Category Archives: General

Argentine Asado in Somerset, July 2016



 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.


 

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Rant – where have all the chefs gone?

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.

Squid Jeddah with khubz

 Squid Jeddah with khubz

Squid Jeddah, khubz
Here comes a recipe. The first one on here – I’ll attempt to take more pics of the ‘before’ process as I go on. Right, Squid Jeddah, firstly I made the name up, it’s not a famous Red Sea recipe, so don’t go saying ‘ah, yah, I always insist on Squid Jeddah when I’m cruising the corniche’. As you may be considered some kinda eejit. That being said it does draw on some Arabic threads and is a fab alternative to the seared, salt & pepper squid that seems to be on every bloody menu.

A note on squid – it used to be a pretty cheap product but since the advent of the tellychef and 24/7 food programming, squid has become cool, meaning expensive. 2 ways to cook it really – really quick or pretty slow. If you’re shallow or deep frying it it needs only a few seconds – any longer than that and it’ll tighten up and turn into the chewy rubberbands most people remember from their hols. Try and get the small to medium size squid (the main tube up to about 15cm long). Any bigger than this and they start to get pretty thick and only suitable for slower cooking.
This will feed 4 as a main (add some rice or couscous) or 6/8 as a starter.

 

3k of fresh squid, that should turn into around 2k of ready to cook loveliness when it’s been trimmed. Cut the tubes into manageable, one bite mouthful size pieces. If the tentacles are large, cut them in half.
10 cloves garlic – half really thinly slices, half mashed
8 shallots, peeled (make sure you take it down the nice bits – no tough layers). Cut into quarters.
100g of pitted olives
1 aubergine, cut into dice sized  pieces
3 medium heat chillies, jalapeno work fine – take the seeds out and fine dice the flesh. Works well with a little heat but the seeds would smash it
500ml water
3 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 level teaspoon ground cumin
60g dark sugar
4oz banana chilli ketchup
4oz flaked almonds

 

Rightio: splash a little oil in a heavy bottomed pan. Bring to a good heat and throw in the shallots, move them around for a coupla minutes until they’ve started to brown in places. Add the aubergine – shake it around for a coupla mins again. Add the squid, garlic, cumin & chilli. Give it another 4 mins of moving around.

Throw in the olives, soy & sugar, stir till dissolved, add the water & whack a lid on it. Bring it to a simmer and leave it for half an hour. The squid will have turned all lovely and tender. Take the lid off, twonk the heat up and add the ketchup, stir in and reduce until the stew is er, ‘stew like’, taste and add some sea salt if you think it needs it. Chuck the almonds in, take off the heat and get ready to serve it.

This makes a fab meal in itself or just as a starter. Add some rice to the bowl if you need the carbs. I like to serve it with a rolled up khubz (Arabian for bread but generally means a pita like bread). The version I like with this is a batter-like bread spread onto a non stick pan with a spatula and cooked like a crepe, but that’s for another recipe…

Dig Deep

Dig Deep

Dig Deep Ultra Sept 2014
Dig Deep Ultra Sept 2014

 

Haha. This is me doing my first Ultra marathon – the Dig Deep Suffolk Tour 2014 back in September. Not being the skinniest runner around I, unsurprisingly, found walking pretty hard after the terribly slow 12 & a half hours it took me to complete the 50 miles. Instead of the usual ‘never bloody again’ stage I instead skipped straight to the ‘why don’t I do some more’ stage. Met some fab people and found out there’s a whole social calendar full of ridiculously long runs. SO will try and bash out some better times next year. Nipguards are a wondrous invention.