Friday, 27 November 2009

Recipe: home made garlic bread

Using a bridge roll to make a mini-garlic loaf is such an obvious idea that I'm sure someone's thought of it already, but I haven't seen a recipe anywhere for it. In theory, you could use any compound (flavoured) butter for this but just make sure the flavours will match what your going to serve it with. A bit of cheese in the mix would be nice, but chilli, coriander and lime would be just plain weird

Garlic mini-loaves

serves 4

4 white bridge or finger rolls
10 cloves of garlic, finely minced or grated on a microplane grater
25g parsley, leaves picked from the stalks and finely chopped
250g butter, softened

Mix the garlic and parsley with the softened butter then form into a thick sausage by wrapping in cling film and twisting the ends like a Christmas cracker. Chill in the fridge or freeze (this will make far more butter than you'll need for the recipe but its very handy to have around for melting over steaks or grilled fish).

Slice the rolls at an angle from top to bottom four times, but don't cut completely through. Place a slice of the chilled butter (if frozen, use a serrated bread knife to cut through it) into each of the roll's four "pockets" then wrap the rolls in foil. Bake in a hot oven (200°C) for 10 minutes, then open the foil parcels and bake for a further five minutes for a crisp finish. Serve with pizza or pasta, or just gorge on them straight from the oven with a glass of wine or beer.

Gordon Ramsay's God-awful year

Gordon Ramsay's 2009 annus has been nothing short of horribilis. Following allegations in late 2008 of a seven year long extra marital affair, Ramsay seems to have endured nothing but bad news ever since. That could well have something to do with the fact that he split from his publicist Gary Farrow in January, but even if Fleet Street has declared open season on him, most of the stories centre around Ramsay's troubled business empire and declining TV popularity rather than his apparently messy personal life.

In April, Ramsay made the front pages of the tabloids for selling pre-prepared food in his pubs after castigating restaurateur Mick Martin for doing the same thing in an episode of Kitchen Nightmares aired in January. In June, he was described by the Australian Prime Minister as "a new form of low life" after the chef insulted TV host Tracy Grimshaw by comparing her to a pig. Then in July, it was announced that profits for the group had plunged by 90%.

The Ramsay group has lost three senior staff this year including Gillian Thomson, head of operations in May, chief financial officer Nick Fletcher who departed in “mysterious” circumstances (according to the Caterer) over the summer, and in November right hand man Mark Sergeant left to become “creative director” of the Swan Collection. If you believe scurrilous industry gossip (which of course I don't), there are more high profile walk outs on the way.

In October the Ramsay Scholarship was scrapped due to lack of funding and his Kitchen Nightmares TV series was put on hold due to a lack of restaurants willing to take part (hardly surprising given Ramsay's own recent business track record and the number of restaurants featured on the show including Ruby Tates and Momma Cheri's that subsequently closed).

The new series of the F Word attracted just 1.8million viewers, less than a documentary about black holes on the BBC. Subsequent episodes have been pushed back an hour to a 10pm slot and re-edited to appeal to a more foodie audience. To add insult to injury, sales of Gordon's gin, for which Ramsay acts as poster boy were reportedly down by 3%.

In addition, Ramsay has closed a Maze restaurant in Prague and “handed back control” of both his LA restaurant and Gordon Ramsay au Trianon, the latter only weeks after it had won two Michelin stars. He also appears to be no longer involved with Cielo by Angela Hartnet in Florida, although the restaurant appears still to be trading.

No official announcement has been made but the restaurant has disappeared from his website (the same strategy was used when La Noisette closed, see Ramsay Roulette for details. And it now seems that the La Noisette site in Sloane Street has also been quietly withdrawn as an events/functions space as that too has gone from GordonRamsay.com).

Now comes the news of winding-up petitions by the Inland Revenue and Customs against Gordon Ramsay Plane Food and Maze Ltd (petitions against The Narrow pub and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay were dismissed as debts had been cleared by the time the case went to court). If the outstadning tax debts aren't cleared, the restaurants will be closed and assets sold off.

Its perhaps not surprising that Plane Food in Heathrow's troubled Terminal 5 is struggling, but Maze is critically acclaimed and by all accounts one of Ramsay's busiest establishments. Despite the closure of the Prague franchise, there are Maze restaurants in New York and Cape Town with Melbourne and Doha to follow next year.

So while Ramsay can shrug off failures such as the ill fated La Noisette, closure of the original London Maze would come as quite a blow. Sauce PR however have issued a typically ebullient statement, saying that, "In the summer, Gordon Ramsay Holdings (GRH) announced a restructuring of the businesses' finances following short-term cash-flow problems. The company announced it was repaying debts, but it would be a process that would take several months. In the High Court... the judge accepted this was the position and dismissed two of the petitions on the basis the debts had been cleared. She also gave GRH further time to settle the other two debts."

Ramsay might at this very moment be sitting somewhere quiet, newly botoxed head in hands, rocking back and forth, weeping silently, but somehow I doubt it. If Ramsay isn't simply whistling in the dark, and his entire business empire doesn't come tumbling down around his ears before the new year, the gob from Glasgow looks set to soldier on into 2010.

Early next year (the date previously announced on the website of 11 January seems to have evaporated into the ether) the new Petrus is scheduled to open a matter of yards from the Berkeley Hotel in Knightsbridge where Ramsay protégé Marcus Wareing runs his eponymous restaurant that was formerly known as - yes you guessed it - Petrus.

Even if it is just a very expensive FU to Wareing (the pair had a spectacular falling out in 2008 after being inseparable for years, see Ramsay Roulette for details), it will undoubtedly be one of the highest profile openings of the year.

A new, critically acclaimed fine dining restaurant could go a long way to rehabilitating Ramsay's reputation as a serious restaurateur. With apparently dwindling appeal as a TV celebrity chef, it could be exactly what he needs to take him into the second act of his undeniably fascinating career.


Easterhouse - Whistling In The Dark (Official Music Video) - The top video clips of the week are here

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Hot dog, Ludlow slog, Abergavenny

Game consommé with bacon cream and a small game hot dog at Phil Howard and Rebecca Mascarenhas's new Kitchen W8 restaurant in Kensington is quite obviously The London Dish of The Moment and anyone who doesn't realise that is a fucking idiot, probably.

Do you think they'll put that on the reviews page of their website? It would look good next to Andy "Limpest Passive Aggressive Handshake in the Known Universe" Hayler's "Phil Howard does seems to have the magic touch" quote wouldn't it?

For those who haven't tried it (the hot dog, not shaking hands with Andy Hayler), it's "an intensely flavoured consommé based on grouse, venison, pheasant and mallard, topped with a rich, velvety foam. It is served with a small game hot dog, the sausage home-made and based on venison, hare and pork and it's topped with a sweet and sour “brown sauce” based on onions, spices, malt vinegar and beer." Sorry about all those "based-on"s but that's unedited (well this is a blog, I don't get paid for this you know) from the horses mouth. The baby foie gras potato served with grilled ox tongue and shallot purée is most definitely the Spud-I-Like.

Driving through torrential rain in the dark - for bloody hours - is not my idea of fun. But even The Shittest Journey couldn't take the shine off arriving back in Ludlow. I love the place and would probably move there if my wife didn't hate it with a furious passion (that probably has something to do with the fact that I forced her to take the annual family holiday there one year simply so that I could do a one day stage and eat at Shaun Hill's now legendary The Merchant House. Well, I enjoyed it).

Sadly The Merchant House is long gone (now a B&B), as is Hibiscus and apparently Mr Underhill's might not be long for this world, but don't tell anyone I told you that. So all we're left with is La Becasse. But that will do very nicely thank you. Will Holland is a very ambitious young Michelin starred chef and if you haven't heard of him before, you will very soon. He's in the rather spiffing new Yes, Chef!: 20 Great British Chefs 100 Great British Recipes book by Saturday Kitchen producer James Winter and James Bulmer, son of Derek of Michelin guide fame.

Dish of the night from the menu gourmand was the technically dazzling, rather unusual, but totally delicious confit leg and smoked loin of locally shot rabbit, foie gras terrine, passion fruit and celery salad, toasted brioche. I retired to my palatial suit at the charming De Grey's b&b a happy man and nodded off reading the Fat Duck Cookbook, which I've just review for foodepedia (did you see what I did there? Relentless self promotor, that's me).

After a bloody great bacon bap for brekkie and an interview with Chef Holland (coming to a publication near you soon, hopefully), it was time to get hopelessly lost trying to find The Walnut Tree Inn. I'd got hopelessly lost the last time I visited the place two years ago in order to interview the previously mentioned Shaun Hill for Restaurant magazine.

