Dinner at Le Chateaubriand and more

This isn't meant to be a detailed review. A week's break beckoned and a couple of fellow, foodie and motorbike loving mates and I came up with the idea of trying Le Chateaubriand for dinner. Matt of Maison Mattmoo and Justin of the superb Town Mill Cheesemonger in nearby Lyme Regis and I headed out early Monday morning, Justin and I meeting in a McD's carpark at 5:15 am before heading to the ferry, a couple of hours down the motorway and we're tucking into Moules in Honfleur after meeting up with Matt ... well worth a stop !

A few hours further on and squinting at my iphone's GPS we're heading towards the Arc De Triomphe ... and the one roundabout I've always wanted to go around on a bike (in a slightly massochistic way) ! I pushed my way through in a somewhat assertive way on the Harley and blasted down the Champs-Élysées with Matt and about 50 scooters in tow (Justin rides in a far more mannered way and we met him at the hotel) ... absolutely brilliant fun !

Paris Tuesday consisted of a visit to Dehillerin ... amazing kitchen bits shop ... I managed to control my urge to buy everything in sight ! Then a couple of amazing cheese shops, Androuet being the main one, they also have a branch and restaurant in London.

And so to Dinner. We'd tried to book but it was full so we were there on the off chance we could blag a table and there was a whisper that a second booking was available ... we rocked up about 8:30 and found what looked like a cafe, busy but certainly didn't give the appearance of the 9th best restaurant in the western world and the best in France ( S.Pelligrino 50 best restaurants in the world) ... it was casual, open to the road, a bar you could stand at and order a drink ... wooden unmatched tables and chairs. Could we get a table ? "Come back at 9:30"

We returned, queued for an hour with mostly American students who'd never heard of the restaurant as far as I could tell, and finally sat down.
If your name's not on the list you're not getting in before me !

The menu was a single sheet of paper, no options, we had smokers near us outside the restaurant and people staring as we ate ...

The food is mostly un cooked raw foods, wild plants, edible flowers and seafood, which reflects the tiny kitchen they serve from.

But ... I have to honestly say it was one of the best meals I've ever eaten, no contest. When Matt had originally suggested the trip he said he thought it'd be up my street ... absolutely it was. The flavours are intense, the food is surprisingly simple, the perfection of flavours was just heaven for me. It is food as I'd love to be able to serve and absolutely inspirational ... I will remember it for a long time and definitely return.

More photos to be added:

Elderflower Tempura and Elderflower Cordial

Elderflower is just starting to appear, early this year. A simple way to cook flowers is in a tempura batter. I had intended to make the tempura with champagne but after trying decided to have a go with some sparkling elderflower cordial as the champagne overpowered the elderflower.
Elderflower is highly aromatic, something like 80% of our taste comes from aroma so very important to find a way to keep the lovely aroma through the cooking.

Elderflower Tempura 
3-4 heads of Elderflowers, pick when the flowers are fully formed and deeply fragrant
1/4 Cup Cornflour
1/2 Cup Plain Flour
1 Egg White (use a good free range egg, I recommend Happy Eggs)
1/2 Cup chilled Sparkling Elderflower Cordial (recipe below)
pinch of fine salt

Vegetable oil to fry

Whisk the egg white till stiff peaks form, add the cordial then fold in the sifted flour, the batter mix should be wet, consistency of single cream.

Heat the oil to approx 180C (one of the best investments you can make is a good cooking thermometer)

Drag small 'branches' of elderflower through the batter and place gently in the oil, drop the elderflower away from yourself to avoid splashes
Cook for approximately 30 seconds before turning over and cook the other side for 30 seconds

I like it served with fresh strawberries, but try with fresh whipped cream or ice cream.

Elderflower cordial

1.5 l water
1 kg of caster sugar
20 large elderflower heads
4 lemons
50g of citric acid

Bring water and sugar to simmer, stir to dissolve the sugar, leave to cool
Add the citric acid, Lemon juice and zest, elderflowers
Leave in a fridge for 72hr
Strain (I use a clean 'J' cloth in a sieve).
Simmer till reduced by 2/3 in volume then store in sanitised glass bottles
To make up mix with soda water to taste, I prefer about 20% cordial

DIY Sous Vide Waterbath

I've been asked a number of times how I made my Sous Vide waterbath. Its pretty simple to make one really, a sous vide bath is a hot water bath and an accurate temperature controller. You can buy a ready made one that incorporates all the elements in one package, or seperate the controller which enables you to use different equipment.

For day to day sous vide I use an Auber Sous Vide controller. This controller switches the output based on the temperature setting. Its an American controller but works on 240V so just needs a plug change for UK use. I then use a jug cord on the output side with a socket fitted to plug my 'bath' into. It also costs about £100.

