In between festivals at the mo – returned from a new one for me; The Good Life Experience up in beautiful Hawarden, Flintshire, North Wales. Bloody wow – was actually and genuinely fantastic. Just waiting for some pics to come through and I’ll post a bunch on here and plonk in some more wordage. Aldeburgh coming up this weekend – got a demo and a host of workshops so that should keep me outta trouble for a day or two.
I normally don’t do Burns Night, seeing as we’re English and all but I’ve recently been well into haggis and all its faggoty, brawny cousins (that’s probably the only time I’ll say the last bit of that sentence). The idea of using bits that normally end up in the bin is very appealing from both a chef’s viewpoint and also from someone very much aware of the vast array of costs involved in running a catering business.
We got in half a dozen hares the other day – in fur and with guts intact. I’m somewhat of an wannabe amateur taxidermist (in that I’d like to do it just haven’t got past the stage of having a bunch of semi cured skins & hides stored all over). Taking out the innards is something that gleefully involves all the senses (i.e. it’s very bloody smelly) and as I pulled out the pluck (the heart, lungs and liver, a gory bundle that comes out in one ‘pluck’) I got to thinking that perhaps I should use it up. So I did. And the results are below. I don’t make stock from hare bones as the resulting liquid (and aroma) is very pungent and makes for a similarly strong tasting sauce/stew that doesn’t appeal to many not currently incarcerated for weird fetishes. And I was thinking that maybe the innards would result in something not particularly tasty. But, as is often the case, I was wrong!
Here’re the main bits – liver (the dark red stuff), heart (the heart shaped bit) and the lungs (slightly lighter in colour). Trim any sinewy bits, pipes and gristle off, I scrape the membrane from the liver with a knife. Once trimmed this came to 825g.
Next up – bung it in a pan with water, bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes.
The lungs are the bits floating on top stir it a few times during the cook and they’ll be fine.
Meanwhile melt a big knob of butter and sweat off some diced onion (260g or one big onion).
Get the other ingredients ready – oatmeal or oats (320g), spices – white & black pepper (2 tbs each),
ground ginger 1 tsp), cardamom (1 tsp), ground mace (1 tsp), ground coriander (2 tbs), suet (150g).
Add some rabbit loin (320g), fine diced by hand – or you can use minced lamb (or beef).
Blitz up the cooked bits, strain the liquor off and add some to the mix (700ml). Mix the whole lot together.
If you can get hold of a beef bung (or lamb’s stomach) to encase it then great. But you don’t generally eat that bit so for ease I use foil. Lay out a sheet of foil, lay a sheet of cling film over this and spoon the mixture onto it on the edge closest to you. Roll it up carefully and evenly, tucking the edge over the haggis and pulling it towards you – you wanna try and get it as tight as possible. Once it’s wrapped up twist the ends like a cracker, it should feel nice & tight. Then, bung it in a simmering pan of water, about 15 minutes should do it. If you use traditional casings then it can burst if you’ve packed it too tightly – this way the ends slowly twist open as it expands.
At this point the thing’ll be cooked! Open it up, fry it off a bit in butter if you like it with crispy bits – or just spread it onto some lush bread and eat. Bloody awesome with some mango chutney. The pepper gives it a lovely bite with gentle heat afterwards, the meat itself isn’t gamey or offensive at all. Feed it to your loved one/s and watch the delight on their faces. Just don’t tell them it’s Hare Haggis until afterwards.
Argentine Asado in Somerset, July 2016
T’was from the edge of Exmoor Forest that I got the initial call from Dan – ‘I’m getting married in July, I have a herd of Aberdeen Angus, can you roast me a whole cow please?’
I happen to have cooked a fair few hog roasts, dug pit roasts and built various other Heath-Robinsonesque contraptions intended to re-create caveman style food but without any of the murderous dysentery that would have undoubtedly been a key feature of neanderthal social occasions.
As we were chatting about the pros & cons of trying to successfully roast a whole 300kg animal it became clear fairly early on that there weren’t actually any pros (except for the potential YouTube revenue to be gained from a napalmed cow with an hysteric bride in the background being comforted by 250 ravenous wedding guests). And an awful load of cons. So we talked ourselves into an asado. An asado basically being a whole animal, or at least a large portion of one, speared on a crucifix which is stuck in the ground in front of a fire and roasted. Allegedly this is what the gauchos of Argentina did to amuse themselves on those lonely evenings before Brokeback Mountain came out. So after whipping ourselves up into a meaty frenzy* (*see previous sentence) it was agreed that we’d do that & I’d see him on the day..
