The Castle Hotel Annual Staff BBQ 2015

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On Sunday 12th July, we had our staff and family BBQ.  In a nutshell, all Castle employees were invited and brought along family or friends. It was great to have everyone together for a few drinks, a bite to eat, some music, a bouncing castle and various games.

Staff Party 2015In the catering business, there are so many people whose hard work goes unnoticed by customers. Most customers in our hotel just thank the waiter and sometimes get to see a grumpy chef. But behind the scenes, there are loads of people who graft daily.  Without them our beautiful hotel would not function and I am very grateful to everyone who works here as it truly is a great team.

IMG_1516-blogOn a more serious note, we had a games area with 2 trophies for the taking. One for table tennis and one for badminton. There was no surprise when the kitchen took both trophies.  All I can say is “cream rises to the top”.

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Taunton Food and Sustainability Show 2015

Taunton Food & Sustainability Show 2015

For the last 3 years we’ve been part of the Taunton Food and Sustainability Show and this year we were happy to help out with the food demo tent.

For those who’ve not been, this was the 6th anniversary of the show and it has such a great festival feel about it – lots of nibbles, music throughout the day, a cider bar, children’s activities, lots of cool tent stalls and best of all it’s free! Taunton Sustainability Show 2015

Without sounding too hippy-ish the show is a gathering of businesses and people dedicated to making our lives greener. You have everything from beekeepers to jewellers, health & beauty creams to solar panels. But even if you weren’t into the stalls there were plenty of kids activities – zorbing, abseiling & tractor displays to keep you busy.

This year in the food tent, we had some of the area’s best chefs doing cooking demonstrations, assisted by students from Somerset College. The day wasn’t without its challenges such as starting without gas for our cooker and sound system issues (many thanks to Giles for quietly sorting these for us)!

But that’s what makes these shows such great fun. Everything is spontaneous and we get a chance to actually meet so many Tauntonites, as well as a few couples who were visiting from much further afield. It gives us a chance to talk with you and we hope to see you again soon.

Despite our early technical issues, John & I managed to successfully make soufflés at the show!

Some of you have asked for the recipes that we were demonstrating. So I’ve included them here for you to try.

You can follow our video clip and make your own perfect soufflé as well. Let us know how you get on.

Special thanks go to Mark, Becky & all the students at Somerset College as well as Steve Ashworth and everyone for taking part this year. I’d type all your names but I have to get back cooking.

 

English Wine Week 2015

Pebblebed Brut

Who doesn’t love a fine wine? Of everything that the Romans brought to our green and pleasant land, the first grape vines must surely be the most prized.

So inspired are we by this marvellous nectar that what began as a cottage industry in England has exploded into more than 400 vineyards in the UK.

But how many of us have actually tried an English wine? It wouldn’t be nearly as many as those of us who have sampled a Chilean or South African variety. Perplexing when you consider that we, as a nation, have become obsessed with buying local and we are so passionate about our ales and microbreweries. It begs the question, why don’t we support our vineyards as well?

Perhaps it is the lingering perception that our climate couldn’t possibly produce anything worth drinking… a belief that was debunked last year when two English wineries, Nytimber & Camel Valley, snatched two coveted IWC trophies from their international counterparts. A sign that our wine producers have finally begun to gain the respect they deserve.

And with the help of English Wine Week, they may even gain the most important recognition of all – approval from British wine drinkers!

The Castle will be celebrating English Wine Week from 23rd – 31st May. We’ve chosen a fine Devon winery, Pebblebed, to highlight the occasion. Dragons Den fans may recognize the name and remember how they walked away with the backing of Duncan Bannatyne just a few years ago.

English-Wine-Week

Since then, Pebblebed has gone from strength to strength, producing some excellent fizz, which we believe, is worthy of your time and taste buds.

Still not convinced? Pop in during English Wine Week and try a glass of Pebblebed Brut NV for yourself. This sparkling wine is smooth, slightly sweeter than most Bruts and very potable! You won’t be disappointed.

Click here to book a table.

Vanilla Set Cream with Strawberry and Honeycomb

Vanilla Set CreamVanilla Set Cream with Strawberry and Honeycomb

300ml double cream

125ml milk

1 vanilla pod

40g caster sugar

2 leaves gelatine

Method

Scrape one vanilla pod into a small saucepan; add cream and milk. Bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer for 3 – 4 minutes. Take off the heat and leave to one side.

Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water until soft. Add sugar and gelatine to the cream mixture. Mix, then pass through a fine sieve into a jug. Pour into moulds and set in fridge. If you don’t have moulds, use a martini glass or a glass with a wide rim. Leave in fridge for 3-4 hours to set. Take out before plating mains to bring to room temperature.

Honeycomb

35g honey

20ml water

70g liquid glucose

200g caster sugar

10g bicarbonate soda

Method

Put all ingredients except the bicarbonate soda into a pan. Slowly caramelise without mixing. Heat to hard point (150˚c) then take off heat. Whisk in bicarbonate soda. Have a deep tray ready with parchment, as it will bubble like mad. Tip straight into the tray and leave to one side.

Chef’s Tip

I’ve used strawberry and honeycomb but you can play around with it and add chocolate or replace the strawberries for another fruit such as spiced plums, raspberries or peaches. If you have a bit of honeycomb leftover, break it up, dip in chocolate and freeze. You’ll have some homemade crunchies for a sweet nibble.

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

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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

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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.