This enables me to use any analog controlled (ie a switching not digital controller) setup, most wet Bain Maries, simple electric hot plates, soup kettles and slow cookers will work. All you have to do is plug the bath into the output of the controller, set the temperature higher than required, place the probe in the water then set the actual temperature on the controller ... done !

The benefit of this setup is I can use all manner of equipment, a fish or beef consomme as an overnight stock at 70 or 85C respectively in a regular stockpot sat on an electric ring or set the bain marie at 52C for slow cooking skirt steak ... in restaurant service 52C perfectly conditions steak in 15min to a warmed through medium rare, requiring a simple browning in a pan to serve.

A couple of tips ... from experience ... put a pie rack or a plate on the bottom of the bath so not to get 'burns' from the heating element directly underneath, when cooking for extended periods cover the bath to minimise water loss ...

For lots and lots more sous vide applications and information the best I've found is here ... Sous vide index

Kai We Care - popup restaurant for NZ quake

Twitter is an amazing and powerful tool for our times. I've seen statements like this said a number of times but hadn't realised till Monday night how true this can be.

One single tweet from me and approx 300 replies came flooding in within a few minutes.

A short conversation with Dave Ahern aka @corkgourmetguy, a blogger and fellow 'mature' newby chef … went along the lines of (and I'm paraphrasing):
  • D You doing anything for NZ Earthquake ?
  • M Running an auction for dinner/overnight, not sure what else to do
  • D Popup restaurant ?
  • M Too far from London and not enough time to handle as much as I want to, keep asking if anyone is so I can help out
  • D I run events for a living (or did), how about it? We could do a 30 cover dinner with our contacts alone
  • M Why not? I'll ask twitter and see what feedback I get

matkiwi Mat Follas
It's been suggested a popup fundraiser restaurant for nz earthquake ... London ... 4 or 5th April ... thoughts? Volunteers? Location?

What a response ! Literally hundreds of people offered their help immediately and lots more offering services and goodies.

Thank you all so much … I can't say that enough

So its starting to take shape.

Kai we care
Kai = Māori for food ... the name is a pun on Kiwi care ...
@KaiWeCare is the twitter account
The website (just starting) http://kaiwecare.weebly.com/

This is now somewhat bigger than envisiged (that's English understatement for you)

We have a whole bunch of seriously good chefs including Michelin starred on board to run a course each. Some you might know and some will be better known to chefs and their local communities. It will be great to get a few TV faces on board but just as fun for us to experience some of the lesser well known but exceptional chefs we have in the UK. For example we will have the lovely Lisa Faulkner (Celeb Masterchef winner) and the less well known Michelin starred Russell Brown from Sienna down here in Dorset. There's a few from Masterchef and The Restaurant on board and a whole bunch of exceptional chefs, more to come.

Harass your favourite chefs to offer to help, its a Monday so most of them will be available ! The best chefs we can get will make this an amazing event and help with the right ticket and auction prices … this is a fundraiser first and foremost, but we all want it to be an evening to be remembered too.

Lots of wine offers, great ! I'm thinking a wine company per course to sponser and a few special bottles for the Auction

Auction prizes: a number of meals, training courses and wines … please keep them coming !

Bloggers and twitters I need your help to sell tickets, We will need to source ingredients free or at cost and lots and lots of publicity so we can maximise ticket sales and auction values. I know you'll help and please bear with us as the above is all the planning we've been able to do so far.


Date:                                        4 April - put this in your diary now please !
(as a nice antidote to Mothers day it has been said ...)

Location                                   London
(several sites probable/possible at the moment, looking for size, kitchen and locations, hopefully finalize asap but please do suggest more)

Tickets                                     £ to be agreed (suggestions?)

Sale method                             Ebay or direct from the email account 

Numbers                                  100 planned

Who's doing what ? In rough terms I'm organising the chefs, Dave the location and auction and John running the twitter and email accounts and day to day … conveniently he has arranged to be unemployed while we're organising the event

Please retweet/email/blog/copy this letter and let your friends and family know.

More to come soon


Chocolate Fondant

With Masterchef back on the Telly ... what more appropriate time to post my chocolate fondant recipe (written for Happy Eggs) ?

Chocolate FondantServes 4

Ingredients:200g 72% cooking chocolate
200g Butter
240g Caster sugar
4 happy eggs
4 yolks
200g Plain flour


• Butter the inside of 4 ramekins, sprinkle with cocoa powder and place in the freezer for 5 minutes.

• Melt the chocolate and butter in a pan on a very low heat.
Tip: Alternatively, you could place the pan in a sink of hot water from the tap. This warms the mixture gently without direct heat.
• In a bowl whip the eggs, yolks & sugar.
• Fold in the flour and when mixed, fold in the chocolate.
• Pour the mixture into the 4 ramekins.
• Place in a preheated oven at 180°C for 7-10 minutes.

