recognisable by it's heart shaped pods. It's worth noting though that all pods can be different, as they are the seeds, which can change. They will always though spiral round the stem in a distinct manner. The flowers are yellow or white. With every wild plant, as Chris, the expert forager informed us, smell the plant first. Every time. It's this that you will help you best identify and verify a plant. You will recognise the sulphurous cabbage smell in this case. Shepherd's purse has been historically used for staunching wounds and for lady time. In the instance of the women's monthly blight, take the root and leaves and steep in hot water to serve as tea.
The next edible we came across was the great Ash Tree. Interestingly, a relative of the Olive. What the Ash Tree delivers is sets of edible fruits called 'keys'. In Spring these are green and soft and we can brine or pickle them to preserve them for the winter or use them as a very British component of an antipasti style smorgasbord. Chris our lead forager pickled some in a blackberry vinegar which were terrific. Out at Noma, we would collect young beech leaves and treat these in the same way, and later dehydrate them and sometimes cover with Cep or other flavoursome powders to garnish a plate. There was a Duck dish in partiular where these featured heavily. I would like to experiment with Ash Keys and perhaps use them in a similar fashion.
Onto Jack By The Hedge.
Another member of the Brassica family. Otherwise known as Hedge Garlic. Isn't it such a shame that more people don't use these flavoursome alternatives in every day food? Use the stem of the leaf in the Spring, it can be a lot less bitter. The leaf is garlicky in flavour but it does leave you with a slightly bitter after taste, however, what always springs to mind for me when you have food like this one, is use it in cooking, and mask the bitterness with flavours that will balance it out. Go Asian and play around with Ginger, Chilli and Lemongrass. For sweetness there are all sorts of sweetening agents you could add to level things out, depending on the dish and your mood. I'm going to devise a recipe for this one and post it when tested, as I think it's such a fantastic herb, it needs to be elevated.
In America, they often use the root of jack by the hedge - as it has a pungency similar to horseradish, it also notably has large white flowers, white like many of the other brassicas. The seeds have a mustardy type heat, and it's worth noting that all parts of this plant are edible. Wonderful.
As a word of reassurance to those out there thinking, what if a dog has relieved itself on this plant I just found? Well, if a dog has done it's business on a plant, it's going to be pretty darned obvious. The leaves will have discoloured or they may be mottled or brown. Like any food, look at it first, if it looks healthy, then the odds are in your favour. Don't pick something if it looks brown or soiled...
As I write this in September, Hawthorn berries are absolutely abundant. You will see them everywhere you go, all around London. Completely edible and completely useful in the same way as other common berries. They are apple-ey in texture and can sometimes be a little bland. Go for the darker ones if you can, for flavour. They are completely full of anti-oxidants and goodness. Hawthorn berries have long been used as a medicinal treatment for ailments of the heart. See this link for plenty of useful information. They really are quite incredible in terms of their uses, as a berry goes, and it's on our own doorstep; it's free and it hasn't travelled halfway across the world. I can't emphasis this point enough! It's just so important and exciting to get involved with what we already have available to us, rather than jumping on board the overseas and imported superfood trend, we've got them all right here! Just don't eat the seed... it's full of cyanide and we don't want that.
Hawthorn berries are always smaller on wild plants, like in the picture above, but domestically they can get to the size of a cherry and become much more peachy in texture and taste.
Next on the foraging agenda, is Roses. Classic roses. All are identified by their oval shaped leaves which will have the distinct serrations running along the edges. They also always have five petals. So at this time of year, we see an absolute abundance of Rosehips. They're not typically 'ready' until October and generally are always better after a frost. There is an exception though, as there really always is, there will always be variation. Hedgerow roses have larger rose hips which can be ready sometimes in August. And guess what, onto the health benefits, they contain on average sixty times more vitamin C than oranges! Bonkers! So go grab a load of rose hips I say and crack onto a batch of rose hip brandy. If the hips aren't ripe, you can score them to allow the extraction for the brandy or oil production process, just make sure to separate these from the ripe ones so you can differentiate between what kind of intensity of flavour you are getting. I'm going to post a bundle of recipes for everything I've mentioned in this blog over the course of the next week, as I simply don't have the time right now to get everything on here. In short however, you can make a rose hip syrup by layering the hips with sugar and allowing to sit for 6 months and you will end up with an amazing rose scented and flavoured pink syrup. Done now, this will be absolutely perfect for cocktails come next spring and summer.
This plant which flowers in the Spring with clusters of yellow green flowers is a Mediterranean plant brought here by the Romans. They referred to it as the pot of alexandria as every part of it was edible. It has a celery, fennel like plavour, which sometimes can be bitter and more in the aniseed range. A little bit lovage-esq. It's stems can be lightly steamed and eaten like asparagus, the leaves can be treated like any other leaf and ether eaten raw as part of a salad or cooked as part of a full range of dishes. When the Alexanders are a new growth, they are tender and tasty, so this is worth being aware of. You could take the flowers and infuse these in olive oil. The seeds are very much like pepper in texture, but more aromatic, and you could treat these in the same way as pepper or any other spice. If you roast them then the flavour mellows and you get rid of the more volatile parts.
