Stream Farm Somerset

Of all my supplier visits over the last 5 years, Stream Farm was one of the most inspirational. When buying produce from Stream Farm, you’re buying more than fantastic food – you’re buying their vision of how our rural countryside should be. The idea is that a small farming community works together to create something special for you, the customer.

Stream Farm sells a variety of products, including spring water, Dexter beef, Old Spot pork, free-range Devonshire Gold chickens, Hampshire Down lambs, honey and apple juice, as well as rainbow trout (both fresh and smoked). All products are 100% organic and sourced or grown on the farm. But what struck me during my visit is that you can really see, feel and taste the passion that goes into what they create. It’s palpable!

Stream Farm

Stream Farm

I love when farmers name their livestock. It shows that they care about what they’re doing. Their lambs run to the fence with a loveable ‘baa’. Many were hand feed during lambing season.

The Dexter herd is stunning to look at. They are a small breed in relation to cross breeds and continentals. Raising pure breeds ensures consistency. James Odgers swaps his cattle with a farmer from Donnegal, Ireland to ensure fresh bloodlines are being introduced.

The sheer care for his livestock is clearly visible. The farm is immaculate and the attention to the animals is the best I’ve seen.

James and his Bull

James and his Bull

Rainbow Trout, Gluten Free, Me and John

Rainbow Trout, Gluten Free, Me and John

With the horsemeat scandal, antibiotics in our meat supplies and the ever-mounting pressure on suppliers to trace the origins of their livestock – the Stream Farm concept is a breath of fresh air and something that’s needed in our markets.

Supermarkets care about one thing – their profits. And though we are all concerned with our profits as well as saving money, if you truly knew the origins of your food – what it was fed and how it lived, you’d think twice about buying that chicken on special offer for £1.50 with 2 days left on its bar code. Food is the cornerstone of a healthy lifestyle and, though it might sound cliché, you are what you eat.

I’ll leave you with a few more pics of the visit. If you have a moment, check out their website.

www.streamfarm.co.uk

 

Old Spot Pigs

Old Spot Pigs

 

Little Lamb

Little Lamb

The Farm

The Farm

 

The Herd

The Herd

Little Chicks

Little Chicks

 

The Herd by the Stream

The Herd by the Stream

 

Trouting around

Trouting around

 

Sam's Lamb

Sam’s Lamb

 

Bees

Bees

The Royal Oak Paley Street

The Royal Oak in Paley Street

As a chef I absolutely love January as it’s a great to wind down from the hectic festive season. You get to spend a bit of time with the family and eat out in different places. I always encourage chefs to eat out as much as possible and do a stage a year in another restaurant. Food is very subjective so in essence every chef is right even if they really are mental!

For my stage this year I landed a stint in the Royal Oak Maidenhead. The Royal Oaks reputation is very much revered and is looked at as one of the top eateries in the country. They hold some of the country’s most prestigious awards – a Michelin star, 3 AA rosettes and 6/10 in the Good Food Guide. Now awards don’t put bums on seats – great food, great Service and ambience do and it’s plain for everyone to see the Royal Oak ticks every box.

Dom Chapman and Mo Gherras

The philosophy and Inspiration is what I what I loved the most about the kitchen. Food is sourced from top suppliers using Mother Nature’s seasonal calendar, cooked to perfection and impeccably executed. It reminded me a lot of the Walnut Tree in Abergavenny. It’s a restaurant where you want to go for a great lunch or dinner and you struggle to decide what you want as the menu reads amazing. It’s food you want to eat again and again and again and yes you’ve guessed it again! It’s not fussed or overworked food – its food in its purest form with amazing flavours and very smart combinations. The pure passion from every staff member is palpable. There is a great sense of care from Dom, Mo and Mike to every staff member, they really believe and love what they’re doing. It’s an enjoyable environment to be in even though the work is tough. The inspiration comes from the top and permeates through everything and everyone.

The Royal Oak Veg Garden

The new garden is class. So many great herbs and veg and the new restaurant extension opens overlooking the garden. Apologies for the lack of food porn photos on this blog the phone is crap and doesn’t do them justice but will have the I-phone back rolling for the next blog.

Dom in action

Kitchen in full service swing

T: 01823 272671

The Castle at Taunton
Castle Green
Taunton
TA1 1NF

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Castle Hotel Staff

This blog is going to be a break from tradition. I normally write about suppliers and producers so no better way to bust the bubble than to talk about and wish a happy birthday to the one of the most consistent chefs in the history of the Castle Hotel – Gerry Barge.

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Any staff member to have worked in the Castle Hotel over the last 30 years will know the name straight away. He worked with the Great castle chefs Chris Oakes, Gary Rhodes, Phil Vickery and Richard Guest. All Michelin starred chefs with multiple rosettes and Gerry featured in all their kitchen brigades. He starts work every morning at 4.40 on the button and runs one of the tightest sections I’ve ever seen.