Tip: You can tell they’re cooked when they are soft to touch but are set, not liquid.

Tripadvisor - my personal view

I've rewritten this piece a few times so as not to respond emotively.

Its really frustrating to be targeted by a campaign of abuse by anonymous sources. This is exactly what the restaurant has been subjected to recently in a deliberate attempt to damage our business via the Tripadvisor website. Should I just ignore it and rise above it ? Maybe.

I like the idea of independant review sites but I genuinely have serious doubts as to how they can be valid, it is just far too easy to manipulate and fake reviews. I think they cannot be entirely ananymous without any review being suspect ... and I say this as a restaurant with many more positive than negative reviews.

Why the campaign ? I'm not sure, perhaps a member of staff that I have sacked or perhaps a competitor or someone I have upset ... I don't really know. I have only sacked staff go for reasons of incompetence, non-attendance (or both) so I guess there might be some resentment there. My local competition in town I have a good working relationship with and we share after work drinks so I certainly don't cast any aspersions their way ! We have had a few customers who take extreme umbrage, out of all proportion, to how we cook and/or serve food at the restaurant and to be honest I'm fine with them posting a negative review as we have a very defined style that will not suit everyone. We do go to a lot of effort to be clear about the style of the restaurant via website, sample menus and photos.

How do I know its a campaign not actual issues ?
  • The dishes that are referenced we don't serve (Rump steak)
  • The layout of the restaurant has been made up ('the cutlery was spilled outside the toilets' ... the loos are on another floor altogether)
  • Conversation that didn't happen ('Matt laughed at a fly in my salad')
The tone of some of the reviews is of such fury it actually makes me feel uncomfortable ... surely no one should get that upset over a meal ??

Don't get me wrong, there are negative reviews on Tripadvisor that are certainly fair and I'd love to be able to respond. We did have a vegetarian waitress who sneered at meat eaters ... for about two days until we parted company, some dishes have stayed on our menu for a long time, Fillet steak, bearnaise and smoked mash is a keeper but the goat's cheese salad has finally been replaced with a lovely goat's cheese pannacotta with beetroot crisps, poached and powdered rhubarb for the winter. There has been the occasional booking issue, some our fault, and some, I suspect a result of there being more than one restaurant called The Wild Garlic, at last count there are three in the UK I'm aware of.

I'm not going to respond to Tripadvisor, I find the anonymity of the site an invitation for some very unfounded reviews. I know approx 10% are fake for the reasons above. I know a number have been put up by a couple of single parties who have very strong ties to a competitor, I would like to think the competitor hasn't asked them too and they are acting out of a sense of loyalty. I know a number have been written as a result of me not acceding to blackmail and giving a free meal 'or we'll put negative reviews about you'.

If you are happy or unhappy with the restaurant in some way please post a comment to this blog entry, like all of my blog comments I will publish as long as you don't hide behind anonymity.


Masterchef 2011 (why I will be watching)

I will be watching Masterchef this year, I don't always watch the celeb or professionals but always the amateur series

Why ?

... as a fan of the program I've always enjoyed the honesty of the judges, John and Gregg, the aspirations of the contestants, the ones who flourish and the ones who's pomposity is burst with a truly awful dish. John and Gregg are not your friends who, at every dinner party, praise you for your 'wonderful cooking', they're direct and honest and more than a little painful at times. The 'journey' is a much copied format now but its always great to watch the huge leaps the semi-finalists take as they progress and get opportunities to learn.

... as a previous contestant and winner I have a huge debt and can share the highs and lows from a privileged perspective. I know a lot of the team behind the cameras, the directors and the brilliant and committed Series Editors Karen and David. I know the program is honest to its core, John and Gregg, the production and the contestants are kept at arms length from each other. I'm sure the production would have preferred a female finalist in the last couple of years but the judges are kept separate from influence and, I believe, only ever judge on the food placed in front of them. I know now Gregg and I are friends that I wasn't his favourite to win my series until the final day although I had no inkling when I was contestant which way either of them felt.

... finally as a restaurateur there are some wonderful new ideas and dishes, its great to see other kitchens (we cooks lead pretty insular lives)

The format changes this year, I don't know how similar to the Aussie or NZ Masterchef it will be but I do know the production team is basically the same as the previous series. I know they're a bit nervous of the new, more glamorous perhaps, format and studio losing the audience who like the grittiness of the original series but am confident there will be the underlying honesty kept which will ensure the series will continue as a success.

So good luck to the program, more importantly I wish the last few luck as they are now committed to cooking for the next few years, I hope you enjoy the journey as much as I have. I look forward to hopefully meeting you soon.

Series 7 Masterchef starts on BBC1 at 9pm this Wednesday 16 February
(I might be making a brief appearance on the 24th February)