The restaurant is on the B4521, which is simple enough, except that in order to stay on the B4521 as you're driving away from Abergavenny town centre, you have to make a right into Grosvenor Road, otherwise your on the Hereford Road and heading in completely the wrong direction. One small problem - THE RIGHT TURN IS NOT FUCKING WELL SIGNPOSTED. What am I? Fucking psychic or something. OK, so I'd been there before, but that was two years and copious amounts of booze ago and my memory is not what it was. My memory is not what it was (boom, and further more, boom).

A good half an hour late and rather flustered, I was relieved to see a smiling Mr Hill waiting for me with a glass of champagne to calm me down (God, I hate being late). On my previous visit, the restaurant hadn't even opened so I was treated to a tasting with the brigade as the builders worked around us in the kitchen. This time I got a seat in the dining room and some of the best food I've had all year. The menu is a stunner; a list of everything you could possibly want to eat, and a few things you hadn't even thought of.

I toyed with the idea of ordering three starters (I was dining by myself) but Shaun isn't the type of chef to suffer that sort of foodie bullshit messing up his lunch service gladly, so I restricted myself to pheasant pudding with crisp sage and bacon (a sort of riff on quenelle de brochet; the tower of pheasant mousse filled with a hidden surprise of wild mushroom fricassee) followed by a sublime loin of Berkshire pork, belly and cheeks served with black pudding, mash and cabbage. Best of all however was an historically good muscat crème caramel with Agen prunes.

I joined Shaun for a chat in the bar after, and he was on his usual acerbic and hilariously undiplomatic form which made most of the conversation unrepeatable. It was a quiet Friday lunch but he was expecting to do around 160 covers the following day. "The only thing that gets me through it is knowing we're closed on Sunday and I won't have to do it all again the next day," he told me. But he also said that after 40 years in the business, he's never tired of the kitchen, "it's just all the other stuff I can't stand."


Saturday, 7 November 2009

Dusty in here

It's cold and dusty in here. I haven't looked in all summer, and now autumn is almost half over already. I've been busy, its true. But then I'm always busy. Writing, travelling, shopping, cooking, cleaning, drinking, sleeping; all the ings. Just not blogging.

I like to think I can blog for fun as a prelude to writing for money, just like Richard Herring does with Warming Up but it just doesn't work that way for me. I've only got so many words in me in any given day it seems.

But for the moment at least, I'm back. I do an awful lot of stuff that I never blog about, mainly because I've got other plans for it, or I hope to use the experiences for other outlets and I don't want to piss it away. So it's finding stuff that's appropriate for Kitchen Person that's the problem.

Earlier this year I blogged quite regularly about my training schedule for the Galvin Tower Race that took place in Hyde Park back in June. In the end, I didn't participate. I was nowhere near fit enough and a minor health scare the week before was enough to deter me. Since then I've let my training slip completely and I'm nearly, although not quite, back to square one. I don't know what I'm going to do about that at the moment, but I'll have to do something I suppose.

Going forward (I'd never write something as redundant as "going forward" if I was being paid, but as this is my blog I'm going to be lazy and start a sentance with the phrase. "Thinking outside box" coming to this blog soon) I've got a handful of new recipes to post (which I record mainly for my own use; this blog has become a very useful way of capturing dishes that I create on the hoof and would otherwise probably never cook again), and I'm back on the road next week after two weeks of jury service which has kept me in Brighton. So maybe I'll post something or other about London, Ludlow and Abergavenny in autumn. The world holds its breath I'm sure.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Recipe: Return of the mash

In the 90's flavoured mash was all the rage. From Simon Hopkinson's “saff mash” flavoured with saffron to the ubiquitous olive oil mash, you couldn't get away from the stuff. These days, its not quite so common, probably because most chefs would rather spend their time figuring out how to palm off their kitchen scraps as a £100 “degustation menu” than make a decent plate of food. Or if they're not above serving good grub, then the St John school of new puritanism demands that mash tastes of potato and nothing else.

So lets turn back the clock and remember a time when making a pot of mash meant open season on every herb, spice and condiment under the sun. This is a fairly restrained version, but utterly delicious none the less. An optional addition of a handful of finely chopped chives would add a little colour and subtle onion flavour that will work well with the dish.

The ratio of water and salt to potato was given to me by Tim Payne, ex-Marco Pierre White head chef and it works a treat. By measuring out the water and salt instead of simply guessing, you can ensure the potatoes don't take too long to come to the boil and therefore won't overcook, and that they'll be perfectly seasoned too.

Parmesan and mustard mash

serves 4

1kg floury potatoes, peeled and diced
1 litre cold water
10g salt
50g grated Parmesan
150ml double cream
1 dessert spoon Dijon mustard

Bring the potatoes to the boil in the water and salt and simmer until cooked through. Drain and return to the heat for a few minutes to dry out the potatoes. Pass through a potato ricer or mash until smooth. Combine the cheese, cream and mustard and heat gently until the cheese has completely melted then stir into the mashed potato. Serve with sausages, grilled meat or fish.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Recipe: Gratin of spring greens, mushrooms and squash

Bechamel isn't exactly a cutting edge sauce. You're unlikely to find it on the menu at el Bulli, but it should be an invaluable part of every home cook's repertoire. Your lasagne would look pretty sick without for a start. Here, it unifies three dispirate vegetables into a coherent dish that you can use to accompany any roast or grilled meat, or even fish. Serve it with homemade bread for a delicious vegetarean lunch.

The best way to get maximum flavour into your bechamel is to infuse the warmed milk with parsley, thyme, bay and peppercorns for an hour or so, then strain before stirring into a roux base. In the recipe, I've used a short cut by simply adding the herbs and peppercorns to the sauce while it simmers as the flour cooks out. Not quite as good, but it works fine if you're in a bit of a hurry. The teaspoon of mustard powder gives the sauce just that extra little kick of flavour.

Use all the spring greens, including the outer leaves. Just wash them very well and cut out the tough central stalks. The fleshy leaves add body and texture to the gratin.

Gratin of spring greens, mushrooms and squash


serves four as a side dish, two as a main course

350g spring greens, washed, central stalks removed and sliced into 1 inch strips
1 small butternut squash, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon butter
2 dessertspoons olive oil
3 sprigs of thyme
300g button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
salt and pepper
150g Parmesan cheese

for the sauce

55g butter
40g plain flour
1 teapsoon English mustard powder
568ml full cream milk
150ml double cream
5 parsley stalks
2 springs of thyme
5 black peppercorns

Blanch the spring greens in plenty of boiling salted water until just wilted (about one minute) then drain, refresh under cold water and set aside. Saute the squash one tablespoon of butter and a dessert spoon of oil until lightly coloured then add the thyme sprigs and transfer to a hot oven until cooked through which should take about 15 minutes. in the meantime, saute the mushrooms in the remaining butter and oil until they give off all their liquid and take on some colour.

For the sauce, melt the butter in a pan then stir in the flout until it forms a smooth roux mixture. Add the cold milk a little at a time, stirring to avoid any lumps. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a low simmer and add the cream, herbs and peppercorns. Cook gently for 20 minutes to cook out the flour. Add more milk if the sauce is too thick.

In a greased baking dish, combine the all the vegetables and season well with the salt and pepper. Strain over the sauce and mix through well. Grate over the Parmesam cheese and bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until brown and bubbling.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Recipe: Mushroom and butternut squash risotto

This is yet another recipe created with "found food" (i.e. stuff leftover from other dishes)from the fridge. To my surprise, the kids loved it so its become a regular standby for the weekly menu planning session, especially if I'm runing out of inspiration.

You've no doubt read a million and one risotto recipes (my personal fav is risotto of radicchio, Taleggio and red wine from Anthony Demetre's wonderful book Today's Special) so I won't bore you by going on about technique, except to say that a chef once told me to cook the rice grains in the butter until the take on a tiny bit of colour and very lightly toast. It not only improves the flavour of the finished dish, but gets the cooking process off to a flying start so the grains will absorb the cooking liquid more quickly and easily. It's a nice little tip that I don't recall seeing written down before so I'm passing it on here now.

Mushroon and butternut squash risotto


serves 4

2 tablespoons of butter
2 dessert spoon of olive oil
1 small butternut squash, peeled and chopped into small cubes
3 sprigs of thyme
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
300g of mixed mushrooms such as ceps, girolle and chestnut
500g arborio rice
150ml white wine
2.5 litres of simmering vegetable stock
125g grated parmesan cheese plus 50g to grate over the finished dish
handful of chives, very finely sliced
salt and pepper

Cook the butternut squash in a tablespoon of butter and dessertspoon of the oil in an oven proof saute pan until coloured. Scatter over the thyme sprigs and transfer to a hot oven (180 degrees C) until tender, about 15 minutes.