So after spending considerable time on the internet researching asado – I came up with a design. A 2.5m diameter steel ring upon which 6 8′ high crucifixes could be mounted – each of these could be angled and fixed at varying heights above the fire using either a handheld longhook or a mechanical winch (which looked way cooler). Each crucifix had 2 crossbars that could be slid up and down the length and then fixed to the main bar. So that was fine when the meat was resting on the metal over the fire but the trick was gonna be how to fix it when it came to spinning it around 180 and cooking the underside. For this I had 6 metal grids made and a bunch of vicious looking metal skewers – each about 3.5′ long with the idea being to thread the skewers through the grid, then the meat and back through the grid again, making sure the main bar was also affixed by the skewer.
Meat-Free evening at The Tap
Thursday 31st March 2016
Fancy an evening of lovely vegetarian food? This is one of our take-over nights. This will be the only menu running, the price is £25 per head. And it’s platter-style food – so each table gets each course sequentially, on a platter. A kind of mezze/tapas-y affair. There’s no choosing, just sit down, enjoy the company and wait for the food to arrive. It’s all 100% veggie (not necessarily vegan though – that’s for another date..). Starts from 730. Please book though – 01473 225501 or mail me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here’s the menu. It’s in my traditional not-loads-of-info style.
Stuffed olives & breadsticks
Crispy egg crostini, cured beetroot
Roasted jerusalem artichoke spudbomb, harissa mayonnaise
Baby leeks in Dijon vinaigrette, vegemite & hazelnut puff pastry, mascarpone
Aubergine bisteeya pie
Wild garlic, leek & prune zeppole
Turkish coffee muhallabeya
Muscat saffron tart, pomegranate & papaya curd
Planning the new menu for Cult always seems to involve some slightly bizarre wordplay. Not only does it confuse the hell out of customers, it also annoys the front house staff. What I believe is called a ‘win-win’.
Trying to inject a good, broad balance of dishes is always blummin’ tricky. From looking at sales figures of previous favourites, GPs, customer & staff suggestions, the logistics of serving and the logistics of actually cooking the dish all factor heavily. I usually go through the politically correct motions and then when no-one’s looking change it back to how I wanted it in the first place.
On the shamefully rare occasions I eat out I’d always plump for a series of smaller dishes over the traditional starter/main/dessert – mainly because the latter fills me to bursting. This of course doesn’t stop me ordering the equivalent quantity of smaller dishes until I’m bursting. It just makes my brain feel like I have more control. I can stop when I want.
Anyhow, gyoza are nearly up there on a par with sushi for me. The izakayas in Kagoshima, popping up from behind shuttered shopfronts was another one of those ‘ooh,-I’d-better-remember-this-’cause-it’s-brilliant’ moments. Nearly always manned by the owner flying solo – serving cold Japanese lager on draught whilst simultaneously rolling gyoza dumplings, frying & steaming them was spellbinding. Such a great way of wasting a night (for a seaman waiting for a flight home) – order (of course, I mean point and hold fingers up) a plate of three gyoza with a glass of chilled, people watch and chef watch for a bit and then go again. That’s something I’d love to recreate at Cult. The bit about one man doing it all is pushing it a bit though.
The momofuku bit comes from Japan & the inventor of the instant noodle via New York’s David Chang (of, funnily enough, Momofuku, Milk, Ssam and so on). On the menu I’ve recreated the Pot Noodle (a fave from my teenage student years) using rice noodles which gives me enough license to call it Plov Noodle (a nod to the classic Uzbeki Plov – a rice pilaf dish). So, to explain the clumsy pun shoehorned onto a menu in Suffolk, England, we now have a phrase from one of the best movies ever ‘Izakaya, Momofuku!!’, otherwise pronounced ‘Yippee Ki Yay, Motherfucker’ – recently voted #96th best movie line ever. Die Hard,1988.
Probably my fave streety type food – I first got into sushi back in Queenstown, NZ. At the time there were a lot of Japanese there and a couple of sushi places opened up. We used to grab a takeout sushi in a polystyrene box and was probably the first time I’d had it. The way the separate components make up something way more than the sum of it’s parts was a eureka moment for me. There are few things that I feel a high from. This is definitely one of them.
Aaaah, the Junkaloo! It’s over. Almost a whole 9 days worth of planning went into it and by God, it showed. We had Morrismen, extreme unicyclists, a zoo roadshow, plenty of fab Suffolk food & drink producers, Aspall mulled cyder and apple bobbing. The Dogs-that-look-like-their-Owners competition provided welcome respite in the face of all that entertainment.
And then the highlight of the event & the reason so many people were there – the World Pickled Egg Championships. Eggs had wung their way to us from all four corners of the Suffolk (plus one from Florida and one from Poland no less). Giving us an impressive 21 entries!!