We next came across the Evergreen Tree whose seeds are much like mini acorns, and these when they are a good size are tender and edible straight off the tree. Imagine treating these like a nut and with the correct amount of roasting, oil and salt, what an interesting snack.
Greater Plantain is something I very much always considered a weed, it's just so common. The greater plantain likes compact ground; think parks and commons. When all the flowers are out on the stems that pop out of the middle of the plants, then take the top of this stem, usually in April to July, which is the flowering season, and you get a really strong mushroom taste coming through. Chris the forager explained to us how he makes a really fantastic dip made by beating the stem with egg yolks, then beating egg whites, adding lemon juice, S & P and other seasonings and it tastes like a cracking and very conversation worthy mushroom dip.
Salad Burnet, to the right, is a leaf, that can be eaten raw, and can be harvested throughout the winter, which is good to know. The stem can get a little tough, so the tip of the plant is generally best. The leaves have a slight cucumbery taste. This is a herb that we used a lot out at noma, more often as decoration, as it is a very attractive leaf with it's reddish stem.
Now, onto some exciting stuff.
Wild Carrot is part of the umbellifer family, which means it has distinct characteristics which can help us recognise it as being carrot and not anything more sinister. If you look under it's head it has little branched bracks exactly under the base of the flower. When the flower is done, it folds up into a 'birds nest' like in the picture below. It is also a hairy type of plant, so feel it's stem to make sure. These traits make it easy to identify.
The root is very carroty. The seeds are very aromatic - they are officially awesome. You just have to eat them raw to discern a totally unique and incredibly distinct flavour. You're not going to get this flavour elsewhere - it's totally one hundred precent unique. Again, treat this like any other spice and roast it to release the aromatics. It's a new spice for the larder. I'm so excited about this plant and it's amazing flavour and want to experiment with it a lot. The whole plant is edible, some people make a jelly from the flowers with lemon juice which turns pink, which again is exciting and another one to experiment with!
So, the words of caution when it comes to picking any umbellifers. Hemlock, the most deadly umbellifer, is quite fatal. Hemlock doesn't have any hairs. There is often a red spot in the middle of the flower and 99% of the time there are red spots on the stem. Hemlock also smells a little like urine - fetid. Carrot on the other hand is nicely scented, and as we had heavily pointed out to us by Chris the lead forager, ALWAYS smell everything. It's going to confirm to you that what you have found, is what you think you have found, and could keep you very much alive. It's basics really, and the same principle applies to everything we put in our mouth.
The Oxeye Daisy is essentially a large daisy. normal small daisy's are edible, as is the oxeye. It's stems are commonly used in asia as chop-suey greens.
All Thistle's are edible. Obviously you just have to get rid of the spikes and spines, so a hardy pair of gloves are advised. The mid-rib in particular can be good - perhaps to use as a crudite, or as any other green stem.
Another handy benefit is that they are pretty good for our livers too so may well make up for the excess rose hip brandy consumption.
Wild Oats, commonly sold by Neils Yard and other health stores for it's health related benefits. The straw of these oats is considered to be a relaxant. Chop up the straw and brew it in hot water for tea and it's a great bevvy to have pre-bed to send you off into a deep slumber. What it essentially does is work on the central nervous system, as a whole, and it's benefits are considered high.
Sorrel, of course. Everyone loves sorrel. A restaurant staple. Serve it with lobster, in fact all seafood. It's citrusy notes cut through and complement a number of dishes just perfectly. Dinner by Heston serve it with their lobster dish, it featured heavily on Noma's menu and Simon Rogan is well renowned for using it in his restaurants. In fact, it's incredibly common place these days, and there are plenty of varieties to keep us occupied. Buckler Sorrel, Wood Sorrel, Wild Sorrel, Micro Sorrel...
It is recognisable by it's arrow shaped leaves.
The Common Lime Tree whose buds have a great crunch, so toast or fry these off and go from there.
The Blackthorn tree, whose berries look like blueberries. Word of warning - don't let the thorns puncture you though as you are quite likely to get septicaemia. Stay safe. But once you've got hold of those little buggers, I mean berries, you can go make a great gin, or a jam. You do however need cold winters for this plant to thrive; luckily for us, we've had no shortage of these. The berries on their own are incredibly dry and astringent so you probably don't want to go snacking on these as you pick, but with a little work, it is certainly worth the effort for the much rewarded beverages and preserves you can inevitably go on to create.
Ribwort plantain, above, is recognisable by the raised ribs on the back of its leaves. like greater plantain, it's flower heads have a mushroom taste. This is a useful plant as it's incredibly good too for wasp stings or for staunching blood. It acts as an antiseptic, astringent and demulcent agent.
