Quality fresh produce speaks for itself, say leading UK chefs

Quality fresh produce speaks for itself, say leading UK chefs

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Thanks to their tantalising array of colours, smells and flavours, fresh fruits and vegetables can hold their own. But quality is crucial and presentation is important, pointed out the six-strong line-up of LPS17 chefs from both a foodservice environment and a consumer level. 

“This fruit is so fresh it talks for itself – you don’t need to do much to it,” exclaimed Elly Wentworth, a Masterchef 2016 Finalist and Junior Sous Chef at Michelin-starred Lucknam Park, when preparing Choux Buns and a Tropical Tart using fresh fruit supplied by ProColombia.

“The granadilla is so sweet. It’s an absolutely amazing, translucent fruit. It’s great for making crème pâtissière or tarts. And the physalis is beautiful. It’s very fresh. It has a delicious flavour.”

Nathan Eades, head chef at Michelin-starred Simpsons, sung from the same hymn sheet as he demonstrated his take on the classic British dessert of strawberries and cream.

“This is an easy recipe – a one pan wonder, but it’s all about the flavour and the quality of the product,” he explained.

“If the quality isn’t great, there’s no point using it. These strawberries from [UK grower and LPS17 sponsor] Mudwalls are fantastically in season. We’re using a sweet variety that is absolutely delicious. It gives a beautiful sweet strawberry flavour with a little bit of acidity.”  
International Chef Consultant Peter Gorton, who once again hosted the Chef Demonstration Kitchen, added that with the right produce any dish should only need the essential ingredients.

“We [chefs] analyse every component on the plate,” he said. “You don’t put stuff on the plate if it’s not important.”

Simplicity is a particular passion for Eades, who believes that is the way food is headed in the UK in general.

“At Simpsons we cook what I call ‘Granny Food’,” he revealed. “By that I mean food that your nan cooked and my nan is best cook in the world! We’re trying to get back to basics and simplicity. Food that I find warming and amazing.

“We serve ‘real’ food,” Eades continued. “I’d like to think that when people come to Simpsons they get fed. If all you want is Pie and Mash, then what’s wrong with that? That’s real food. You go to a restaurant primarily to eat, and I like to think we feed our guests.”

On the topic of presentation, Jim Fisher, Chef Patron of the Exeter Cookery School, emphasised the importance of making the most of the colours and vitality that fresh produce can add to a plate.

“You’ve got to think about presentation,” he said. “These fantastic vegetables from Mudwalls are beautiful. Look at this purple asparagus, and this beautiful green heritage tomato, which will also give an intensity of flavour [to the dish].”

To demonstrate his point, Fisher used a melon baller to create small, round servings of courgette and finished his dish of Griddled Halloumi and Summer Vegetables with “pretty” micro basil to pack another punch of flavour.

Chefs in focus

The six participating chefs each used a half-hour slot at LPS17 to guide an audience of food writers, bloggers, journalists, buyers, growers, marketers and other chefs through a series of globally-inspired dishes designed to inspire a greater prominence of fresh produce on plates.

By building their dishes around fresh fruits and vegetables, they celebrated the growing role of fresh produce in high-end cuisine and highlighted seasonal produce selected from the show’s sponsors and exhibitors.

Below is a round-up of each demonstration.

Jim Fisher, Exeter Cookery School

First up was the entertaining and engaging Jim Fisher, aided by his wife and business partner Lucy. Together they created a summer vegetarian dish packed full of fresh fruit, vegetables, salad and herbs.

Jim & Lucy Fisher, Exeter Cookery School

Using purple asparagus and heirloom tomatoes from Mudwalls, among other products brought from his native Devon, Fisher prepared a Griddled Halloumi and Summer Vegetables dish, accompanied by a tomato and fennel sauce, and finished with basil oil and black olive purée.

“Chefs are always learning; all the time,” said Fisher, as he made the halloumi from scratch, using recently acquired skills.

“If you think you know it all, you’ve lost the plot; go and get another job,” he added, before noting there is still a dearth of young talent entering the culinary trade.

On the subject of trends, Fisher explained that compressing food is quite trendy at the moment. “I’m more interested in the texture though,” he said. “When you cut it [the compressed cucumber] into cubes it give a good bite.”

Nathan Eades, Simpsons

Up next was Nathan Eades, head chef at Simpsons, one of five Michelin-starred restaurants in Birmingham, who prepared his twist on strawberries and cream.