Sweat the onion in a tablespoon of the butter and a dessertspoon of the oil until soft and translucent. Add the mushrooms and cook for a minute or two then add the garlic. Cook until the mushrooms have given up all of their liquid, then add the rice. Cook until lightly toasted then pour in the wine and cook until completely absorbed/evaporated. Add the simmering stock a ladle at a time, stirring the risotto all the time. When the rice is just cooked through, stir in the squash, cheese and chives and season well with the salt and pepper. Serve immeadiately in warm bowls, and grate over the remaining cheese.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Recipe: Smoked haddock fishcakes, parsley sauce

A simple dish, but one that requires your full attention over serveral stages and different cooking techniques including poaching, boiling, shallowing frying and sauce making so make sure you allow enough time to get it all done. The fishcakes and sauce are ideal for freezing so double the recipe and you'll be more than repaid for your efforts.

I prefer shop bought breadcrumbs for this recipe; they just produce a better tasting and better looking result. Plus they don't absorb as much oil as fresh homemade crumbs would do. I've got a drum of Paxo breadcrumbs in my cupboard, but feel free to use the more fancy panko variety if you like; they do produce a beautifully crunchy result.

Smoked haddock fishcakes, parsley sauce

serves four

for the fishcakes

1 pint full cream milk
600g undyed smoked haddock
1 bay leaf
5 black peppercorns
1kg red skin potatoes, peeled and diced
1 drum of Paxo breadcrumbs
2 eggs
200g plain flour
salt and pepper
vegetable oil

for the sauce

55g butter
40g tablespoon plain flour
milk reserved from poaching the haddock
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
25g flat leaf parsley, leaves picked from the stem and finely chopped
salt and pepper

Put the haddock in a large pan and cover with the milk. Add the bay and peppercorns, cover the pan with a lid and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and let the pan sit for 4 minutes. Remove the fish from the milk (which should be strained and reserved for the sauce)then skin, bone and flake the flesh and set aside.

Put the diced potaotes in a large pan, cover in cold water, bring to the boil, add a generous pinch of salt and cook until tender. Drain, return to the heat to dry out the potatoes then mash until smooth. Fold in the fish and season with salt and pepper and allow to cool.

Form the mixture into eight equal sized balls, flatten slightly then pane them by tossing them first in the flour, then the egg and finally the breadcrumbs. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

To make the sauce, melt the butter in a pan, add the flour and stir until amalgamated and slightly coloured. Whisk in the milk bit by bit until you have a smooth sauce. Cook over a low heat for 20-30 minutes until thickened. Add the mustard, parsley and season with salt and pepper.

Heat about an inch of vegetable oil in a frying pan until hot and fry the fishcakes until golden brown on both sides. Transfer to a hot oven to cook through for five minutes.

Serve two fishcakes per person on a bed of wilted spinach with the sauce spooned around the plate.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Recipe: BLT - I did it my way

Leafing through Alfred Portale's Twelve Seasons Cookbook : A Month-by-Month Guide to the Best There is to Eat
gave me the inspiration for this dish. He's one of the few top ranking chefs that I know of that includes sandwich recipes in his books and 12 Seasons has a couple of crackers includng prociutto, pear, arugala and honey mustard, and grilled potato, Roquefort, red onion and smoked bacon (how good does that sound?). It set me thinking about how I could make that old favourite BLT into a main course.

I replaced white bread with griddled pain de campagne, spread with tomato compote (inspired by the heavenly tomato bruschetta served as a freebie at Theo Randall's excellent London restaurant) and topped with braised lettuce and a bacon chop instead of bacon rashers. I served the open sandwich with sweet potato wedges spiced with cumin, paprika and cayenne and a creme fraiche dip (actually Richard Corriagan's creme fraiche, olive oil, lemon and mint dressing from The Clatter of Forks and Spoons) which I had left over from the previous night's dinner, although I would recommend replacing the mint with basil for this dish.

Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato

serves 4

for the tomato compote

1 red onion finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
350g cherry tomatoes
salt and pepper
teaspoon caster sugar

for the braised lettuce

25g butter
4 spring onions, sliced
2 baby gem lettuces, trimmed and cut in half lengthways
200ml chicken stock
salt and pepper

4 bacon chops
freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

4 slices pain de campagne
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

For the tomato compote, heat the oil in a pan and saute the onion until soft but not coloured. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper and sugar and cook over a gentle heat until the tomatoes break down and form a sauce.

For the lettuces, heat the butter in a pan and sweat the spring onions until soft, add the lettuce and cook until slightly wilted, turning once. Pour over the stock and simmer over a gentle heat until the lettuce is tender.

Heat a griddle pan until smoking. Season the bread with salt and pepper and brush with the oil on both sides. Griddle until nicely coloured.

Season the chops with pepper and brush with oil and cook under a hot grill until the fat sizzles, turning once.

Place a slice of grilled bread on each plate, spread a quarter of the tomato compote on each and top with a lettuce quarter and finally a bacon chop.


Thursday, 14 May 2009

Tom Aikens profile: part three

That Aikens has emerged as a leading chef and restaurateur in one of the most competitive markets in the world is remarkable enough. But the achievement is all the more impressive when you learn that in 1999, his London career came to an abrupt and very public halt.

At the time, he was the 26 year old head chef of Pied a Terre in Fitrovia, the youngest ever to hold two Michelin stars. But a storm of bad publicity surrounding an alleged “branding” of a junior chef with a hot palette knife brought his career crashing down around him.

“The way it was handled in the press was just shocking; it was dealt with in a nonsensical way. I found myself thinking, “what am I going to do. No one in London wants to employ me.” It completely fucked my life up.”

Aikens says he had metamorphosised into his former bosses – a succession of Michelin starred chefs that included Pierre Koffmann at the then three starred La Tante Claire in Chelsea and the mercurial Richard Neat at Pied a Terre - absorbing not only their culinary knowledge, but also their worst traits. By the time he took over as head chef of Pied a Terre from Neat in 1996, he admits that he was a nightmare to work for.

“I was a complete control freak and I wanted to do everything myself to make sure it was right. When I look back I think I must have been bloody crazy to have that amount of pressure and stress.”

Aikens found refuge as private chef for the Bamford family, owners of JCB the construction and agricultural equipment company. Working on the family’s organic farm in Staffordshire and helping them set up their range of Daylesford Organic foods had a profound effect on Aikens subsequent career, not only influencing the ingredient-driven style of food at Tom’s Kitchen, but also providing the inspiration for Aikens own range of food.

“I’d always wanted to do something like Tom’s Kitchen,” says Aikens. “People’s tastes have changed and developed and simplified and so have mine. When I go out to eat, I want something very simple, easy and down to earth.”

Opened in November 2006 in a converted pub just a few hundred yards from Restaurant Tom Aikens, Tom’s Kitchen encompasses a ground floor restaurant, 1st floor bar and private dining rooms on the 2nd floor. A basement cold room for aging whole sides of meat is visible through glass panels in the floor of the main dining room.

Chunky wooden furniture, white tiled walls decorated with black and white portraits of Aikens’s suppliers and an open kitchen make for a buzzy atmosphere. The easy going menu puts the accent on meat with familiar and comforting dishes such as beef burgers, confit duck leg and sharing plates of côte de boeuf with big chips and béarnaise sauce and seven hour braised lamb shoulder with onions and balsamic vinegar.

Open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and Saturday brunch, the restaurant serves in excess of 2,000 covers a week. Its success has spawned a retail version in the food hall of the prestigious Selfridges department store in London’s Oxford Street, serving branded ready meal versions of some of the restaurant dishes as well as pies, pates, terrines, sauces, chutneys and a range of soups and sandwiches all prepared in a commissary kitchen in Bermondsey, south London.

“Having a brand is a powerful, powerful statement. Tom’s Kitchen has an image and portrays a story, and it’s a bloody fabulous name as well,” says Aikens, immodestly.

After a period of rapid expansion, Aikens appears to be taking time to consolidate his position. There will be more Tom’s Place restaurants, maybe in 2009, but his next confirmed opening won’t be until 2010 when a second Tom’s Kitchen restaurant will open in London’s Canary Wharf. In the meantime he’s writing his second cookbook Fish, due for publication in 2008 and there’s that much longed for second Michelin star for Restaurant Tom Aikens still to bag.

It’s a safe bet that, despite his chiselled- good looks, you won’t be seeing Tom Aikens attempt to dominate the TV schedules a la Gordon Ramsay; his natural reserve combined with an avowed disinterest in the medium will see to that. But don’t be surprised if there’s a sudden, unannounced flurry of activity from the Aikens camp in the near future.

“You only have a certain shelf life as a person and as a business before someone else comes along and tries to hustle in on the glory,” says Aikens. “Its very exciting and being part of it is great but in terms of longevity of the business who knows? Restaurants are very tricky animals – one day you can be flavour of the month, the next gone.”