Wood Avens, Clove Root, or Herb Bennett, is a member of the rose family. Not only does it have a long list of medicinal qualities, including helping diarrhoea, but if you take it's roots, then these have a very clove like flavour and therefore are useful for infusing to extract this, and potentially help stop unwanted other things going on...
There are so many other things to find in England, and in London, these are just a few which go to show that maybe we should get to know the world around us just that bit better. So many plants are so common place, like dandelions, which we all know and recognise, that are fully edible, and good for us, and in fact are used in lots and lots of restaurants right now. The root roasted is good, boil it for about 4 minutes first, then peel the skin off and roast it, in butter of course. It becomes really sweet and good to eat. In Spring, the root is even sweeter as it converts its storage carbohydrates into a sweeter root.
I'm going to post recipes for these plants, some I already know, and some to be the product of experimentation. It really is completely fascinating to think this is the world around us, and there's so much to learn. It is completely exciting.
In January 2013, I decided to see if I could embark on a small culinary adventure. I started emailing restaurant Noma in Copenhagen to see if they would consider taking me onboard for a stage out there. I received an application form sent for me to fill out in June 2013 and proceeded to badger them over email during the course of the summer. In late August I received the exciting news that they were going to offer me a 3 month stage in 2014.
So, in late March this year, I packed my bags and ventured out to the Danish capital. I had a rough itinerary to help form my expectations but really didn’t know what to expect. I started with 10 fellow stagiers and was promptly informed to expect this number to dwindle as the weeks went by. I was also informed that rarely did English people complete the full stage… interesting. So the bar was raised.
I joined an international bunch in this English speaking kitchen and learned to get to know people from all walks of life. People came to this kitchen to learn from the best restaurant in the world so we were all united by our interest and common passion. Noma won the title as the worlds best restaurant from San Pellegrino’s fifty best back in 2010 and maintained it’s position throughout 2011 and 2012. In 2013 they dropped to no2 but incredibly regained the pole position again this year. This recovery is the first of it’s kind in this list so a remarkable feat all round and very exciting to be out there when the news was delivered. Standing in a bar with the whole brigade of staff, watching the awards as they were streamed to the high screen tv in Ved Stranden, a riverside wine bar, was quite something. I didn’t however choose Noma based on reputation alone, I picked it because of their approach to food and the world around them. They forage for food and create a Danish larder of flavours that come from the surrounding land using ingredients previously overlooked and undiscovered or underused in the culinary world.
Having spent the first few weeks picking herbs and helping to plate for the private dining room, dishes such as Soft boiled egg with Spring Herbs, and their signature Beef Tartar with Ants, I was thrilled to then spend two solid weeks out foraging in the Danish countryside with their resident full time forager Michael, or Mikkel as they all call him, rather incorrectly, as his name he informed us was and always had been the very Anglic version and thus pronunciation of Michael.
We went to forests where we picked wood sorrel, beech leaves and collected ants. We went to woodland clearings where we found hidden fields of ramsons, cowslip flowers, morels and moss. We went to beaches for portulac, scurvy grass, sea beets, beach cabbage, beach peas. We collected rose petals to make rose oil for the winter, salad burnette, goosefoot and many other wild flowers and herbs to decorate and flavor the dishes back at the restaurant. A learning experience like no other. All helped by the snoozes that could be taken in the foraging van between destinations helping to catch up on the sleep lost from working those long restaurant hours.
Back at the restaurant, myself and the other English girl Rosie then spent the next week cooking staff meal for the 60 strong members of staff who needed two meals a day. The idea behind this family meal stems from Rene’s strong philosophy that staff should be fed two delicious and healthy meals every day. The joy also of having such an international crew is that you cook food from your home so everyone eats varied and multicultural food that could be from absolutely anywhere. Watch Rene HERE describe this amazing offering. We responded to requests from the other staff who wanted a Roast Dinner and with the help of Chef Sam Miller, managed to rustle up Roast Beef with all the trimmings for our Saturday night finale. We also put forward Bangers and Mash one day much to the excitement of Rene who proclaimed in the way that he always did, imitating accents wherever he could, ‘Oh! How Wonderful Girls – Bangers and Mash!’ We were certainly scared from the outset though that staff meal would be a flop – Rene casts his critical eye over all the food and indeed eats it. Cooking for the worlds best chef – who knew? The first experience I had of seeing two young lads cooking the staff meal was pretty petrifying. They had rustled up some white fish – baked, plain. Some vegetables and Salad. It was fairly basic and uninspiring, which I hate to write because when someone cooks you a meal, you are grateful. But it has to be written to explain just what unfolded. Rene cast his eye across the spread, took a mouthful, looked over and asked what it was. He proceeded to cut through to the AM kitchen, where the food had been prepared to demand an explanation from the two young cooks, asking, ‘What is this? What the f*** is this?’ and upon hearing the stuttered realization of a response that the food was not up to par, proceeded to explain why the food they had on offer was just not acceptable to the 60 members of staff who had been on their feet all day. I cut a lot from that story, it scared me too much. Thank God our week went well. Some of our food even got instagrammed – the ultimate praise!
