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Cook Books News

Why we should all take a Leith out of Prue’s book

Wow, Prue Leith is 72. I’m shocked.

For the last few years I’ve been a huge fan of The Great British Menu and, whilst not always agreeing with the judges (not that they often agree with each other), one thing I certainly would have argued the toss of a pancake over was that the rose between the two thorns was of pensionable age. Must be something about the South African sun in her native homeland, although she’s seen precious little of that whilst forging a career in cookery at all levels here in Europe for the last five decades.

Earlier this year, we honoured Oliver Peyton‘s achievements in the UK catering industry, although like Prue, he’s not a native of these shores; rather, he came here from Ireland before whipping up a storm making him qualificant for both his honour in the Queen’s birthday list and to leave his judgement beyond question on The Great British Menu panel.

If the gaunt Irishman’s assessment is felt to be not entirely accurate, there are few more qualified than Prue to call it into judgement – what a career in our industry she has had, seriously mismatched against many far less qualified who seem to have shot to fame on the small screen in recent times.

Okay, she may have started at the lower end of the corporate ladder, picking up her inaugural freelance catering gig whilst still a student at cookery school in the sixties. But the fact that she needed that one tiny opportunity to springboard her to success upon success thereafter is no surprise, in hindsight.

Relish: My Life On A Plate
Relish: My Life On A Plate
(Kindle Edition, Amazon)

She’s no one’s fool, as both Matthew and Oliver have found out on the show; but you only have to look beyond the cameras to appreciate the extent. Her association with food at educational level, as the head of School Fund Trust and the charitable campaigns she helps maintain on many fronts hosting children’s cookery classes around our septic isle and a non-profit eatery to name just two, are perhaps as accurate a reflection of her character as you’re likely to need. In her own words, the financial beneficiaries are unimportant in her activities – if she believes in a given project, she’s in, both feet first up to her waist and giving it her all.

The business woman materialises in her board memberships on both Slow Food UK and Orient Express hotels, not to mention past posts pioneering a catering business, cookery school (Leith’s School of Food & Wine), Michelin rated restaurant and having time to scribe the derived recipes into cookbooks. Oh, and those collections of haute cuisine are not her only dalliances into the world of publishing. Her autobiography has just been released in her native South Africa after being released here earlier this year, entitled Relish: My Life On A Plate, a publication sandwiched between five novels already on the bookshelves and prior to a trilogy she’s working on at present.

I suppose, when you look at a snapshot of her achievements like this, it’s neither a surprise that she’s in her seventies to have fitted it all in nor that she looks so good on it, with all of that juggling to keep her active for the last fifty years since arriving in France in her early twenties. And, yeah, perhaps picking up just a little knowhow about food along the way may have something to do with it, too…

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Cook Books News

I’m not joshin’ – Rogan gets top marks from Good Food Guide

Okay – as the name suggests, for anyone who’s not been here before, we do cookery courses. But every now and then, you just have to sit back, pull up a chair and let the professionals get on with it.

One chef who’s been steadily emerging over the last few years, under the radar for anyone who’s not an avid follower of the UK cookery industry, is Simon Rogan. Name ring a bell?
Well, if you watched this year’s Great British Menu, he was the guy who could have seriously won three out of the four courses for the grand meal for the stars of athletics, past and present, ahead of this year’s Olympics.

In the end, it was his dessert course that not only won him plaudits from the glittering cast of British athletic hopefuls and legends alike, but left Oliver, Matthew and Pru speechless during the qualifying rounds and the final. So if that didn’t shout his intention to the cookery world enough, his latest accolade screams it at the world of cuisine at a decibel-bustin’ pitch.

Top marks for Rogan in the year’s Good Food Guide.

It’s not very often that a restaurant scores ten out of ten from The Good Food Guide. In fact, it is so rare an award that in the fifteen years of the tome’s publication, only seven chefs have ever managed to achieve it.

Rogan’s restaurant, L’Enclume, features second in this year’s guide to the only other restaurant in the last six years to win the award, Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck in Berkshire. Many, many experts are predicting that next year, duck will be on the second course with L’Enclume taking the prime podium spot, dethroning Blumenthal for the first time in six years in the process.

The secret of Rogan’s success is his deep faith in locally-sourced, Cumbrian produce. The extent he went to in order to source the rosehips that would end up as a delicate syrup for his Great British Menu winning dessert was unlike any venture undertaken on the show to date. He even hired a local trekker to keep his eye out for the likely spot where the plumpest rosehips would grow that would be cultivated for the final offering. They even sat down and boiled them up on the hillside where they grew to get the essence of what they’d taste like if the local scenery could be emulated on a plate.