Tom Aikens profile: part two

Although Aiken’s has focussed his attention on opening Tom’s Place, he rarely misses a service at his flagship restaurant. And that’s just where I find him at midday on a crisp Monday in December.

Striding into the kitchen, he asks the nearest kitchen porter for a cup of tea and then positions himself at the pass where his first job is to fire up his Apple Mac and check his e mail. Just because he has a dining room of customers to feed doesn’t mean he doesn’t mean he has to miss a business opportunity.

“I only began to think of myself as a businessman from January 2007,” says Aikens. “Until then I was still in essence in the kitchen “chopping onions”. That doesn’t happen anymore because I just don’t have the time. But I am here at lunch and dinner and that won’t change. When people come here they expect me to be here because my names above the door - it’s an important factor of the business.”

“Tom Aikens” the business currently employs around 160 people (including Aiken’s twin brother Robert as operations manager for Tom’s Kitchen restaurant and retail outlet) and is formally structured with a chairman, board of directors, shareholders and key managerial personnel including operations manager HR manager and finance department. Aikens even has his own PA to help him navigate the various demands now made on his time.

“Everyday is different,” says Aikens. “But generally speaking, I’m in the restaurant by 7.00am and I spend until 9.00am answering e mails doing PR and working on my book. Then I’ll go through the lunch menu with my head chef and take meetings until 11.00am. I’ll be in the kitchen for service until 2.30 – 3.00pm, then its back to e mails and meetings. I always go to the gym between 4.30-6.00pm - that’s my sane down time for me - but I make sure I’m in the kitchen by 7.00pm. I’ll be there until we finish, and then I’ll go to Tom’s Place and Tom’s Kitchen - never am I out of there before midnight.”

It’s a punishing schedule by any standards, but must seem like an easy ride to Aikens compared to the routine he endured for a year in the mid-90’s as a chef de partie in the kitchens of Joel Robuchon’s restaurant in Paris.

“I was working 20 hours a day. I’d be up at 4.30am and by ten to six I’d be in the kitchen. I’d have a half hour break in the afternoon and finish at 12.30 to 1.00am. Come Thursday, I’d have splitting headaches from the sleep depravation. It was horrendous.”

Restaurant Tom Aiken’s boldly elegant black and white design by Anouska Hempel helped set the 60 cover restaurant apart from its shades-of-beige fine dining competitors when it opened in April 2003. But it was Aikens no-holds-barred creativity that really put it in a category of its own. He decorated his plates Jackson Pollock style with countless jellies, foams and sauces, scattered micro greens with abandon and served lamb with sardines on toast.

Now, things have calmed down considerably. A meal at the restaurant remains a dazzling display of technique from an amuse bouche of beetroot gelee, beetroot foam and, foie gras mousse with diced cured venison, to the bewildering display of petit fours that includes tuiles, madelines, lime and earl grey chocolates and a variety of sweet mousses served on long handled spoons.

But dishes such as a richly satisfying starter of roast scallops with braised oxtail, black pudding parsnip puree, chicken boudin and red wine sauce display a renewed sense of the classical. “You grow up don’t you,” is Aikens simple, unguarded explanation for the change in style that has seen the restaurant attain a one star rising rating for the first time in the 2008 edition of the Michelin guide.

With a brigade of 14 chefs and 12 front of house staff on the payroll, Aikens admits that, despite charging £65 for a la carte and £100 for a “classic” seven course tasting menu, the restaurant isn’t hugely profitable.

“People imagine that because of the prices we charge and who we are, we’re making a lot of money, but gastronomic restaurants are a loss leader,” says Aikens.

Tom Aikens profile: part one

Tom’s Place in London’s upmarket Chelsea neighbourhood is no ordinary fish and chip shop. It’s nothing less than a radical eco-friendly, 21st century sustainable reinvention of a British institution. Although the suite of fryers and hot cupboards that you’ll find in any one of the UK’s 8,000-odd “chippies” are present and correct, the similarity to a standard takeaway ends there.

Opened in February 2008, the compact two storey premises features a striking retro design with high red plastic stools and chairs, marble effect counter tops and tables (all made from eco-friendly recycled materials) and a large electronic menu board instead of wasteful paper menus. The cutlery is made of biodegradable corn starch and all napkins, boxes and bags are made from recycled paper and cardboard.

But it’s on the plate where things get really interesting. Forget the usual suspects of haddock and plaice and think pollock, megrim sole and squid. Once you’ve tried the deep fried battered gurnard, you’ll never want to look poor old endangered cod in the eye again.

But perhaps all that innovation and creativity is what you’d expect from a fish and chip shop run by Tom Aikens, one of the UK’s most prodigiously talented chefs.

Since opening his eponymous fine dining restaurant in 2003, the 37 year old Aikens has quietly transformed himself from jobbing chef to catering entrepreneur. In addition to Restaurant Tom Aikens, his diverse portfolio currently encompasses modern bistro Tom’s Kitchen, a traiteur version of Tom’s Kitchen in the food hall of Selfridges department store, a partnership with leading contract caterers The Admirable Crichton and now the fish and chip shop.

“Tom’s Place is a completely different business from Tom Aikens or Tom’s Kitchen. Because it’s a fast food kind of thing I’ve made the whole atmosphere and theme a bit more lively and modern - put a bit more “umph” in it,” says Aikens.

Aikens has paid the meticulous attention to detail to the development of his fish and chip recipe that you’d expect from a Michelin starred chef.

“The process of getting the dishes to perfection has taken more time than you’d think. For our beer batter for example, we’ve played around with different types of flour, yeast, bottled and tap water, we even tried white wine. It’s taken a huge amount of trial and error to come up with the perfect recipe,” says Aikens.

So what is the perfect batter recipe? Aikens is not prepared to give away what he sees as his competitive edge. “We use particular flour and a particular mix to that of sparkling water and beer, and that’s all I’m going to say.”

The restaurant opens daily between 11 in the morning and 11 at night and serves up to 300 people a day, split between one third takeaway trade and two thirds eat in. Although customers have embraced the more unusual options such as grilled mackerel with beetroot and potato salad, cod (which accounts for just over 60% of all fish sold in fish and chip shops in the UK) has to be on the menu.

“Our cod is from the Pacific Ocean and meets the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Chain of Custody standard. That means we can trace it back to fisheries that have been certified as sustainable by the MSC,” says Aikens.

With the restaurant selling a ton of chips a week and limited kitchen space, Aikens has outsourced the basic prep of his carefully sourced Lincolnshire Maris Piper potatoes to his vegetable supplier, saving time and in house staff costs without sacrificing quality, a issue very close to Aikens heart.

“Everyone uses Maris Piper for chips, but we looked into the theory behind that before making our choice. They have the right amount of dry matter, which is the starch. The starch turns to sugar when it’s cooked, and that will then determine the colouration of your chip. You also need enough water in the potato to create the steam to give you the fluffiness but you don’t want it too wet otherwise it won’t crisp properly.”

Although Aikens agrees with the common choice of potato, he has eschewed the practice of blanching the chips from raw in oil and frying them once at a high temperature that often results in the classic British “soggy” chip.

“We steam the chips for between 8 and 10 minutes at 90ºC first, then blanch them in oil for 8 minutes at 148-152ºC and then fry them at 176ºC for 4-5 minutes.”

There’s traditional malt vinegar to douse your fish and chips with, but Aikens has gone the extra mile and provided complementary home made tomato ketchup (a richer and slightly sweeter tasting version than the most common commercial variety) and freshly made, and very delicious, tartar sauce.

The effort pays off by elevating the experience far above the fast food norm and justifying the slightly higher than usual price tag of £10.50 for cod and chips (compare to £7.69 at the famous Harry Ramsden’s chain fish and chip restaurants).

While the ground floor kitchen knocks out the deep fried menu items, French head chef Yves Girard is busy in the basement preparing pan fried and grilled fish including Cornish sardines on sourdough toast with shallot chutney and “bowl food” such moules marinière and bouillabaisse. It’s an embellishment to the traditional chippy completely in keeping with the chi-chi Chelsea neighbourhood that is home to all three of Aiken’s restaurants.

“I knew we couldn’t just do deep fried food because we’d be cutting off half our market here. You are always going to have people that want something light and easy like grilled fish,” says Aikens.



(NB - this article was written in February 2008. Tom's Place closed in August 2008)

Tom Aikens: bad timing

In October 2007, I was commission by Food Arts magazine in New York to write a profile of Michelin starred chef Tom Aikens. The idea was to chart Aikens' growth not only as a chef but as a business man too. At the time, Aikens not only had his eponymous flagship restaurant and the more casual Tom's Kitchen, but was about to open his upmarket fish and chip restaurant Tom's Place and was supplying Selfridges foodhall with a range of traiteur foods. A second branch of Tom's Kitchen had been mooted for Canary Wharf.