Nathan Eades, Simpsons Strawberries and Cream

Using strawberries supplied by Mudwalls, Eades constructed his dish by layering slices of roughly chopped strawberries on a bed of buttermilk cream, and topping it with granola made from rolled oats, nibbed almonds, pistachios and demerara sugar.

To finish Eades spooned a ‘strawberry soup’ or gel around the outside, and added sprigs of mint for “vibrancy and freshness”.

Eades spoke passionately about quality, provenance and the return of humble, ‘feel-good’ dishes.

“This recipe is all about simplicity,” he said. “That’s where we’re going with food [at Simpsons], and that’s where we believe food is going in this country. Gone are the days of deconstructed puddings. I want an Apple Pie, served in pastry, tasting as it should.”

Eades also enthused about seasonality. “Strawberries aren’t around for long so they should be appreciated in season,” he said.

“Eat them when they’re at their prime. There’s no better in my opinion. Right now you can get some lovely in-season asparagus, peas, broad beans and salads too.”

Sherri Eugene-Hart & Patrick Hart, CaribAsian Cookery

Patrick Hart and Sherrie Eugene-Hart began their slot by admitting they’re not actually chefs by trade, but a husband and wife who were picked up by a TV network two years ago after posting a video on You Tube.

Sherri Eugene-Hart & Patrick Hart, CaribAsian Cookery

“We cook good, wholesome recipes at home,” commented Hart. “Our heritage is the Caribbean and Asia, so we use lots of different herbs and spices.”

Devising recipes influenced by their mothers, Eugene-Hart went on to explain how the duo came up with the concept of Carib-Asian fusion cooking.

“It’s fresh, it’s exciting, it’s fusion, it’s one love,” she said, to which Hart added that he enjoys sharing their culinary background with others.

“The smells and aromas [of our food] remind me of growing up, of memories of our family, where we lived and our heritage. It’s amazing to share that.”

The concept has clearly been a hit. More than 1.4 million people from across the UK watch their Carib-Asian Cookery Show. Their Carib-Asian Cookery Book – Recipes and Rhymes was recently published too.

When it comes to sourcing, Hart recommends supporting local businesses and striking up a relationship with suppliers.

“I always try local supermarkets that sell lots of exotic fruits and vegetables,” he remarked. “It’s nice to support local businesses and develop relationships because they might recommend new things.”

On that note, Eugene-Hart also introduced many of those watching the demonstration to a long, white root vegetable native to Asia called mooli (aka daikon). Describing it as a ‘white radish’, she explained how mooli can be eaten raw or cooked, before passing around shavings for the crowd to sample.

Swapping lamb for beef, the duo prepared a dish from their new book – Cutlets with a Mango Salad served in a folded tortilla wrap (a substitute for the Indian flatbread Paratha).

Elly Wentworth, Lucknam Park

Elly Wentworth created two delicious desserts that showcased five exotic and tropical fruits supplied by ProColombia – granadilla, physalis, passionfruit, mango and pineapple.

Elly Wentworth, Lucknam Park holding up physalis

Mentoring two students from Hammersmith and Fulham College, Wentworth prepared Choux Buns with two fillings: Colombian Mango Salsa and Coconut Mousse, plus Colombian Pineapple Salsa and Colombian Passionfruit Mousse.

In addition, she baked Tropical Fruit Tarts featuring Colombian Granadilla and Mango that were complemented by a physalis garnish.

Having started as an apprentice in catering when she was just 16 – at Cornwall’s St. Mellion Golf Club – Wentworth is already working at her third Michelin-starred restaurant. She has even higher aspirations for her future.

“I want a Michelin star and my own restaurant by the time I’m 28,” said Wentworth, aged just 24. “It’s hard work but it’s something I’ve always dreamed of. It’s nice to see more of the younger generation coming into the kitchen too, especially girls.”

Alistair Birt, Harrods

Head Pastry Chef at UK luxury department store Harrods, Alistair Birt created a stunning ‘chocolate bar’ using California raisins and California walnuts.

Alistair Birt, Harrods, Raisin and Walnut Chocolate Bar

The chocolatier enthused about everything chocolate; guiding the audience through the different types of chocolate, the art of tempering and how to create a chocolate dish.

“It’s really important to think about how you will eat a dish, and then work backwards,” he explained. “For instance, this is a rich dish that needs offsetting with salt.”

At Harrods, Birt heads up a team of 35 pastry chefs and bakers, supplying all the pastries and breads for the 16 restaurants in-store.

“There aren’t many pastry teams in London with 35 people anymore,” he pointed out. “It’s a very big operation and very busy. We make everything from scratch.”

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