Every once in a while I think “Gawd, I really need to get out of London for a while, for a week, just for a day”. I happily forget that I get a bit antsy when the vista changes from concrete to pasture, and start considering a little cottage in the country with maybe some chickens in the back yard (the cottage would definitely have a yard – and ‘land’ possibly) and me baking bread every morning. Shuddit at the back, thanks. In lieu of living the Good Life though, I’ve found a very acceptable in-between solution. Food tourism. Not only on an international basis – we’ve taken to booking holidays around what there is to eat at the destination – but the UK has some fantastic food festivals and I’m up for doing the tour. It started this weekend with the Bath Food Festival.
We were there to see Sam Moody, Head Chef of the Bath Priory Hotel. He’s a very amiable chap – I liked how his cookery demonstration was occasionally punctuated by good-natured heckling back and forth with some of his kitchen staff who were in the audience. He concentrates on using fresh produce with minimal food miles, including ingredients grown in the hotel’s kitchen garden.
During the demo he sous-vided Hinton Estate beef which he gets from Bartlett & Sons butchers in Bath. He generally buys part of a carcass, likely 50%, and the rest of it might end up at somewhere like Le Gavroche. This was for his Wild Mushroom Salt Beef Ragu, made with morel, mousseron and girolle mushrooms and served with fresh asparagus tips. One of the keys to his style of cooking is butter, butter, and some more butter and oh my, does it taste bloody marvellous. Sam reckons that butter for cooking shouldn’t be highly flavoured, as you’re trying to show off the ingredients instead. I don’t normally need any convincing to get the animal fats out but I’m now even more envious of anyone with the cash and space for a sous-vide. Constant cooking at 48℃ then caramelised in a really hot copper-bottomed pan to brown it, and that beef came out softer than a stick of butter and laden with umami.
Excuse the finger (not mine) in that blurry shot but the audience were fairly voracious. That meat moved faster than when it was alive. Being utterly unshy ourselves, frankly, we grabbed the serving spoon and ate what was left in the pan, and we shared the spoon. Food bloggers – no shame, eh? We also snatched the remains of the beef straight off the chopping board. But see the crowds in the back? I’d take my chances with the carving knife any day.
The other course was a seafood risotto with carmelised scallops on top, dressed with Richard Vine‘s microsalads (I’m tempted to think that they’re garnish gone frou-frou, but having read up a little I’m very impressed by his green attitude and focus on seasonality). We didn’t get near a scallop this time either but the risotto was suitably moreish. It incorporated both mascarpone and parmesan, I’d have preferred it without so much of the former as I’m not a huge fan of cream or creamy dishes. Sam makes risotto daily at the hotel and gave some interesting tips during his demo: get the rice really hot, always start with seasoning to cook the flavour into the rice, and ignore the conventional wisdom to stand there stirring it for hours because if you are using boiling stock then that should keep the rice in motion. As well as the fish stock, they presalt the turbot, sea trout, pollock and sea bass in cubes so it doesn’t just flake apart during cooking. Herbs included chervil, parsley, tarragon and dill chopped and stirred through.
We made our way back to the hotel for afternoon tea. I loved the gardens – especially the fact that they grow some of their own ingredients. When Sam had said during his demo that he’d picked the broad beans in his garden, I thought he’d meant at home. This impression was cemented by the fact that his mum and dad were in the audience to watch, and had brought him some boysenberries for the dessert coulis. They looked very proud of their boy – as well they should be. I’d love to go and have a proper meal at the Priory, Sam’s cooking is quite special. The hotel is luxurious and quite the hideaway, and Bath is charming. It will go on the List of Places To Run Away too – possibly before the next food festival too.
Thanks to Sam, Sue and everyone at the Bath Priory Hotel, and to Syamala at Sauce.