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.