After that little experience, we moved on to being placed on different sections in the restaurant. I spent time, a week minimum, on all sections in the restaurant – snacks, sec 1 (starters), sec 2 (mains) and pastry. In these sections I was doing work that ranged from making the aeble batter for the aeble skivers every morning for the day, making the Nordic ‘coconuts’ and straws, powders, prepping and making the shrimp & ramson ravioli, where the ravioli is not pasta, but rather an oiled and blanched ramson leaf folded over and carefully cut to form a pristine ‘ravioli’. One week I was spearing pike’s heads and the next I was finely slicing rhubarb and making roses…
Every Saturday night was the Saturday Night Project, a platform for continual creativity. Where Chefs present what they have been working on, or ideas that they are going to move forward. This always took place after service on a Saturday, before the two days off everyone took every Sunday and Monday. Every week there were two to five dishes presented. I never did one but look back and regret this very much.
Here are some of the highlights:
Jun’s Garfish Roe, Turbot, White Asparagus and Egg Yolk cured in Beef Garum, one of the most spectacular dishes that was put forward.
Garima's Crispy Chicken Skin, Celeriac Puree, Wood Sorrel & Nasturtium Granita Canapes
An Origami Crane made from a dehydrated sheet of celeriac filled with some goodness I can't even recall...
To top off 3 months of hard work, three of us were treated to a full VIP sit down meal at the restaurant, with extra champagne and wine pairing. We donned our best (packed) dresses, as we certainly didn’t plan for such a fancy meal. Sure we thought we’d be preparing it, but eating it in a fancy dress, oh no. We had a full 26 course bonanza of courses, making all the hard work we had put in suddenly become clear as to how it could come together, and why this restaurant is the number one in the world. Nothing comes close to the noma experience. I’ve eaten incredible food in incredible restaurants, and loved each and every experience, but eating at noma is just different. It’s a talking point, it’s exciting and the flavours are insane. That’s the only way I can describe it. This is what we ate:
Red currant and green strawberry
Moss and cep
Peas and radishes
Pickled and smoked quails egg
Flatbread with wild roses .... (my standout snack by far - simple but incredibly good)
Grilled cucumber and fudge
White cabbage and samphire
Caramelised milk and cod liver
AEble skiber, lovage and parsley
Burnt leek and cod roe
Shrimp and goosefoot, radish and yeast
White asparagus, black currant leaves and barley
Turbot roe and sour cherries
Beef tartar and ants
Lobster and nasturtium
Beetroot, sloe berries and aromatic herbs
Cured egg yolk, potato and elderflower
Turbot and nasturtium cream and wood sorrel
Rhubard and sorrel, creme fraiche and spanish chervil
Raspberries and rye
The whole experience was life changing. It was eye opening, exhausting, incredible and fundamentally altered the way I look at things. I’ll never forget how much I learnt out there.
It’s been some time since my last post, not that anyone reads this blog, but I’m picking it up again, as some form of expression, a diary and record. A reminder. Most of all, it’s going to keep me occupied before I start work again next week.
So – last year I went to culinary school and gained my Cordon Bleu Diploma – a big and long awaited move. The experience was amazing, the financial situation I am now in, not so amazing. Whatever, I knew the implications when I started out, and believe me it was no overnight decision. More one that brewed for years so making that final step to take the plunge was hard, really bloody tough. I had a career, and my family did their absolute best to talk me out of making, and I quote, ‘the biggest mistake of your life’. So here’s the boring background. (It’s really not boring to me, it’s how I am where I am, but it is essentially a standard Devonshire girls upbringing…)
So…. I went to a grammar school in Devon, the type that made it seem university was the only option to obtain a respectable career, as a Doctor, or a Lawyer. Apprenticehips, the hospitality industry, music and arts were not looked on so favourably at that time. Thank goodness things looked to have changed. No one ever sat us down and asked what our passions were. I mean, if I had thought about it, I woud have clearly identified a life long obsession with food, drink and eating. I just didn’t know I could carve a career from basic indulgence. I mean, I knew I always wanted to have a restaurant, but I didn’t quite think I could get that through working as a chef, I thought I needed money first, which I would get from a ‘proper’ job. Well, the money thing hasn’t changed but I do at least feel I have grown up a little and had my eyes opened to various means to an end. I also learnt that you most certainly DO need to work in the kitchen to get better and to understand the industry. A constantly evolving industry. I do believe you can do whatever you set yourself out to achieve, you just have to take that first step, then the second, and stick to your goal. Don’t cave! I spent enough time thinking I should be doing what other people thought I should be doing, and always thinking the grass was greener. Now I know, I have finally learnt to be true to myself. It’s refreshing, because even if you suck at earning a great salary right now, it will pay off eventually. James Knappett, Head Chef / Owner of Bubble Dogs and The Kitchen Table sent me a message just yesterday, saying ‘Remember - great chefs work in kitchens, the pay eventually comes’. Now, I don’t have the best relationship with James Knappett so don’t let that message fool you into thinking we are friends. He offered me a trial at his restaurant, The Kitchen Table, and then I cancelled and then asked for it again, and then cancelled again due to circumstances. It was great advice though.
