Universal cookery & food festival 2013

I have been fortunate enough to attend this festival for the 2nd time and it seems pretty apparent to me that it is growing each year. Held this year at Warbrook house in Hampshire. Using the grounds and surrounding woodland for its foraging tours, more on that later. My interest in these kinds of events is primarily watching top chefs demonstrate their dishes, philosophies and see what we can do to bring them into our contract-catering environment. After the welcome and opening address we listen to a team of chefs discuss the challenges of catering for the athletes at the 2012 London Olympics. For me this part of the day feels a bit flat, it was the first demonstration of the day, more of a warm up for things to come. Next up was the subject of girl power, one of my favourite chefs Lisa Allen from Northcote Manor demonstrated why she is one of the top chefs in the country with a fantastic Guinea fowl dish that seemed to follow the trend of the day with health versus taste. It was a poached ballotine of Guinea fowl breast with apple puree, wild mushrooms, apple jelly, a Guinea fowl liver parfait, which was piped into a cylinder, and finished with a home grown micro leaf flourish. I feel that given the right environment, a confident chef could execute it in a similar fashion for bartlett mitchell.

Forage tour

This leads us on to the foraging tour, last year at Painshill Park I felt the foraging tour was excellent, this year however it seemed to be less about foraging and more about how Warbrook used their woodland. We would walk past bramble berries perfectly ripe and bang in season to talk about crayfish, which you need a license to fish!? Elderflower may not have been in season but Warbrook house made litres of cordial when the season reached its peak. It felt like they didn’t want anyone else to know about the jewels in the Warbrook crown.

Street food Revolution

James Knappett from Bubbledogs, which if you are unfamiliar with is a hot dog restaurant in London, which pairs gourmet hotdogs with cru champagnes. It also boasts a 19 seater chefs table, which deliver fine dining dishes between 12-16 courses that change daily. James demonstrated a beautifully crafted chicken skin, with rosemary mascarpone and bacon jam (funny twist on a cream cracker). Hoping that he may have spoken on his views on the popularity of street food and his prediction for the future. I will instead make a reservation to his kitchen table.

We grabbed a couple of bites to eat from the surrounding street food vendors, there was a beautiful BBQ brisket of beef which was smokey, sweet and had a hint of piquant. We met a pop up street chef called Ben Spalding who had his very own street food business called ‘Stripped Back’. He was serving 2 dishes one was a cured salmon fillet with puffed black rice and sweet corn puree delicate and very foodie. The dessert was sublime, a liquid cake with blackberries, crumble mix and pomegranate molasses. The liquid cake itself was a classic Victoria sandwich, which was cooked again in brown butter and milk, blended down into a puree then dispensed through an espuma gun!

Health versus Taste

The last debate that I witnessed was Health versus taste. John Campbell, a two Michelin starred chef, someone I have been lucky to have worked with, took to the stage with his current Head Chef Ollie Rouse. They spoke of the misconception of healthy ingredients such as margarine (does anyone know that it is one molecule away from being plastic and not one insect would feed from it!) and demonstrated a couple of dishes, a charred mackerel fillet blowtorched, served with Kimchi cabbage, sweet corn and pickled beetroot. The other was a crab salad with iceberg lettuce, brown and white crabmeat, pickled cucumber, chilli and ricotta cheese. The debate continued over food labelling and GDAs. A Favourite quote of mine comes from a slimming guru called Jason Vale “what do you look for when you look at food packaging labels?” Jason Vale responds “the label!” fruit and vegetables, fresh meat and fish don’t have GDA on them, these are the things that should fill 80% of your shopping trolley, not the other way round! Your 5 a day seems to be the message but how many people can truly say they adhere to this, obesity is on the rise year in year out yet McDonalds still turnover a rise in global profits. “If you intake more calories then you burn off through exercise you will put on weight FACT!” Olly Rouse commented. A delegate asked John Campbell if he thinks restaurants will be forced by the government to display GDAs on their menus? “I hope not” came his response. In which I fully agree. We as chefs are “custodians of natures larder”. It is our duty to provide balanced menus that are tasty and healthy.

My earliest food memories are of my mum’s baking; coconut pyramid cakes were my favourite.

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