The research for the article turned out to be a protracted business and included a 90 minute interview with Aikens plus three hours stood at the pass in Restaurant Tom Aikens observing a hectic lunchtime service to get a feel for Aikens style both on the plate and in the kitchen. When the opening date for Tom's Place was put back from late 2007 to February 2008, I had to miss my original December deadline (Tom's Place was to be central to the feature as it was to be run in the march 2008 seafood themed edition of the magazine). I then interviewed Aikens a second time once the fish and chip restaurant had launched, and by that time had eaten in all of Aiken's restaurants several times.

So it was with no little pride and some relief when I finally submitted my lengthy, and very well researched copy to my editor Jim Poris. Then, on the day the magazine was due to go to press (the day before the Labour Day public holiday no less) the story broke of the closure of Tom's Place.

As long as Aikens had plans to re-open Tom's Place at some point in the future, the story could go ahead with a few minor tweaks. But to my astonishment Aiken's people advised us that there were no such plans, that the concept would not be revived elsewhere so at the very last moment, the story had to be pulled for a major re-write. Then later in the year when Aiken's financial woes really began to kick in, the story was dead in the water. Aikens was no longer the up and coming business man and my lovingly complied profile looked hopelessly dated.

In the end, the story was completely re-written as a piece on fish and chips and broadened to include other big name UK chefs serving the dish. It finally appeared in the March 2009 edition of the magazine.

As the commissioned work has now been published, I have decided to post the full original text here. Although much of it is out of date and only of historical interest, it does capture something of Aikens as a cook and a person, so has some intrinsic value. The quote from Aikens that I chose to close the article with now seems scarily prophetic.

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed researching and writing it (or hopefully a great deal more - the process was not without it frustrations on a number of levels).

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Cologne Calorie Catasrophe Averted

Back from two nights and three days of eating and drinking my way around Cologne for the Independent on Sunday (publication date not yet known) and have somehow managed to avoid putting on any weight. This, despite a long lunch at the three Michelin-starred Dieter Muller and a no holds barred dinner at one star La Vision. I did however spend a great deal of time walking around the city and, while I certainly ate enough to fill a 900 word article, I didn't over do it too much.

German cusine continues to impress. I had some of the best meals of my life last year at Schwarzwaldstube in the Black Forest and at Cologne's other three star restautant Vendome. This trip reaffirmed my opinion that German chefs are some of the most technically gifted in the world.

Their approach lacks the playfulness that has made the Spanish avant garde so appealing to journalists (flavour is more difficult to write about than visual puns and tricks), but any gourmet would be blown away by the precision of the execution and more importantly the clarity and definition of the flavours. Or to put it another way, its bloody delicious.

On the downside, I was so knackered from my gastronomic wanderings, and from only getting 3 hours sleep on the Sunday before I flew out (an early flight meant a restless overnight stay in an airport hotel and a 5.30am wake up call) that I didn't manage a run while I was away. Its been well over a week since my last outing but today's run wasn't a total disaster, in fact I managed 12 minutes of continuous jogging, the longest duration so far. Before the break in training, I had managed 9mins 45secs so I'm pleased.

I'm not really back on track however and will need to put in some hard work the rest of the week. That will be tough as I'm reviewing a total of three London restaurants for the Metro and Stylebible.com before Friday but I will have the time and its just a matter of will power and getting out and doing it.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Training: day fifteen

The same old song

The two sessions since I last posted both went extremely well. I'm now up to five minutes jogging and one minutes rest repeated five times. It didn't feel particularly hard work at the time and I recovered very quickly.

Because I'm hauling my 37 BMI bulk around for 30 minutes which I've hitherto mostly alowed to remain in a prone position, my muscles and bones complain long and loud after a session. So I need to take it steady and train slightly within my current capacity to ensure I can complete three runs a week.

Further proof of my improved fitness came on Sunday when my wife and I took Lulu out for a walk in the woods. Its quite a hilly route which would usually have me breathing heavily, but this time I managed it with ease.

Since then however, a minor disaster has struck my schedule in the form of a developing cold/flu. My son was bedridden with it last week and I've been feeling progressively worse since Tuesday night when I crawled into bed, shivering and feverish. It hasn't broken yet, so I'm hoping it may pass but I've missed one run already and won't be out today.

Training has hit rather a boring period of consolidation and I seem to be singing the same old song, so until things get a bit more interesting (my first race in May for example)I intend to simply post a summary of my sessions in the following format e.g. 5 x 5 minute running, 1 minute rest and then blog about more interesting things.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Training: day fourteen

Second hand daylight

I consolidated my progress on Wednesday by repeating my success of Monday with another series of eight, three minute jogs. I was able to "sprint" the final 100m and now feel like I'm working well within my capabilities so its probably time to step things up a bit. Four minute jogs from now on?

I'm getting bored running under the tyranny of the second hand of the stop watch, checking every few strides to see how much longer I've got to carry on for. The sooner I can just get out and run, the more enjoyable the sessions will become. However, it is proving a highly effective way of building up my fitness so maybe I should be patient and stick to the plan. I don't want to risk over doing it and injuring myself.

Yesterday in London eating at The Wolseley (vanilla millefuille highly recommended) and Tamarai (beef satay highly recommended) punctuated by 90 minutes of wandering the streets searching unsuccessfully for preserved lemons (in shops you understand; I'm not labouring under the misapprehension that the streets of London are paved with Moroccan-style salted citrus fruits) and topped off by a late night has probably set my training back a bit. I was feeling very tired today and have consequently deferred my final session of the week until Saturday when I fully intend to put in some hard work.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Training: day thirteen

The Changing Man

Another small milestone on my journey to fitness on Monday. I managed eight, three minute jogs with a minute's rest between each one. Just three weeks ago, that would have been unthinkable. I feel like a changed man. For the first time, I'm beginning to believe that I'll be fit enough by June to actually finish the race.

I keep on seeing articles in the press about running, so it seems as though I'm following some sort of trend which I never like to knowingly do. I suppose its the perfect credit crunch (that's another pound in the swear box) exercise - not much special equipment required (apart from shoes) and no gym fees.

There was one in The Times and there's one in this month's Sainsbury's magazine too. It features a plan for building up to running for 20 minutes, which I would have followed if I'd seen it earlier. I'm quite well into my 30 minute plan so I'd feel as though I was copping out if I switched now.

I picked up Michel Roux Jnr's book The Marathon Chef:Food for Getting Fit for a song on Amazon recently. The recipes are delicious and I'm cooking quite a bit from it this week. An unexpected bonus is the excellent section on breads; I made the soft rye buns on Sunday and served them toasted for breakfast with spinach, poached eggs and bacon (another recipe from the book).

In order to cut down on calories, I've pretty much stopped eating sandwiches entirely but I have been baking quite a lot of bread. Its extremely rewarding and surprisingly easy. Ferran Adria's innovative molecular gastronomy is all very well but there's nothing more amazing in the whole of cookery than combining a bit of flour, water and yeast, knocking it about, putting it in the oven and thirty minutes later producing a warm loaf.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Training: day twelve

Walking the dog

The local youth football team had occupied my usual training ground on Saturday (I must have a word with them about that) so I was reduced to running up and down the flat bit of the adjoining recreation ground. In fact, its not flat at all and I've noticed that any uneveness is magnified by ten when I'm out jogging. All I want to do is put one foot in front of the other, and I really object to expending extra effort getting up an incline or avoiding pot holes.

Lulu the pointer is quite a pain to take running. I'll have to stop mid-jog at least once to pick up her poo, and I have to put up with her barking madly as she races after the local wildlife in an attempt to kill it (unsuccessfully so far). On Saturday she found a ball in the bushes and ran ahead of me, dropping the ball at my feet wanting me to throw it for her. I managed to kick it once or twice as I jogged past, but she was mostly disappointed.

Although I love to go out unencumbered, leaving her at home is not an option. She gets extremely excited when she sees me putting on my running shoes, and starts pacing and whining in anticipation of a walk; the idea of disappointing her doesn't even enter my head.