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From I’ve taken the reigns of the kitchen 18 months ago Gerry has been extremely supportive. One of the biggest changes was changing breakfast to an a la carte menu which Gerry has smashed and set an amazing standard. Gerry and I had a little falling out a few months back as I gave him 2 days off……. He normally only had Sunday off just one day! 6 days a week for the last 30 years = #legend! I’ve been in kitchens where many a decent chef gets swallowed up on a busy breakfast service but no not our Gerry!

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From all the chefs in the kitchen past and present Happy 45th Birthday Gerry!

Irish Gastronomic @ the Castle with Ray McArdle

 

We have 2 Gastronomic events a year at the Castle – one in Spring and the other in Autumn. They really are a joy to do as not only are you cooking for a lot of v.i.p’s, but we usually have a guest chef for the day and get to see some great food. For our last event we had chef Dom Chapman of the Royal Oak in Paley street which was a cracking night.

Castle Kitchen crew with Ray

This time Mr. Chapman wanted an Irish theme and after a good bit of thought I got in contact with an old boss of mine: Ray McArdle. Ray is well known on the Irish food scene and this year appeared on Great British Menu winning the Northern Irish heat. His starter was crowned a perfect 10 and reached the Final 3. Ray was in the kitchen for 2 days which was good fun and he brought along his perfect 10 starter; both a joy to eat and cook.

Ray’s Great British Menu Dish

The soup is a dark chicken stock infused with cepes & truffle, with a bacon foam, crisp bacon, brown soda bread and a stout bottle holds the remaining soup. This really was a delight to eat, a true masterpiece of culinary flavours with a kick of Irish comedy. Next up was the Castles turn we turned out a seafood coddle; a twist on an Irish classic. John dory & scallop boudin with salt cod, seared salmon, pearl barley and potato broth.

For the main course we did roast partridge breast with crispy leg, confit pork shoulder, castle orchard apple, creamed savoy and partridge jus.

For the Pudding we did a twist on the classic gateau opera turning it into an Irish opera with Bushmills and vanilla ice cream: a great end to a fantastic night

The only problem with having an Irish night is the need to celebrate which resulted in a few shady heads in the kitchen the next morning, but well worth it!

Goat’s Cheese Salad with Grilled Plums, Strawberries, Hazelnuts & Balsamic

strawberrys

This dish is on Augusts BRAZZ menu and is a simple stunning summer dish – using Jan’s strawberries.

Ingredients
Serves 4

400g goat’s cheese log
120g Greek yoghurt
4 plums
10 un-ripened strawberries
100g hazelnuts
100ml balsamic vinegar
Fresh herbs and salad leaves to dress

Method
To prepare your goat’s cheese, remove the rind and leave to come to room temperature. Blend in food processor with the Greek yoghurt until smooth; season to taste. Place in a disposable piping bag and leave to rest in fridge until serving.

For the garnish, dice half the strawberries finely and place in the balsamic vinegar / syrup. With the remaining strawberries cut into desired shapes, leave to the side.

Cut the plums into halves and quarters and lightly char grill – this adds a more depth to the plum and more flavour.

To serve, remove the strawberries from the balsamic and use to dress the plate with the plums and remaining strawberries. Reduce balsamic by half to intensify – try not to add sugar as it’s quite a fresh sweet dish.Dress with hazelnuts and leaves.

This dish requires a lot of balance between sweet and sour. Make sure your fruit is not too ripe. The balsamic will cut through the goat’s cheese and go perfect with the fruit and nuts.

Chef’s Tip
Most varieties of goat’s cheese have different levels of fat and pasteurisation processes applied which give different textures. For the above it requires a crumbly semi set cheese like Bosworth Ash. If you’re afraid the goat’s cheese will be too wet when adding the yoghurt reduce the amount or add some gelatine to firm it up.

A Strawberry Heaven

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Last week we headed off to Nynehead fruit and met up with Jan Butterley. We brought Jan and the team up some chocolate brownies, but soon found out we hadn’t brought enough as Jan has over 40 pickers. We arrived at 11.00 and it was a scorcher- nearly 30 degrees and nobody around. Jan informed us that all the staff work in the morning and in the evening. During the day it is too hot in the tunnels. A great way of life is found around this farm; it’s relaxed and the “siesta” concept is something you’d usually associate with being abroad.

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Above are some of the drills which aren’t covered during the heat wave, what a sight!

Jan has had the farm for over 30 years and decided to grow strawberries and raspberries purely out of demand. The setting is beautiful and so vast. The fields are old hectare sites split into 4 and have 1/4 mile drills running and being rotated. All the fields are surrounded with giant poplar trees and filled in with alders to break the wind, as in the spring and autumn the winds would damage the fragile plants.