And that was not just a publicity-hype for the show, either. Simon has leased a local farm and intensified production upon it to deliver the amazing locally foraged and cultivated ingredients at the heart of his dishes to guarantee continuity – now that’s taking cooking seriously!

And that determination and faith in the ingredients (almost) on his doorstep has been justly repaid, with interest.

And there’s more. All of Simon’s recipes are put through the mill at his experimental kitchen before they even make it to L’Enclume. Do you remember the ingenious technique of making the ‘snow’ for his dessert in the Great British Menu? Well Simon invests in new technology, new thinking and mixing up tradition to deliver the freshest – in every sense of the word – meals you could find in the UK today.

Simon Rogan – remember the name. Along with Blumaenthal, Ramsay and Pierre-White, whom he trained under, Rogan has joined an elite class of chefs to be awarded ten out of ten by the Good Food Guide. At the tender age of forty-four, there’s a lot more Rogan can bring to the table, and no doubt he surely will.

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Food and Ingredients News

Oliver Peyton OBE – restaurateur, entrepreneur, gentleman

To many of us, Oliver Peyton is the often overly-critical judge on the increasingly-popular TV show, The Great British Menu. But he’s much more to the hospitality industry than that, a fact that has been recognised in the Queen’s birthday honours list for this year with the Irish-born entrepreneur being awarded an OBE for his services to an industry that, by his own admission, has served him well, too.

His UK career started not so much in cookery trade as the critic and restaurateur we know of today, but in a the far-removed vein of the same industry of running nightclubs. In the eighties, when he’d have not been so old himself, he ran both Brighton’s The Can nightclub and RAW in the capital.

It seemed a natural springboard then, once he’d dipped his entrepreneurial toe into the drinks supply consumer-end of the market, to step up a level and import beverages for resale onto others within the trade. His distribution and promotions network is accredited with bringing both Sapporo, the Japanese beer named after the city in which it originated and a spirit that needs no introduction, Absolut Vodka.

In the nineties, Peyton’s career emigrated from wet sales to dry as he opened the Atlantic Bar & Grill in London’s West End, his first restaurant (closed 2005). During his time there, he latched onto the notion that the world was about to begin being conscious of from where its food was sourced and the effect upon the planet that the food we ate had. The result was St James’ Park’s ‘Inn The Park’, a restaurant recognised for both its original architecture and its eco-friendly values.

Peyton and Byrne, the partnership of which Oliver is both Founder and Chairman of, are now the leading lights in providing open-air dining experiences, a trait all too familiar with anyone who watches The Great British Menu. After several regional heats, four chefs are chosen to invent, prepare and deliver in feast-sized quantities the dish of their creating to an open-air extravaganza for whichever cause is the beneficiary of that season’s show.

But the tall, gaunt Irishman with incisive wit does not stop at bringing the best out of the nation’s chefs. The Peyton & Byrne brand owns bakeries and cafes and Peyton Events is his own foray into providing exclusive dining facilities to some of London’s finest establishments. In typical fashion, when asked of his reaction to be awarded such a special accolade, he said it was ‘the icing on the cake’ to his wonderful career in an industry to which he is both indebted and that owes him a great debt of gratitude for his foresight and services to it, too.

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Food and Ingredients News

Food and Farming Awards so important to local communities

There are many different types of cookery courses – from independent cookery schools out in the sticks to inner-city restaurants that open up their kitchens for their professional chefs to pass on their culinary expertise.

Likewise, there are many different outlets for the food we learn to cook; the afore-mentioned restaurant, pub grub, take away food and fine dining around the table at home, impressing friends and family ourselves being probably the main reason many of us attend cookery courses.

With so many chefs awards, The Good Food Guide praising eateries up and down the country and EatOut ezine keeping tabs on the hospitality trade from a front of house perspective, there is very little that makes the headlines in the way of the food producers and the actual quality of the raw ingredients themselves. This week sees the thirteenth Food and Farming Awards begin, with nominations being invited for the best local and national produce suppliers to, for once, step into the limelight and gain the recognition that often gets overlooked when the spotlight falls on crisp kitchen whites or brass-polished hostelries.