Despite the doggy distractions, it was another good session incorporating several 3 minute bursts of jogging. My legs still feel very tight, but at least they only hurt while I'm running so there's no damage done. I'm still slowly losing weight and the exercise seems to be having a positive effect on my appetite. I'm not missing the sweet stuff, and I appreciate it much more when I do have a biscuit or a cake.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Recipe: shallot and bay roasted pork with potato and turnip gratin

serves 4

for the pork

1.3 kg rolled boneless leg joint of pork
450g of shallots, ends trimmed and sliced in half across the middle
6 bay leaves
salt and pepper

for the gratin

4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
200ml double cream
100ml full cream milk
50g butter
250g turnips (peeled weight) thinly sliced
250g potatoes (peeled weight) thinly sliced
salt and pepper
100g grated cheddar cheese

for the French peas

25g butter
5 spring onions, finely sliced
half a head of cos lettuce, shredded
250g frozen peas
125ml hot chicken stock
salt and pepper
juice of half a lemon

Pre-heat the oven to 160 C. Line the bottom of a roasting tin just large enough to hold the pork with the shallots (cut side down) and bay leaves and add enough water to just cover the shallots. Sit the pork on top and roast in the oven for two and a half hours. Check for doneness after two hours.

In a saucepan, bring the garlic, cream and milk to the boil then turn off the heat and allow to infuse for 30 minutes. Butter the bottom of a baking dish then pile in the turnips and potato slices, season with salt and pepper and toss to ensure they are evenly seasoned and distributed. Pour over the cream mixture, dot with the remaining butter and scatter over the cheese. Bake in the oven with the pork for 1 hour or until tender. Allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving.

For the peas, melt the butter in a pan and cook the spring onions until tender. Add the lettuce, peas and stock, season with salt and pepper and simmer gently until the peas are cooked though. Add lemon juice a little at a time; you want to just lift the flavours rather than taste the lemon in the finished dish.

Remove the pork, bay and shallots from the roasting pan and strain the liquid in to a pan and reduce to concentrate the flavours. Divide the peas between four plates and serve two thick slices of pork per person with some of the reduced cooking liqour spooned over. Serve the gratin on the side.

Training: day eleven

I can't go to sleep

Another really good session yesterday, the two day break did me a lot of good. I not only managed the full 10 reps of 2 minutes running, but topped it off with a 3 minute "sprint" finish. When I say sprint, I mean I increased my speed from a plod to a jog, but it was something of a breakthrough for me nevertheless.

I only got out of breath towards the end of the session and recovered quickly between the runs. The only thing stopping me from pushing myself harder was my aching calf muscles which felt very tight and quite painful. There doesn't seem to be much I can do about the problem apart from ensuring I'm properly hydrated and keep stretching in the correct way. I plan to increase to 3 minutes running to every 1 of walking from tomorrow to see how that goes.

With the exercise progressing quite well and diet much improved with a big reduction in alcohol, chocolate and crisps and an increase in fresh fruit, veggies and fish, the last piece of the puzzle is getting a good night's sleep to ensure I'm in the best condition to train.

With the increased physical activity, I had anticipated that I'd be out like a light but not a bit of it. My comment in an earlier post about getting a better night's sleep was a little premature. Instead of feeling tired, I've got extra energy which is exacerbating the usual difficulty I have in trying to nod off. I find it very hard to shut my brain up, which insists on entertaining itself when it really ought to be resting. There are some good tips for a good nights sleep here which might just do the job, but maybe all I need is a nice cup of cocoa and some relaxing music.

Recipe: generic ragu sauce

Everytime I make a ragu sauce, it turns out slightly differently. Last night's version was a real cracker, so I wanted to save the recipe here for future reference. Those in search of the authentic taste of Italy, look away now; if you want a quick and very tasty sauce to serve with any sort of pasta (its very nice with rigatoni) then you're in for a treat. The secrect's in the double dose of umami from the stock cube and Worcestershire sauce.

serves 4

1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 onion finely chopped
2 sticks of celelry, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely choopped
1 small leek, white only finely chopped
1 clove of garlic
500g minced beef
400g tinned tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 beef stock cube
2 tablespoons tomato ketchup
1 dessertspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teapsoons dried oregano
1 bay leaf

Sweat the onion, celery, carrot, leek and garlic in the olive oil until soft. Do not allow to colour. In a seperate pan, fry the mince until brown, then drain in a colander capturing the fat and juices in a bowl. Allow to settle, then spoon off most of the fat. Add the mince and meat juices to the vegetables, along with all the remaining ingredients. Add water if necessary to cover the meat and vegetables. Bring to the boil then simmer gently for an hour. Serve over pasta with chilli flakes and grated hard cheese of your choice.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Food Style Icon #3

(Picture: Copyright 2009 Wilton Products, Inc.)

Mario Batali The Italian Kitchen 7.5 Qt. Cioppino and Stew Pot
Persimmon Orange
porcelain enamel on cast iron
Copco design team and Mario Batali, 2007

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Training: day ten

The Weight

So I drove all the way from Brighton to Blackheath to borrow my brother's running machine -thinking how great it would be to have a flat surface I could run on in all weathers while listening to The Fall on the stereo - only to find that when I got there I wouldn't be able to use it afterall. Neither of us had considered that I would exceed the treadmill's upper weight limit of 100kg.

I had wasted an afternoon, not too mention a few quids worth of petrol, and ended up feeling depressed about my weight to boot. And what did I do to cheer myself up? I bought a pair of electronic bathroom scales to find out exactly how much weight I'd put on, down to the last gram.

The good news was that I'd lost a few pounds since being weighed at the doctors surgery a week or so ago, but I've still got a long way to go. Running up stairs takes twice the amount of calories as running on the flat so I really need to shift as much weight as possible before raceday to give myself a good chance of at least finishing. The fewer kilo's I have to haul up those 475 stairs the better.

I gave myself the day off training today, a mistake I know but I'm still feeling the after effects of Monday's run and was not motivated to add to my aches and pains. I will however make up for it tomorrow and also run on Saturday to get back on track.

Recipe: Prawn and pork egg fried rice

This is my take on the classic Indonesian rice dish nasi goreng. This isn't authentic by any stretch of the imagination, but it does taste good. You could substitute chicken for the pork and add peas or chinese cabbage. Rather than stock up on ingredients such as sambal oelek, ketjap manis and shrimp paste that I'm only likely to use occasionally, I took the easy route and bought a ready made nasi goreng mix for 88p from See Woo in Lisle Street, London.

serves 4

2 cups of brown basmati rice, cooked, drained and cooled
200g of broccolini, blanched for one minute in boiling salted water, drained, refreshed and chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 dessertspoons plus 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil
4 eggs, whisked
thumb sized piece of ginger, grated
2 cloves of garlic, grated
5 spring onions, finely sliced
1 green chilli, finely diced
3 tablespoons of nasi goreng spice paste
350g diced pork
330g prawns, cooked and peeled
2 large shallots finely sliced and shallow fried until crispy

Heat the teaspoon of oil in a wok, pour in the eggs scramble until just cooked (they should be still be very moist). Remove to a bowl and set aside. Heat a dessertspoon of the remaining oil until smoking and add the pork. Stir fry for a few moments until nearly cooked, then remove to a bowl and set aside. Add the last of the oil, then stir fry the ginger, garlic, spring onions and chilli. Add the paste and fry until fragrent. Add the rice and stir fry. Add the pork and prawns and fry until heated through, then fold in the eggs. Serve sprinkled with the shallots.

Recipe: Fresh tuna salad with anchoiade toast

This is a version of salad nicoise, but adapated to what was in my fridge. I used a jar of anchoiade which I picked up from the gourmet shop at L'Hospitalet when I was in the Languedoc last year, but if you need a recipe there's one here. Use yellowfin tuna as bluefin is on the endangered list.

serves 4

125g green beans, cooked in boiling water until tender, drained and cooled
6 tomatoes, peeled, deseeded and cut into strips
1 head of cos lettuce, washed and torn into bitesized pieces
1 large shallot, finely sliced
half a cucumber, deseeded and roughly chopped
handful of black olives, pitted and chopped
juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
4 x 170g yellowfin tuna steaks
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon of olive oil
16 small new potatoes, cleaned and boiled
4 eggs, hard boiled and cut into quarters
4 slices of toasted wholemeal or sourdough bread
jar of anchoiade paste

Put the green beans, tomatoes, lettuce, shallot, cucumber and olives in a bowl, season with salt and pepper and dress with the lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil.

Season the tuna steaks with salt and black pepper. Heat the olive oil in a pan and sear the tuna steaks until cooked to your liking (I prefer mine medium rare).

Arrange 4 egg quarters and 4 potatoes on each plate and top with a quarter of the salad. Rest a tuna steak on the salad and serve with a slice of toast thinly spread with the anchoidae paste. A glass or two of Limoux Chardonnay would go down a treat with this.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Recipe: Potato and leek soup

This is potato and leek rather than the more classic leek and potato (or Vichyssoise) simply because I had more potatoes than leeks in the fridge. That the result was so good just goes to show how adaptable a recipe this is. I served this with homemade bread made with Waitrose's excellent malted grain bread flour.