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Nynhead has many varieties of strawberries ranging from El Santa, Finesse to Portola. Raspberry types are Radiance and Glen Ample. All are picked daily- some re-fruit throughout the season and the early and later ones tend to fruit once, then have to be turned over. Jan buys in English bees for the pollination process and explained the reason: Badgers have very sweet teeth and usually sniff out the bee hives in the surrounding ditches and destroy the poor bees’ home – tut tut. They tried hanging the hives from the poles in the tunnels, but the bees aren’t awfully fond of the swaying motion, so the Bee boxes are more practical and ensure the pollination process occurs.

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We headed for the packing room which is meticulously organized and one of the cleanest premises I’ve seen. It’s strange and such a stark contrast when both worlds combine- the natural outdoors to the packing room. I had my mind made up I wanted the outdoors, the natural life, then I realised it was nearing lunch service and had to stop dreaming and get back to the kitchen.

Shaun Hill @ the Walnut Tree, Abergavenny – Working with a Kitchen Great

Shaun Hill @ the Walnut Tree, Abergavenny

Working with a Kitchen Great

           Image            Shaun chatting to Fionnoula.

When I was a commis I was given a book by a fellow chef. It was called ‘Cooking at Merchant House’, which is a fantastic book about the creations of Shaun Hill from his time in Ludlow. Roll on a few years and I’m reading ‘Tough cookies’. It’s a short informative read for any young aspiring chef. It has a brief bio and the four chefs talk about their kitchen tales. It shines light on the industry: the highs and more importantly lows. The book illustrates how the industry really is and in a gritty light it tells hardworking chefs tales.

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The Walnut Tree

Roll on a few more years and my boss, Kit Chapman, who is close friends with Shaun, ate at the Walnut tree a few weeks back. On his return he described to me the food and his experience. I listened closely and when he suggested the idea of doing a stage I jumped at it.

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The View from the kitchen window

I stayed at Ivy cottage beside the restaurant which is available as a holiday let as an extension of the Walnut tree. The restaurant and houses are surrounded by breath taking countryside and it is a very special destination. I worked for a day and half in the kitchen. If you’re serious about learning how to cook, the Walnut Tree is the place. No vac-pac machine, no water baths, no chemicals. It’s 100% cooking, passion, knowledge and execution. I was in awe of the cooking style and basic layout of the kitchen. It’s a small brigade comprised of 6 chefs, led by Shaun and head chef Roger. The whole team work very hard to create that special dining experience and the passion/pride is in every member of staff. The youngest person in the kitchen is 30 which made me feel young!

Our lunch was one of the best I’ve ever had- the flavours and cooking were spot on and it’s pretty amazing that Shaun is still cooking on the stove. His gentle manner comes across in the kitchen as it’s a great atmosphere to work in. I sometimes have chefs and waiters complain about long hours and here’s a man who smashes in lunch and dinner service, doing minimum 12 hour days. Shaun Hill, I for one take my hat off – for what you’ve done for the industry and what you continue to do at the Walnut Tree.

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Veal Kidneys with Saffron Risotto

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Veal Sweetbreads with Pork Cromesqui and Caper Cream – This and the Scallops were my favourites

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Pistachio Tart with Apricot and Vanilla Ice Cream

Longmans Dairy and Montgomery Cheddar

Longmans Dairy and Montgomery Cheddar

Last Wednesday we headed to Cadbury to visit two suppliers, both of which are massively respected in the Dairy / Cheese industry – Sarai Longman and Jamie Montgomery. We met at Longmans farm and Sarai brought us to meet Jamie Montgomery- http://www.montgomerycheese.co.uk .

Jamie Montgomery explaining the maturing process

We were shown the many processes that contribute to undoubtedly the worlds finest Cheddar. Everything is controlled from the grazing pastures to the storing. It’s amazing to see and smell. One of my first experiences of eating Montgomery was the smell and taste, and the balance between the two. Once we stepped out of the car onto the farm, you were hit by the smell straight away – the closet way of describing it is like a cheese lovers heaven. The cheese is made daily to ensure the freshness of the milk and the tags are proof to this. Every batch of cheese made has a sample log so during the aging process they’re continuously monitored and tasted.

We tried a few samples from 12 months through to 24 months. We could really taste the difference in the maturing process both texturally and flavour.

We then headed for Longmans Dairy – http://www.longmancheese.co.uk/ . Sarai Longman told us about their family farm the history and pushing the business on. She has an amazing amount of knowledge and knows the ins and outs of every aspect of the business. She told us of her first job in packaging and has a huge care for all the employees. You get a real family feel around Longmans, one of great care and teamwork. Its great meeting with a passionate and knowledgeable supplier like this.