The popular TV show Great British Menu not only recommends that the qualifying chefs choose produce from their local suppliers but that aspect is a huge weighting factor in the overall marks that the chefs attain en route to whatever national or royal event it is chosen as the theme for the annual cookery demonstration visual feast.

Angela Hartnett, a judge for the Food and Farming Awards and a Michelin-star chef in her own rite rates this competition as one of the more ‘credible’ appraisals of British food, given the way that the whole process of farming and how is brought to market from its very roots to the locale in its given region is at the heart of the competition and the communities the farms serve.

Food – like many a good ale – tastes better if it doesn’t have to travel

The general consensus is that food that doesn’t have to travel, i.e. unlike supermarket-stacked produce, tastes better, has a more direct and swift route to market and benefits the community from which it is grown, picked and prepared for sale.  And nothing perhaps exemplifies what the competition is all about better than the winner of one of  last year’s awards.

The ‘Small Retailer’ award at the twelfth outing of the competition went to a village shop in Wales in a project tagged The Brockweir & Hewelsfield Village Shop (funnily enough).

The shop as it was was closing down as a viable business concern, leaving the only alternative a trip to the supermarket. In the face of produce being grown all around the villages, the villagers themselves were having none of it, as the manager, Alison Macklin, explained.

The staff is made up of volunteers who keep the shop ticking over, the only pricing concern being that the profit is enough to pay the bills and buy more stock. There is even a volunteer allotment on the back doorstep, tilled and kept by the villagers, from which produce is picked and literally carried yards before it is on the shelf ready for sale. And the independence, according to Macklin, is contagious. The more food they sell, the more suppliers want their produce to be on the shelf next to the other locally grown produce.

It is at events like the Food and Farming Awards that projects such as this one and smaller suppliers get to showcase their business. In these hard times, a good event can be the difference between make or break – not just for the owners but for whole communities, too.

So, if you’re running a cookery school, looking for suppliers who would be interested in supplying smaller volumes than perhaps the local supermarket, get involved with this year’s awards. Full details about the competition and how to nominate businesses are on the website at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/features/ffa/2012/

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Cookery Courses London News

Telegraph cooking course in London – £36! But be quick.

Have you ever wanted to sample a cookery course but never quite been able to justify the sometimes eye-watering prices for an art you may be a total failure at? Well now you can get a whopping 54% off an evening cookery class in conjunction with the Open Kitchen and The Telegraph at Hoxton, in London – making this an ideal sampler for those exotic tastes you thought learning to cook would be forever beyond your budget.

However, you’ll have to act quickly for this one-time only offer from the newspaper; although the class-dates run from February 16th right up until mid-May, the special price is only available for a very limited time and subject to demand.

If you’ve ever wondered just what Irie Caribbean’s all about, or how the Japanese and Thai peoples get their foods so fresh-tasting or you just wanted to be reminded of those lazy days spent around The Med or far-flung adventures in South Africa by the food you prepare, you can choose from anyone of those native menus at this part demo/part hands-on two-hour introduction cookery school.

Not only will you have the benefit of the experience of one of the Open Kitchen’s skilled, professional chefs as an endearing memory of the evening, but you can also keep the apron with which you’ll be provided as well as the recipe card for your chosen cookery class .

The classes, run at the Open Kitchen, 40 Hoxton Street, London, are not aimed at any particular level of culinary expertise, but suitable for all. Yes, they are meant to be informative, but there is also a big dollop of fun involved, too.

The welcome pack you receive on arrival contains all of the evenings ingredients, the afore-mentioned apron and a complete itinerary of what the cooking course entails. It kicks off dead on 7pm, but you are welcome to arrive early for a local beer or English wine.  The focus, as with The Great British Menu with which you may have already associated the ‘Open Kitchen’ name, is proud of locally foraged ingredients and likes to uphold the traditions from the days when Britannia ruled the kitchen!

During the two hour stint, you will learn to prepare your two-course meal in the chosen discipline, watch the professional chef do it properly and then it’s your turn to follow in their footsteps whilst at your very own work station. From Japanese teriyaki to a cookery lesson in Thai vegetables, herbs and spices, from a complete cruise around all-ports in The Med to the other end of Africa with an Angolan treat or a Caribbean Jerk special, the cookery courses really do take you on a trip around the world’s taste buds.

There is a bit of fine print to read as well as details and timetables of cooking courses and how you book and claim your ticket, as well as a little more about the Open Kitchen, whose site you will need to visit to finalise your booking. To get this information on the Telegraph’s pages, click here […] – enjoy!