1 onion, finely sliced
2 sticks celery, peeled and finely diced
1 leek, sliced, washed and dried
25g unsalted butter
500g floury potatoes (peeled weight), finely sliced, washed and drained
500ml chicken stock or water
125-150ml double cream
salt
white pepper
bunch of chives, finely chopped

Sweat the onion, celery and leek in the butter until soft. Add the potatoes and the stock and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are completely cooked through. Allow to cool, then blend until smooth. Reheat in a clean pan and stir in 125ml of the cream. Season with salt and pepper and check the flavour, adding the remainder of the cream if necessary to achieve a smooth and creamy consistency. Serve garnished with the chives.

Galvin's Chance tower race training: day nine

Discipline

After Friday's disastrous session, I replaced Saturday's run with a long walk on Brighton's pebble beach. Although it was still exercise, I felt like the wheels were starting to come off my training schedule so today I was determined to do well. For the first time since starting the training, I knew from the moment I put on my running gear that I was going to be able to complete the session. I felt rested and full of energy so wasn't surprised when I completed the 10 reps of two minutes running and one walking. It was something of a breakthrough for me and proof that my fitness is improving already

However, before I get too excited, its worth putting this apparent triumph into context. When I say “running” what I actually mean is two minutes of plodding round a field accompanied by a great deal of huffing and puffing. The casual observer would probably find it difficult to determine the difference between my walking and running pace.

I'm also hopelessly behind in my running schedule. According to Sunbird, I should be running for five minutes and walking for one by now. I'm unlikely to catch up with it, so have decided to follow my own regime. The Runner's World schedule may be for beginners, but its a bridge too far for this 44 year old beginner with a BMI of 37 and a bit of a drinking problem.

Instead, I'm going to run three times a week Monday, Wednesday and Friday rather than their suggested four, thereby giving myself the whole of the weekend off to recover. I'll still be building up my running time but more gradually, increasing on a weekly basis rather than from session to session. That means I've got two more sessions of two minutes running and one walking to complete this week and I'll only increase to three minutes of running to one of walking next week.

If I feel I can do more, then I will but I'll listen to my body rather than try and stick to a strict regime for the sake of it. I may also leave my first 5k run until May when I should be able to finish in something like a respectable time, rather than attempt the April event and have to walk half of it.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Recipe: Rosemary, garlic and lemon chicken with lentils

I came up with this dish as a more healthier alternative to the traditional Sunday roast. It's just as delicious, but much quicker and easier to prepare and creates far less washing up. It also produces its own gravy. I happened to use organic green lentils from the Camargue but any old green lentils will do. Don't use brown or red lentils as they'll break down and you want them to hold their shape and texture. Serve with roasted parsnips.

serves 4

for the chicken

4 chicken legs
1 head of garlic seperated into cloves and lightly crushed
4 sprigs of rosemary
1 chicken stock cube
juice of one lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil

for the lentils

1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
2 sticks of celery, finely chopped
160g Camargue lentils
500ml water
1 bay leaf
4 peppercorns
salt
25g unsalted butter

Pre-heat the oven to 180 C. Scatter the rosemary and garlic in a roasting pan just large enough to hold the chicken and place the legs on top. Mix the stock cube, olive oil and juice of the lemon into a paste and spoon over the chicken. Add the two halves of the juiced lemon to the pan and roast for around 45 minutes or until tender, basting the meat every 10 minutes.

Sweat the onion, carrot and celery in the oil until softened, add the lentils and cover with the water. Bring to the boil, skim then add the bay leaf and peppercorns and simmer uncovered until the lentils are cooked and the liquid has mostly been absorbed or evaporated. Season with salt.

Once the chicken is cooked, set it aside and deglaze the pan with a little water or stock, making sure you scrape up all the residue and squeeze out the roasted garlic flesh into the sauce. Pass through a sieve into a clean pan and taste. Reduce to intensify the flavour if necessary. Whisk in the butter to enrich the sauce and add body.

Serve the chicken on a bed of lentils and spoon over the sauce.

Recipe: Prawn, chickpea and avocado salad

Here's the recipe for the dish I mentioned in an earlier post . I ended up cooking the chickpeas exactly as per Richard Corrigan's Langoustines with Chickpeas and Cumin as it appears in his book The Clatter of Forks and Spoons . That recipe isn't online and I don't have permission to post it here so you'll just have to buy the book, but its a simple thing to do and involves cooking dried chickpeas with onion, garlic and cumin seeds.

The ingredients are quite healthy - low fat prawns, cholesterol-lowering high fibre chickpeas and potassium-rich avocados that can help regulate blood pressure.

serves 2 as a generous main course or 4 as a light lunch

for the salad

170g cooked and peeled prawns
250g chickpeas (dried weight) soaked overnight and boiled until tender
2 avocados, peeled and diced
4 tomatoes, chopped
half a cucumber, deseeded and diced
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely diced
1 red onion, diced
juice of one lime
bunch of coriander, finely chopped

to serve

cos lettuce leaves, torn
red wine vinegar
extra virgin olive oil
wholemeal pittas

Combine all the salad ingredients in a bowl and toss to combine. Season with a little salt. Arrange the lettuce leaves on a plate and dress with the vinegar and oil. Pile on the prawn salad and serve with the pittas.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Galvin's Chance tower race training:day eight

It's a beautiful day

A poor show today. Was out for around 40 minutes but only managed about 6 minutes of running. That goes to prove what I knew already that spending the day in London, lunching at Corrigan's restaurant in Mayfair (review to follow at stylebible.com soon) and a private preview dinner of Bjorn and Justine van der Horst's forthcoming Eastside Inn is not the best way to prepare for a training session. In my defence, I did walk for well over an hour in London yesterday and was crossing Hyde Park just as the sun was setting over the Serpentine. Despite the chill in the air, it felt very much as though spring had sprung.

If I'm travelling up to London from Brighton, I like to try and pack in as much as possible, so I'd rather do lunch and dinner in one day that make two seperate trips as it saves on time and money. However, if that's going to put my training into jeopardy, I may have to rethink.

I'll also have to schedule in runs during my forthcoming "research trip" (i.e. three days of non-stop eating and drinking) for a foodie travel feature on Cologne. As I'm travelling alone, it will be pretty easy to do so, but group press trips where the itinerary tends to be packed with very little free time will be more problematic.

All clear from the doctor today. Overall, I'm in the low risk catagory for heart disease and incredibly (given all the rich food i eat) my cholesterol at 4.7 is fine. I just need to shift a couple of stones and my blood pressure should reduce. You could make foie gras from my fatty liver, but there's no unreversable damage done and that will recover as I continue to cut down on the booze. For someone of my weight, age and lifestyle, its about as good a result as I could have hoped for.

That means I can commit to the training programme with no health concerns. On today's showing, the idea of me over doing it are slim, but I still need to take things steady, if only to avoid injury.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Galvin's Chance tower race training: day seven

Give blood

I don't have very good veins apparently. I gave the medical assistant three stabs at getting a sample from me today, but luckily she drew blood first go. I am generally speaking a physical coward but for whatever reason needles don't bother me at all. I was far more worried about removing my T shirt for my ECG and exposing a vast expanse of hairy flesh. I was mortified when the assistant said she have to shave my chest in order to ensure the monitors would stick. Luckily it was just a few very small areas; I had visions of emerging from the procedure looking like an overweight Chippendale.

Blood pressure was a slightly more reassuring 166/103 but still way too high, (although I believe my reading may be a little distorted due to white coat hypertension - i.e. I find being in the clinic stressful). The bottom figure, indicating distolic or resting pressure, needs to be around 80 so I've still got some way to go, but I'd like to think that my efforts so far have had some effect even in just a few days. Nothing awful on the ECG, but the GP will need to take a closer look. I'm going back Friday to discuss all the results.

I'm glad I've got a handle on my health now before it got too late, but I can't say I'm relishing the visits the medical centre; they're making me feel like an old, ill person and I'll have plenty of time for that in a few decades time.

It was another hard and quite scrappy training session, but for over half the 30 minutes I managed two minutes of running for every one of walking which is an improvement over Wednesday. Hopefully Friday I will manage that for the full 30 minutes, although I'll still be behind schedule as by then I ought to be running four minutes and walking one.

But I'm going to take it easy on myself. A week ago was out of breath from tying my shoelaces or putting my socks on so I'm delighted with my progress so far.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Heston Blumenthal and me

Phased flavours: an idea too far?

In the early part of this decade, I enjoyed a short correspondence with Heston Blumenthal of The Fat Duck. I'd met him through a rather negative review of the Fat Duck I'd posted in March of 2001 on the food website I ran at the time called The Food Store, a forerunner of the countless amateur restaurant review websites that are around today.