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Longmans Unsalted Butter hand rolled.

Bottoms up!

Masters Brewery

@ Unit 8 Greenham Business Park, Wellington, Somerset

Recently I have developed an interest in the marriage of beer/ ale and Stout with food.

My main reasons being:

- The tradition and pride in the industry and wanting to show that passion.

- In Ireland we have generic beers in most pubs like Heineken, Carlsberg and Guinness etc. In England every county, in fact almost every pub has a different selection of beers.

- It’s local!

I heard about Masters Brewery through one of the lads in the kitchen – John (Gluten Free). He’s friends with Dean Masters (hence the name Masters Brewery) who is the son of Richard. Richard set the company up 4/5 years back, it’s a father and son team and both have bags of passion about what they’re doing.

We set off from Taunton after Richard’s invitation out to his “Micro Pub”. It only took a 20 minute drive and when we got there I was expecting a pub. I thought ‘bloody hell, why has the sat-nav brought us to an industrial estate?’ After asking 2 people where it was we finally found it. We felt a little disappointed at the exterior as we couldn’t see a hint of anything remotely ‘pubbish’. We walked in through the front door and instantly we were blown away. I’m a keen advocate on underselling and over delivering and the lads at the micro brewery definitely over deliver. The bar is only new, maybe over a year old. It is assembled from reclaimed parts of old pubs from auctions. For instance the fireplace is from Chard, the floorboards are from Richards Family home, the panelling is from a shut down pub in Plymouth and the speakers are from Edgware theatre in London. Everything about the pub has a story.

Richard showed us around the Brewery and filled us in with some facts about what they do. He explained the many processes in creating what we happily drink on a night out, but don’t take notice of the skill and passion that goes into it. Richard is part of a movement of micro breweries trying new flavours and techniques – I liken it to wine; old world wine versus new world. The guys like the challenge of introducing women to beer and said it has been very positive. They don’t agree with the stereotype that it’s a mans drink. They have a range of beers on tap to trick and tempt the pallet; Blackcurrant, Aniseed, Cherry are just a few examples and are all amazing . Some of their best creations are not bottled and are just on sale at the pub.

After leaving the Masters’ we’re well on the road to matching beer and food and are hoping to host an event pairing the 2: Watch this space!

 

Purchasing and Filleting a Round Fish

Purchasing and Filleting a Round Fish

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When purchasing fish there are a few small pointers to follow:

- Use a reputable supplier. We use Phil Bowditch in Taunton who’s known for his superb, fresh fish and has been trading with the hotel for years. He buys in person direct from Brixham market.

- Use all your senses when buying fish.

- Smell it. The fish should not be strong it should be fresh like the sea. You know what smells good and bad, so if in doubt don’t entertain the thought of buying it.

- Eyes and gills – The eyes should look bright and clear not dull / misty and sunken. The gills should look a fresh red, not dark and sticky.

- Touch it. Some suppliers might be a bit iffy about this, but if the other 2 are good generally you shouldn’t have to do this. The fish should be slippery, firm at the tail and shiny as opposed to slimy and sticky.

- The guts should be generally taken out as they discolour and taint the flesh within 1 – 2 days.

We buy most of our fish on the bone as you can look and judge the freshness more easily. When buying fillets from a supermarket you never really know how old or fresh they are. A fishmonger will generally fillet your fish in front of you if asked. Fish will last up to 12 days when looked after and kept on Ice. It is best fresh for me and that is for 3 days after being caught.

Fish preparation and cooking for me is an art. The filleting takes precision, delicate hands, skill, speed and accuracy. One small tweak of a knife and you can ruin a fillet of fish. At markets today fish can attract much bigger prices than meat and is much more sought after. Fish is healthy to eat, fresh and natural.

Meat is much tougher and can be handled, where as fish releases ammonia the more you touch / handle it, causing it to spoil; hence the reason for speed – you can always wear disposable gloves to eliminate this. The cooking of fish requires a lot of skill; each fish generally requires a different method. Over cooked fish is not good and it only takes one minute too long in the oven or pan and it is ruined.

Below I have pictures of a whole Pollock breakdown and salting process. We apply the salting process to Hake, Cod and Pollock – fish that is generally flaky when being cooked. The salt tightens the protein ever so slightly which means it’s much less temperamental during cooking. Traditionally salting was a means of preserving meat and fish, drawing out the moisture over a period of days; we do this for 20 minutes only.

The fish is Pollock and is around 6kg. Start by removing all fins and gills, run the knife along the back spinal cord from head to tail in 3 strokes.

We always use the scissors to cut off the rib bones above the cut to get the entire fillet free.

Follow the same procedure on the other side of the fish. Remove pins and rib cage.

Remove the skin always angling the blade to the board and away from you as in picture

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