Anyway, I got sidetracked. Colyton Grammar didn’t encourage students to pursue routes outside of university. As I said, they wanted Doctors and they wanted Lawyers. So the prospect of entering the food industry back then was unthinkable. Despite the fact I had been working in food and hospitality since the age of 12, I knew I had to go to university and get a degree. There really was no other choice at the time. What to study though…. That was the question. After acceptance and a brief dalliance with the idea of studying Law, following a careers guidance session, I attended a taster weekend at Nottingham University. No way, I realised, was I about to embark on a degree in Law – too boring for words. You gots to be studious on simply another level to do Law and I knew that wasn't me. I therefore concluded I would go to University to study something more scintillating to me, and convert to Law afterwards, a very viable option that pleased those around me, including the parentals. I liked History at the time, Art, and English Literature, so it seemed logical to choose History of Art at Oxford Brookes University. History of Art transpired to be a wishy washy course where credits were made up through a random selection of additional modules such as Anthropology and Renaissance Literature, though interesting at the time it was not justifying any rationale to remain there. A feeling not helped by those studious types attending the real Oxford University referring to us plebs as the ‘ELC’. The Early Learning Centre. It was a brush I was not willing to be tarred with at that precious and affected stage of my life. Thus upon realising the course was probably a chronic waste of my time I transferred to Cardiff University to study History and Politics, a much better idea. I worked the whole way through university at the local Mercure Hotel in Conference & Banqueting to pay my way. It worked and kept me in the industry I would ultimately end up in. Back then I recall telling my then boyfriend and his father about my ambitions to one day run a restaurant, to have a restaurant serving great food with a sideline blues bar where one could procure some tasty snacks and a tonne of booze. As I said, I had always loved eating, drinking and blues music, the dream made sense, I just had no practical vision of achieving it. Me and my buddy Blackie would have lots of chats about this little vision that would happen well into the future, it was aspirational. I never felt it was viable to pursue that ambition through kitchens, I felt I would earn the money and turn to it later in life. How naïve when I look back at that idea now…. So the Ex’s Father Geoff sent me to work in a meat packing factory; ‘got to learn from the shop floor up’ he said in his thick Middlesex accent. Fucking great idea, that was. I lasted precisely 4 hours. I won’t go into why, and it’s not because I’m lazy, it was one of the worst work places I have ever seen. Nice time though, nice time to work out I did NOT need to work from the shop floor up.
When I graduated in 2008, the onset of the financial crisis, I had no clue what to do, I wanted to work on a yacht more than anything but I couldn’t afford the course to do it, at £1000 it was more than I could earn in one month in Cardiff. It wasn’t happening. So I temped, at a construction firm in Llantrisant in Wales, in the middle of nowhere or so it seemed to me. I got offered an apprenticeship to become a QS, which was laughable really as Maths was really never my forte. Ask my friend Emma, she will testify to that. Or Mr Bibby. (Who I once accused of being a giant dildo because the aforementioned Emma told me to, encouraging me because it was funny. Obviously I didn't know what a dildo was and was understandably mortified.) I got better at Maths though and drawing was ok and I was able to learn, up until the offer was retracted due to the financial situation. So I wangled my way into the nearest Law Firm on an initiative they were working on to get university graduates into paralegal type roles. I worked in a defendant personal injury position there learning the trade, before being taking over by a much bigger Law Firm called Beachcroft, I again wangled a transfer to Bristol where I worked in Commercial Property. Needless to say, I didn’t last long. After a year and a half in a legal capacity I sacked it in to go on a ski season in Val D’Isere where I worked for Scott Dunn, a luxury chalet company. I loved it, I learnt to ski and worked alongside some really amazing chefs, it was inspiring to see what they were able to achieve at the top of a mountain. When the season ended, I managed to get myself a position on a superyacht for the summer season, in the Med. This is where I first got to cook for guests, for the owner had a chef coming but not until slightly later in the season. I cooked, simple healthy Mediterranean food, and I loved it. Mooring at ports along the Dalmatian Coast and seeking out whatever produce looked the nicest was incredible. Produce that I hadn’t even seen before, but was able to speak to the traders, find out what to do and then take it back and prepare it. I was excited, and it was therefore after this that I realised my determination to pursue a career in cooking. I returned to England and prepared to sign up for the cooking course at Ashburton School of Cookery in Devon, when Mother intervened and somehow persuaded me to look for a temporary job in London to pay the bills and save some money to pay for the course – encouragement for one last attempt at a ‘proper’ job. So I did, I found myself a job interview for a position in a property