There was quite a debate on chowhound.com at the time about the restaurant and Blumenthal posted on the forum to invite anyone who wanted to eat at The Fat Duck as his guest to try and change their minds. I was the only person to accept and had a fantastic meal followed by a pint with Blumenthal at the Hinds Head.



We kept in touch by e mail and the odd phone call. I was still working for BT at the time and spent an awful lot of time when I should have been auditing daydreaming about food. In February 2004, I came up with the idea of Phased Flavours which I thought would be perfect for the Fat Duck and sent Blumenthal the following proposal:

Phased Flavours – Development Proposal

The Theory

Phased flavours is a theoretical proposition which suggests that foods or extracted or synthesised flavours could be presented to the diner in a series of carefully assembled combinations, regulated by the degree to which their flavour profiles match, thereby producing a “phasing” effect on the palate. The combinations would be designed to move in and out of synchronisation in order to short circuit the diner's expectations and create a disorienting effect, quite dissimilar to the usual dining experience.

The Inspiration

The inspiration for this idea comes from the minimalist or serialist music of Philip Glass and specifically his use of circular rhythms. A technique borrowed from classical Indian music, circular rhythms are created by the interaction of two or more cells of different lengths being played and repeated at the same time. For example: pattern A consists of four eighth notes, whereas pattern B contains only three. When the two are played and repeated at once, the two patterns starting eighth notes will sound at the same time every twelve eighths. This produces a phasing effect which Glass describes as “wheels within wheels”, turning at different speeds, falling in and out of synchronisation or phase with each other.



On first hearing minimalist music, the average western listener may well find the experience bewildering, being used to hearing music in 4/4 or ¾ time. It is possible that, without a memory of music played outside of these standard time signatures, the listeners brain may struggle to make sense of the signals it receives from the ear.

It may be that the brain attempts to reconcile what is being heard to what it understands as music and this increases the dizzying effect of the circular rhythm. In a similar way, when a diner encounters Molecular Gastronomy for the first time, they may find the experience jolting and confusing as their usual reference points are taken away from them or manipulated or changed.

Phased flavours would therefore seek to replicate the experience of hearing minimalist music by “playing” combinations of flavours across the palate in order to stimulate the brain to taste in a new way.


Proposed Methods

There are three initial, untested proposed methods of achieving phased flavours:

i) A “baseline” ingredient is combined in series with other ingredients whose flavour profiles match that of the baseline profile to a greater or lesser degree. For example, white chocolate might be paired with caviar, then olives, then capers, then chilli and so on in a series of small bites, with each combination becoming progressively less well matched. The series would then continue, with the combinations then moving closer together in terms of flavour profile match. The diner would work their way through the series in a defined order, thereby experiencing the phased effect on their palate.

ii) Flavours are combined within a single bite (in flavoured paper form perhaps in the manner of WD50’s lemon paper) and engineered to be revealed against the baseline flavour in turn, so that the phasing effect is produced in one hit, resulting in a dramatic impact.

iii) Flavours are suspended in liquids of varying density so that they can be layered. These are built up in a dual straw-like glass tube to mimic the structure of a phrase of minimalist music, for example four flavours repeated three times in one side of the tube and three flavours repeated four times in the other. A diner would then suck up the two columns of layered liquids simultaneously and experience different combinations of flavours in a phased sequence.

Potential Barriers

What we eat and drink can potentially effect and influence the flavours of what we eat next, therefore this may interfere with the desired phasing effect. It may not be possible to predict how the combination of flavours will taste to all diners and therefore the phased effect, should it be practically achievable, may not be experienced by all diners. It may not be economic to produce the required delivery systems/apparatus.

Potential Benefits

If successfully developed, phased flavours may constitute a genuine innovation in the presentation and delivery of flavour in the restaurant setting and could present the diner with a unique and memorable experience. The development of a purely hypothetical idea may move in previously unforeseen and potentially fruitful directions that could deliver results over and above or indeed quite different from those anticipated.

Methodology

A practical methodology of identifying the most appropriate foods, extracted or synthesised flavours would need to be defined, and would probably involve an iterative process of trial and error initially based on known flavour profiles. It would be necessary to confirm that the theoretical phasing effect could in fact be detected by the palate and brain which might be determined from a combination of existing research on the subject and field trials. Finally, it may be necessary to design new delivery methods and systems if those existing are found to be inadequate.

© Andy Lynes 2004

Blumenthal was interested and sent me an e mail the following day (interestingly, his reply hints at the beginnings of the now famous hot and cold tea):

Hello Andy,

Thanks for that. I think that the main issue here will be to try and minimise or at least control the amount of variables and work on something as simple as possible to begin with.

I have forwarded this to three or four friends of mine, a flavourist who writes music (believe it or not), a professor of flavour technology, the head of research of the flavour company that we work with and an experimental psychologist in Oxford.

I will leave them with it for a few days and will think some more on this myself.

In the meantime, I am also trying to work on an adaptation of what is called synthetic heat.
This is when adjacent warm and warm and cold stimuli produce the sensation of heat.

If you want, you could try and have a look at this more on Taylor and Francis health sciences site.

I came across a paper on the desk of a friend of mine called Synthetic heat at mild temperatures (Somatosensory and motor research 2002; 19(2):130-138

I hope that this is enough info.

Basically I wondered whether it would be possible to taste two temps of an ingredient that would both, on their own be varying levels of cold-warm but when you ate them together, they would produce a mild burning sensation.

Speak to you soon

Regards

Heston


I was delighted that Blumenthal had taken the idea seriously and replied:


Heston,

I'm thrilled that you like the idea enough to pass it on to others for further consideration, I'm really glad I didn't let this one slip away! I think that somewhere in all this there is a beautifully simple and elegent solution struggling to get out, but that complexity has a role to play. For instance I was thinking about the way a great wine reveals itself as you drink it, layers of flavour and aromas seems to appear one after the other, the same thing with a properly made civet. I dont know exactly how that could apply to this idea, but it might be useful to capture it anyway,

Andy


The final e mail I still have on record from Blumenthal on the subject, dated 22 February 2004 is as follows:

Hello Andy

Regarding the phased flavours, I do think that the answer to this if there is one will have to be quite simplistic.

There are so many factors and variables involved when looking at the interaction of foods that one could get totally tangled up in this whole idea.

It known that for example, a sip of water after a piece of lemon can make the water taste sweeter. Some residual salt in the mouth when eating or drinking something bitter can reduce this bitterness. A sip of a particular sherry taken just after eating a particular blue cheese on a particular piece of crusty bread will eat very differently when the order is changed around and even things like the type of crunch from the crust will have an effect.

This really is scratching the surface so we will have to wait and see but I reckon that this could prove to be a pretty tricky job.

Anyway, if everything was that easy then we would all be doing it!

Speak to you soon

Heston


In the end, Blumenthal considered the idea too complicated to persue. I had intentions of approaching other cutting edge chefs, but then my personal circumstances changed and in April 2004 I was working hard on my new career as a freelance food writer and didn't have time to follow the idea up further.

I'm still not sure if the idea was utterly ridiculous or is the one that got away. It will be interesting to see if the sort of techniques Blumenthal applies during his new Channel 4 series Feasts that starts tonight will be quite as out there as Phased Flavours. I'm sure he'll have outdone himself as usual.

Galvin's Chance tower race training: day six

Dry county

Out goes the chocolate biscuits and crisps, in come fruit, nuts and seeds. The shopping basket does look different this week, what with all the brown rice and peppermint tea. I'm turning into Neil off of the Young Ones. I think I'll go and hide those Joni Mitchell and Van Morrison albums.

This week's menu includes a few old favourites such as roasted veg with cous cous and grilled chicken with lentils du puy, but I've also thought up a new dish: prawn, avocado, chickpea and chilli salad. It's inspired by Richard Corrigan's Langoustines with Spiced Chick Peas and Shaun Hill's Fish Soup with Garlic, Saffron and Chilli . I'll post the recipe once I've cooked it on Saturday, as I'm not exactly sure how it's all going to come together until then.

Absolutely no alcohol this week either, although I am out in London on Thursday for lunch and dinner so will need to watch what I drink then, but considering that I've greatly exceeded the recommended 21 units a week on a regular basis for years, anything is going to be an improvement.

A boring day today with just a walk and then fasting this evening in preperation for my blood tests tomorrow morning. Hopefully I'll get the results soon and can make firm plans for the future.

I'm already feeling the benefits from my new regime and am getting a better night's sleep, feeling a little fitter and a bit less fat (although I made the mistake of measuring my waist earlier this morning and made exactly the same sound as Homer Simpson when he weighs himself on the bathroom scales).

Having completely ignored my health and diet for many years, I'm now getting a bit obsessed with it which is just as bad. The sooner it becomes a routine part of my life, the sooner I'll be able to expend less time and energy thinking about it.