A weekend of food

It was a fun week.

THURSDAY – I was invited to Taste to see Rene Redzepi from Noma. As the chef at restaurant voted San Pellegrino’s Best In The World for the past two years running, he’s kept pretty busy. During the Q&A he said that he doesn’t get to cook at home often, but when he does, he really makes an effort. He said it’s just as important to cook for those you love, when you’re a professional. Cooking for those you love is the essence of having a restaurant, he reckons. (that made sense to me at the time…)

He’s not looking to expand his empire at the moment either, but to continue to innovate at Noma. Building a team up again, and developing the level of knowledge and research they have in Copenhagen somewhere else isn’t on his agenda right now. Bless him, he seemed fairly knackered so I can’t say I blame him. Or maybe public speaking isn’t his thing and he’d sooner be in the kitchen? BTW among the restaurants he rates in London is St John’s, singled out for praise.

THURSDAY PT II was Pigfest at the Drapers Arms, my first visit there. I was starving on arrival and frankly, the second (yes, I know) Scotch Quail’s Egg was a mistake, in hindsight. It robbed me of the ability to properly appreciate the four other courses that were to come. On another day, though, I think I’d go straight for the motherlode of a bigger portion of belly and caramel-like crackling and skip the other courses, interesting as they were.

FRIDAY I was back at Taste to go and see Union Hand Roasted Coffee (who I work with) and to meet up with a lovely crowd of bloggers for a quick food pit stop and some coffee tasting. It was buggeringly cold and wet out, unfortunately. We tried syphon, pour over and Aeropress brewing methods, and the coffees included the geisha microlot from Columbia which is really rather special. Kudos to those who made it out in the rain.

SATURDAY brought afternoon tea in the Royal Enclosure at Royal Ascot – a friend’s father is a member of the Royal Household, which is what my badge also proclaimed me to be for the day (scullery maid, perhaps?) Serious fun in a silly hat, having a flutter, picking three winners (by the jockey’s colours, mainly) and scoring 5/6 on a £9k accumulator pot, weep… I have to say, it was one of the best chocolate brownies I’ve ever had. Fudgy frosting and a distinct hit of hazelnuts – possibly ground, for the batter. The mini Victoria Sponges defeated us.

SUNDAY  – Grazing Asia is the brainchild (food baby?) of four talented lovely people. Last Sunday was their inaugural outing, hosted by Danny from Jamieoliver.com at Fifteen in London. It’s a great idea, to bring four different upbringings and culinary traditions together, namely Japanese, Vietnamese, Malaysian and Burmese, plus they were generous enough to put their first menu together to help fundraise for Fifteen’s NYC Marathon team. With help from magical Twitter sponsors the day contributed over £1200!

I hope they manage to find as lovely a space for their next event as Fifteen – tons of photos here and on Uyen’s post, sadly I only captured three of the dishes: above are Luiz’s light citrussy Seared Tuna with Yuzu Ponzu and Sesame Dressing; Mimi’s crunchy texture-filled Spicy Burmese Fishball Salad and Uyen’s utterly comforting, flavourful Baked Crispy Pork Belly with Banh Cuon, Pickled and Fried Shallots, Vietnamese Cured Ham, Thai Basil and Coriander.  I tell you, I would have eaten buckets of each dish, laden with mysterious (to me) ingredients, fresh herbs, exciting combinations. Keep an eye on their website to see when the intrepid foursome are “opening” to the public as this first even was by invitation/donation to Fifteen.

MONDAY –  I went on a diet. I am likely to remain here for some time.

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Jamie Oliver: Fifteen London and Recipease

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve had the pleasure of running into some of the very wonderful Jamie Oliver crew.  A couple of weeks ago we gathered at Fifteen, lured by the promise of what turned out to be, frankly, the finest Hot Cross Buns known to man.

There they are in all their sticky glossy gloriousness. We had the privilege of sitting with the lovely Kenny, master baker at Fifteen who’d also made delicious candy-coloured rhubarb and ginger jam which we piled on high, before I proceeded to pillage the vast brunch menu, and order….

Yeah. The fruit plate and the porridge. I was obviously having some sort of healthy epiphany (short-lived, natch) but it was actually very good and here’s where I think Fifteen scores very highly – it does a proper brunch. By that I mean there are decent Bloody Marys – ok, not unlimited but let’s not run before we can walk here –  and a wide range of food options from sweet to savoury with the traditional hangover cures in the middle. I did slightly wish I’d followed Louis‘ example and had the eggy brioche though because actually, I think anything coming out of Kenny’s kitchen is going to be superbly good and just having his sourdough bread toasted and spread with jam and salty butter all morning would have been an absolute treat.  We lingered through to almost lunchtime – we’ll go again and it would be great if the breakfast was served longer at the weekend. For weekdays, they have free wifi too….

I lived around the corner from Fifteen when it first opened and Jamie Oliver started spreading his mission about getting ‘hard to reach’ young people into professional kitchens and training them to be fully qualified.  It’s hard to believe that that was ten years ago.  Now the empire spans Cornwall and Amsterdam too. Jamie’s passion for cooking, and equally food education is legendary. Recipease is another part of his mission.

Uyen and I went down to take a knife skills class (apparently the most popular class they run at the Clapham Junction location). The rather brilliant Annegrete, a professional chef who used to work at Fifteen, put us through our paces for the two hour class.  This was after having a good mosey around the very well curated selection of homewares and merchandise in the shop – you really could drop serious cash here.  The classes are reasonably priced – £30 for ours including cooking our own lunch, and a glass of wine thrown in, plus you get 10% off in the shop afterwards.

What were the most important things I took away from the class? Well, apart from how to prepare prawns properly which was a bit of a bonus, there was the following:

  • how to properly and efficiently sharpen knives – dull equals dangerous
  • move the hands and the blade, keep the food steady
  • make sure the food is stable and set in place
  • place a damp kitchen towel under your board to keep it stable
  • how to rock chop, tap chop and cross chop safely (no slap chop necessary here thank you)

Some on Twitter asked how basic the class was.  Well, the skills are basic but I think a lot of us who consider ourselves competent in the kitchen are probably not as fast or indeed as efficient as we could be in terms of knife skills.  We all thought we’d progressed pretty far during the class and then Annegrete proudly told we’d done well, and with six months’ practice, we’d be great. Gulp.

Being able to cook is such a fundamental life skill but where do most of us pick up the basics? Well, probably at home, if we’re lucky, or we pick up things from books, blogs and TV. I did suffer through a couple of years of home economics in secondary school but I can guarantee they never let us near anything useful like knives. In Jamie’s Dream School currently showing on Channel 4, he seems to be doing his own, more useful take on home ec – i.e. here’s how to chop properly – so that you can cook a meal that’s faster and cheaper than a take away. That’s real home economics to me. Bless Jamie. Long may his mission continue.  (Watch his chopping demo here)

The Trattoria at Fifteen London is open for breakfast and brunch 7:30am to 11:00am Monday to Saturday, and 8:00am to 11:00am Sunday.

Recipease, Clapham Junction, Battersea, 48-50 St Johns Road, SW11 1PR

Thank you to the fabulous Hannah Norris at Nourish and the crew at Recipease for inviting me.