company in Knightsbridge within their refurbishment and design team, which appealed to my artsy sensibilities – there was lots of interior design to be dealt with and they liked my previous property background – and I was therefore happy to start on a decent salary as the team assistant. Within a month, the temp job had gone perm, I was spending time out on property sites and flicking through interior design mags, helping my boss pick lighting and furniture, and to top it off I was getting to visit the £20mil penthouse he was project managing. I was blindsided by excitement for the new job and I had a crush on my work colleague. I wasn’t going anywhere for now. Within a year, I had become the Refurbishment & Design Project Leader and then later the Project Manager. I did a diploma in my free time in Interior Design which was great. I knew I could one day use these skills to design my restaurant! But all along I had this nagging feeling, that I would regret not pursuing cooking as a full time profession and an all encompassing venture (adventure), it was always my one true passion and I wanted to know I should at least try to forge some real pride in that. So by the time my job was progressing in more of a surveying direction, over design, I snapped, it was the nail in the coffin and it thankfully prompted me to bite the bullet and pay the course deposit. Such a huge commitment financially; I was going to give up my well paid London job to go back to school. Any doubts or worries I had, of which there were many, were alleviated by the fact I had been moved to a god awful office in Putney, which made the last 8 months of my last job almost unbearable with the excitement of what I was going to be doing. I went and got myself a weekend job at Mark Hix’s Champagne and Oyster Bar in Selfridges and I was all set.
I proceeded to study and obtain my Cordon Bleu Diploma at Tante Marie Cookery School in Woking, a fantastic experience and I was chomping at the bit to get out into the real world, and in the meantime I had somehow persuaded restaurant Noma in Copenhagen to let me stage there for 3 months in 2014. I still am perplexed as to why they accepted my application given how many applications they receive each day, but for some reason they did and I am so grateful. An absurd prospect that the best restaurant in the world would let me in! I started my 3 months at Noma in April this year, at a point where they regained their position as the no 1 restaurant in the world. What an experience. I’m going to write a follow up post all about my Copenhagen experience so will bypass the finer details for now. To conclude, I'm back in London, having accepted a job at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, considered the 5th best restaurant in the world, which I start in September. I’m working for a prestigious events company in the pastry section for the whole of August, to earn my first paycheck since I quit my job what seems like a lifetime ago.
Kitchen life is hard, the hours are long and the people can be chronic assholes. Not to mention the pay. The pay is the biggest asshole of them all. But is there anything else I’d rather be doing? No way. I set myself the challenge of learning from the best kitchens, alongside starting my own sideline ventures, which I’m working on, and then in a few, or maybe several years time, hopefully I can open up a restaurant of my very own. It’s no overnight dream, but one day, I believe it will happen.
Described in Time Out as ‘the kind of place where Shaggy and his gang might congregate after solving yet another mystery, the BBL offers a splendid mix of authentic Americana and knowing kitsch’. It’s true – this place is delightfully 1950s America, all retro, dark and hectic, but in a good way. There’s a smoking area in a very Shoreditch themed graffiti covered brick light well within walking distance of the lanes, so enough to appease both the smoker and the non. Eight bowling lanes are available to hire by the hour, karaoke rooms, a perfectly retro U shaped bar made from bowling lane wood, serving a very decent range of beers, cocktails and shakes. All of which are incredibly well priced; another draw of the venue. Asides from this though, it’s the pizza that always brings me back. For a work evening out for example, or a birthday party, it hits the nail on the head offering great fun bowling in a lively, and on weekdays an after-work atmosphere, with good beer at inexpensive prices. Ray’s Pizza comes in 3 sizes – most notably the 26 incher – the dustbin lid, taking me back to childhood birthday parties. Ray says his pizza has a ‘wafer-crisp crust that's soft around the edges and not too wet in the middle, bits of fresh basil and a lacing of extra-virgin olive oil through the sweet tomato sauce. After the pizza comes out of the conspicuously non-wood-burning oven, it gets a ceremonial dusting of real Parmesan, administered in slow, deliberate, old-world style.’ Now I’m not really sure what the slow administering of Parmesan adds, but in essence this translates to the fact you’d be hard pushed to identify it as having not been stone baked. It’s a darn good pizza. It’s thin, lightly flour dusted and holds copious excellent quality toppings. When it comes to pizza, I’m fairly simple – a product of one summer in Italy sampling through pizza after pizza at the greatest pizzeria in a seaside town called Fano – I like cheese and ham, well mozzarella and prosciutto, no need for any fancy additions. Apart from when it comes to Ray’s pizza, I like the other ultimate classic – the pepperoni king. Perfect for post a few glasses of vino.