Judging this year were the Downright Honourable Wayne Bavin of Town 102 fame, Henry Chevallier of Aspall, Rebecca Smithers from The Grauniad AND Ben Gummer. And after much cogitation blah blah blah the winner was announced – Mr Ollie Farrar of Ipswich no less! Hurrah!!! – with the impressive Khmer Soused Duck & Quail Egg. And then the music came and we all got drunk. The End.
Where have all the bloody chefs gone? I’m now in a position where I have 2 operations – each with a team of 5 full time chefs – Head, sous, cdps. I had been advertising and looking for a head chef for over a year – good money, good conditions, great opportunity to progress and learn. The pickings were meagre – the amount of cv ‘fluffage’ is staggering, how someone thinks they can fictionalise their cv and not get found out once they get into the kitchen is beyond me. OK, everyone enhances their resume to some extent – but not that far. It’s like me applying for a software developer job, copying and pasting crap onto my cv and then getting the job. I’d get found out as soon as I asked where the on button was.
But what is more worrying is the lack of skills of cdp level chefs coming through, not to mention the lack of passion. It feels like training colleges are placing too much emphasis on the paperwork aspect (inc health & safety). Perhaps it’s because too many kids are opting for catering for the obligatory stay-in-education-until-you’re-18 rule, consequently using up all the creative air and lecturer time that the kids who are genuinely interested in the industry should be getting.
The culture of chain outfits is also to blame – chefs coming through having spent a year or so in one of these places have bugger all skills – minimal knife skills because of the dumbing down process. I know how difficult and frustrating it is to get chefs to turn up on time, in uniform and with a can-do attitude. Let alone give a monkey’s about the food they’re producing. So to try to make the process simpler and less fuck-up-able is very tempting. Even more so if the bottom line is your main concern. If I was any kind of businessman I’d be buying in portion bags and reducing the skill level as much as I could in the kitchen. But I’m not in it for that. I and many other chefs run food businesses because they love doing it and are proud of the operations they run. To have customers rave about your food or staff actually enjoy working for you is an amazing experience.
Michelin and those at the top of their game are great drum beaters but without the book deals, tv, appearances that go with it even they find it very hard to consistently earn enough money for it to be worth it. Especially as it’s such a personality led environment and after 20 or 30 years of it even the most resilient chef will be questioning him or herself.
There needs to be a reason why kids get into cooking and the industry. To teach a youngster and see the look on their face when they master a technique or come out the other side of a crazy busy service is a buzz. That needs to be a major goal and a strong reason for people to come into the industry. I’m more than happy to speak at colleges & schools and to give my time to get in a training kitchen with young chefs. Not just to train and show chef skills but to try and get across the passion, enjoyment and life experience that the industry can give. I’ve worked all over the world cooking and have had a bloody great time.There is a worrying lack of talent coming through and speaking to colleagues it’s not just me that’s feeling it either.
But I think that all these factors aren’t the root cause, they’re just a by-product of the industry as a whole. It’s a massively important industry to the country and it feels like this isn’t recognised anywhere near enough. We took The Brewery Tap on in 2009, pretty much at the start of the recession and despite that, it’s managed to grow year on year. This bucks the trend but it’s not through having a big pit of money to throw at it – every time the VAT bill came in we struggled and wondered how we were going to find the cash. Getting hit with unexpected bills constantly – floods, electrics, gas legislation, robberies really takes it toll and many’s the time I’ve trawled the recruitment ads thinking I’m done with running a business.
Money. Unfortunately it’s very hard to make enough money in this industry. The number of catering businesses constantly falling by the way is clear evidence of that. Money divides the industry into 2 camps – those that use it as their chief motivator (generally at the expense of other aspects such as skills, quality, creativity, advancement) and those that don’t.
I don’t know that there’s a solution. But what is clear is that it’s not a level bain marie. I really believe the VAT issue needs to be addressed to even things up a bit. A reduced rate for ‘out-of-home’ meals would help. Duty on alcohol adjusted perhaps so that there’s not such a disparity between off-license prices in supermarkets and retaurants. Blah blah. Rant over.
At The Brewery Tap on Thursday 27th November 2014. Mmmm.
Mersea oysters, sweet & sour fennel, tarragon oil
Snail stew with sweet pickled onions & oxtail sauce,
Pig’s ear fritters, pickled walnuts, caper hollandaise
Roast monkfish, speck, cauliflower puree, potted shrimp
Wild seabass, lambs tongue, red haricot beans &
Mallard breast, sticky rice, kimchee, soy
Goat loin wellington, guineafowl liver parfait, redcurrant jelly, fondant potato,
ruby port butter sauce.
Grilled calvados pineapple chop
Baron Bigod & Suffolk Blue Peronelle’s skewers