Kaosarn has been best known to me as the small authentic Thai on the rather weather exposed corner of Brixton market. Due to its size, one of the only restaurants where booking is necessary. When I heard of the new Kaosarn located on increasingly trendy St John’s Hill, based almost exactly opposite the progressively fashionable Powder Keg Diplomacy, itself harking more of Shoreditch than Wandsworth, I wondered what mix they might have struck. Would they have formed a contemporary setting in congruence with their closest neighbours, or would they maintain their distinct café feel. I had heard on the grapevine that the dishes were the same – but the menu had expanded considerably due to their transition to gas cookers from Brixton’s electric hobs. My discovery was the restaurant stood far removed from the authenticity of the original enterprising outfit with its inherent rudimentary charm. But not in a bad way – the setting was refreshingly open, clear and clean. Whitewashed contemporary vertical bamboo styled strips panelled the walls, whilst the restaurant itself comprised solid rustic oak tables with white washed scrubbed legs and large round hanging pendant lights. A calm environment, and contrary to expectations the staff were nothing but pleasant and helpful. We ordered two starters to share – the soft shelled crab and the Som Turn Thai salad. The soft shelled crab essentially was tasty, homed in a light but aerated batter. The quantity of crab though was trifling, and the batter as a consequence overwhelmed the dish leading myself and partner to conclude the dish had been ‘Brit-ified’. Good soft shelled crab is hard to find – it being far too easy to cover it in batter and thus hide the sweet meat you are actually after. The salad was a combination of shredded papaya, lime juice, finely crushed roasted peanuts, ground dried shrimps, fresh chilli, tomatoes, green beans and a vinaigrette so tangy – sweet and sour in cooperation – it awakened every single one of your taste buds. Freshly squeezed lime abounding, complemented by an effortlessly balanced undertone of nam pla. First you take the hit of lime rounded by the sweet and then the sour of the nam pla followed by full lip burning heat. Pretty goddam perfect in terms of balance between flavour and heat - not a morsel was left on the plate.
For mains we ordered a beef Thai green curry and a slow cooked pork dish comprising pork in a Chinese 5 spice with shiitake mushrooms, fragrant rice and a chilli sauce. As an avid pork fan – I love the stuff, I embrace the fat. Pork belly (cooked well) any day. But this pork was one step too far. In my humble opinion, when you order pork and the fat to meat ratio exceeds 60:40 then it can be deemed excessive, and this pork coming in at 80:20 certainly pushed my porky sensibilities. I don’t want a piece of jelly to chew on – I want some meat. Pulling jellied pieces of fat out of each mouthful doesn’t form an enjoyable experience. I know that that is just the style of cooking but it's not for me. The sauce though was a rich reduction that retained its opaque gleam of Chinese 5 spice, meat juices and vegetable liqour. Aniseed notes emerged just a little too prominently out of the essential 5 spices for my liking, for once you had taken a mouthful it transformed into the overwhelming feature and sadly the flavour assumed that ability that aniseed has to remain fixed in your taste buds for some short time to come. My idea of the place for aniseed falls within the realm of subtlety. It is the all too common mistake that can really cross the lines of acceptability for those like myself, particularly prevalent in new wave trendy BBQ restaurants, cough Pitt Cue Co, that can really spoil a meal. If however you love aniseed in this more hard-hitting fashion, then this dish is probably for you.
The green curry contrastingly was probably the best I have ever had. The beef was soft, though could have benefited from the blessing of size - larger slow cooked chunks of braising beef might just have been perfect. The sauce was delicately flavoured with an abundance of lemongrass, an undertone of chilli whilst being creamy though not too rich. A triumph, in simple terms.
Despite the obvious let downs, I have to say I just loved this restaurant. I don’t doubt that if I go back the story will be one of success. It is a refreshing change to be in a spacious and airy setting, an all-round pleasurable experience since when you couple that space with the expertly constructed flavours that Kaosarn deliver, you’re left in an ideal mid-week dining situation. Affordable food accompanied by BYOB means this restaurant is a genuine success. Which is why you will see the place packed out each evening and why you need to book for a table. It’s a veritable haven for girly catch up mid-week dinners. Like.
Another post pulled from my old blog when I would do the odd review. This was from Jan 2013 so fingers crossed the restaurant improved a little...
A friday off work and a much anticipated viewing of Les Miserables at the theatre was just begging for a spot of tasty lunch to get us in the mood for the most hyped theatrical production of these times. After deciding on an early afternoon walk from Little Venice to Camden, we decided to seek a watering hole for some warming booze and a spot of luncheon in Camden. We wanted a place ideally with reasonable reviews and whilst the call of Camden's reputable market food was of obvious interest, we preferred the idea of a waitress and table for this occasion. No need to get up, lazy bastards.
So... Made in Camden it was. Michelin rated bib gourmand, good cuisine at a reasonable price - that would be good enough for us.
First impressions, after googling the menu we could only locate both Brunch and Valentines lists. Where's lunch? Oh well, it can be a surprise, if the reviews are anything to live up to. So upon arrival we were presented with the strangely elusive lunch menu - a modest selection, and if a limited array of lunch choices is anything to go by, we all know the rules dictate it ought to represent a well executed and seasonal selection. (Service was prompt, but the restaurant was quiet - three other groups of people - but it's Friday afternoon so what might you realistically expect in a music venue?)
We opted for a meze board to share at £7 and a venison burger at £8 including a half pint as part of the lunch deal. Not quite what we expected, having read of the myriad of small, interesting and quirky style tapas dishes, but we were pleased to be sat down, out of the cold and to have a drink in hand.
Service was prompt - well, there really were few other customers - but for the food to come in under 5 minutes was a slight surprise. We requested salt and pepper, the presumption that the food is seasoned to perfection is a promising and optimistic idea but you really do have to guarantee bang on seasoning, and really, if you're going to serve chips....
The pattie was dry and grisly and the cheese was lacking. It was also very small. Small is fine if you are the likes of an 'Honest Burger' made from 35 day aged Ginger Pig rare breed and you are delicious and trustworthy, leaving no-one unhappy. You also have a side of rosemary fries which really aren't worth comparing. The problem is, thanks to the Michelin inspectors, when bib gourmand is issued, you expect a good burger. Or even a menu.
The meze comprised 4 dips - smoked tomato, baba ghanoush, lemon chickpea stew and green tahini accompanied by 4 paltry slices of toasted ciabatta. The baba ghanoush was delicious and therefore insufficient in quantity. I could have inhaled an entire bowl. The other 3 were pleasant(ish) but nothing to write home about.
Overall - our bill came to £24.00 for the burger, meze plus a pint and a half, which really is rather reasonable value for money in London. However, would I go back? Probs not. I'd probably prefer a 99p burger courtesy of the golden arches. And whilst this may not come with a free beer, you could pick up a can from the nearest corner shop, probably opposite McD's, and wash it down with that. Your total bill at £1.98, if not less.
This is one of those annoying picky reviews I know. We didn't have a bad time, it just wasn't great. Still intrigued by all that British tapas we heard about...
This is an old post off my last blog site which I've moved here as I think it's still pretty relevant for people out there who want to do what I did.... so here goes...
For those of you out there considering a career change, it is a rather important question because really what is the best way to become a professional chef and gain respected employment in the industry? What training do you choose and how much money do you spend?
Let’s start from the beginning - food is your life and that niggling feeling you should be sacking in everything to pursue it full time won't go away so you decide to just. do. it. No matter how many people tell you otherwise.
Having researched all routes into the Chef world, I settled on two schools and needed to make a quick decision to get signed up. This was no mean feat, because in London there are two main contenders, and for each the cost is astronomic. Tante Marie and Leiths, both of which last year in 2013 you were looking to pay around £15,000 in fees alone. Couple that with rent prices in London and you soon realise that to survive a 6 month course you are facing probably another five grand in rent in addition to any travel costs and god forbid, socialising and miscellaneous expenditure.
There is a cheaper course, but for that you are required to be under the age of 25 to hit criteria. Westminster Kingway offer NVQ Level 1, 2 and 3 along with a professional diploma, a selection of which you can undertake for under £4000.00. Sadly, I couldn't, but even if I could, I'd be reluctant because when you search for the best cookery schools in the country you get a list that looks like this:
§ Tante Marie
§ Le Cordon Bleu
§ Ashburton Cookery School
§ Newlyns Cookery School
§ Orchards Cookery
§ Blackheath Cooks
Tante Marie and Leiths are regularly heralded as the best, so far as my research concluded.
Based in Woking - Surrey, around a 20 minute train journey from Clapham Junction. Marginally cheaper fees but once you factor in transport the effect of this saving is negligible. A longstanding outfit offering Le Cordon Bleu, before Le Cordon Bleu school set up in the UK thus meaning it’s the only school outside of Le Cordon Bleu where you can get A Cordon Bleu diploma. I don’t expect this translates to a significant benefit, it’s simple terminology but that might mean something in the future. The style is very classic, a hands on approach with 70 / 80% practical cooking time. A 2 day course in wine and spirits, small classes and the two term diploma assumes no prior knowledge starting your training from scratch.
Based in Hammersmith – London. Higher fees, bigger brand – household name. The purveyors of a fine range of Asda taste the difference goods developed by the school itself. Contemporary looking food and an ultra-modern school. Larger classes and a lower rate of 50% practical cooking time, allowing for demonstrations as a learning tool. Visits to Billingsgate and Smithfields are organised perks as well as gaining a WSET certificate. Larger classes and should you wish to undertake the two term intensive diploma then since the course does not start from scratch, depending on your cookery experience you may be required to undertake lessons with a private chef, at a cost, to ensure that you are at a base standard when you start the course.
Update: Despite writing this over a year and a half ago, I understand the merits and drawbacks to be the same. I ended up at Tante Marie.
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