Monday, 18 July 2011

Taste of London - 16/06/11

Probably the only time you'll ever get Michelin starred food for a fiver and served on a paper plate...

I will confess now that I got off to a bad start. It was pouring with rain, I was very tired, and feeling under the (poor) weather. The last thing I wanted to do was leave the comfort and warmth of my flat. But the tickets had been paid for, so I wasn't about to waste the £25 entry fee. My initial views of the Taste of London Festival, therefore, may be a little jaded, and for that reason I will abandon any futile attempts at objectivity (something that doesn't really exist anyway) from the off.

When I first arrived at a rainy Regents Park, I discovered that my fears were correct. When browsing the Taste of London website, I had a strange, sneaking suspicion, that the main clientèle could end up being, well, a little oiky. It was just a thought, but amazing as it sounded, the idea of Michelin star restaurants, Pimms, plenty of champagne bars, and ridiculously priced VIP tickets seemed to smell of certain income brackets. And so there I was, standing in the rain bitterly observing the yummy-mummy, bleached-blonde, wannabe-wags, with their Burberry umbrellas and Louis Vuitton handbags, who'd no doubt borrowed their husband's Range Rovers (Vogue edition) to get here, and paid for their shiny VIP tickets with said husbands' much abused credit cards.

Enough grumpy cynicism. After a while the rain stopped and the sun emerged, and I started to enjoy myself. There were hundreds of tents, stalls and gazebos, with everything from bars and small producers, to cookery schools and of course the great restaurants themselves. Pleasant live music in the form of local Jazz bands were playing too, giving the event a fête-like atmosphere. Jazz bands, local produce, white gazebo's and rain sodden grass – how much more typically British and fête-like could it get?

Anyway, in order to not turn this report into a thesis, and in a bid to retain some legibility, I shall proceed to publish here my notes of the foods I tried from the various restaurants, and whether or not they lived up to expectations:

Le Gavroche

Dish: Ballotine of chicken, pickled mushrooms and truffle dressing.

Nice, garlic-y, prominent truffle flavour but really nothing amazing. I was expecting some kind of epiphany having heard the way people talk about Le Gavroche, but was a little disappointed. It was a nice surprise, though, to walk to into the gazebo and find myself face to face with Monsieur Roux Jr himself! Not as scary as he is portrayed on MasterChef.

Rating: 3/5



Club Gascon

Dish: Black salmon and celeriac remoulade

The salmon was unbelievably soft, but the flavour was so delicate that is was almost non-existent – especially when paired with the bitter celeriac remoulade. It was nice though, and a generous portion too.

Rating: 3.6/5



L'Anima

Dish: Burrata D'Andria and smoked purple aubergines
I had been quite excited about this one. The burrata (a creamy mozzarella) was tasty, and its creaminess was complimented brilliantly when paired with the sweet chutney. The other part was a bit strange, perhaps too cold, but nice when mixed with the rest.

Rating: 3.6/5



Asia De Cuba

Dish: Mexican doughnuts – sweet brioche doughnuts, rolled in cinnamon sugar and filled with butterscotch sauce, served with a mojito sorbet

The dish description sounded tempting and proved to live up to expectations. This was the second best portion of food I had this day. The miniature doughnut balls were warm, sugary and lightly spiced with cinnamon whilst the mojito sorbet was deliciously refreshing. They both worked together surprisingly well to create a tasty, comforting and refreshing dessert. The woman who served me kindly turned a blind eye to the fact that I was two crowns (Taste currency, value £1) short too.

Rating: 4.7/5



Kai Mayfair

Dish: Barbequed Soy and Honey Marinated Lamb – Spiced with shallots, garlic and coriander.

This Michelin starred Chinese restaurant definitely served the best dish of the day. The lamb was succulent and tender, and almost as soft as a marshmallow. When accompanied with the sauce, the flavour was simply outstanding. It was the one dish that made me make a mental note to definitely go and visit their restaurant in the near future. Their luminous green wasabi prawn dish was something of a sight to behold too.

Rating: 4.9/5



A few snaps...



Michel Roux Jr and one of his fans

Kai's incredible wasabi prawns. Has to be seen to be believed!

Tom Aikens & Jay Rayner in the AEG Taste Theatre

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

The MasterChef Cook School Experience (feat. Video & Recipe)

15/06/11

Today I made mayonnaise for the first time. Nothing special about that. It was a Miso Mayonnaise, though. Still not exactly headline worthy. What was unique about this though, was the fact that it was made in front of a good two hundred blood-thirsty spectators at the BBC Good Food Show Summer.

The fact that it was my first attempt must have shown, too. “Jason doesn't look like the sort of person who's made a mayonnaise before,” said the Cook School host, Andi Peters, in a somewhat patronizing tone. “You have had mayonnaise before though, right? Does yours usually have a Hellmann's sticker on it though?”

“More like Sainsbury's Basics,” I (truthfully) replied.


When looking at the GFS timetable back in early May, I decided that I wanted to do the MasterChef Cook School as it sounded like a potentially good experience. I was split between booking it with my old man-crush, Dhruv, or with the 2011 champion, Tim Anderson. In the end I picked Tim, as I liked his wacky, 'mad professor', and optimistic approach.

It seemed like a great idea at the time, but by the time I was hurrying towards the MasterChef Experience theatre on Wednesday morning, feeling flustered and a little unwell, I wasn't so sure anymore. As I approached, through one of the great, crowded hangars that constitute the NEC, I realised that the small niggling fear in the back of my mind was indeed correct; I would be cooking on the MC Experience stage in front of a large crowd. Great.

The blood-thirsty crowd watched hungrily.

Upon entering the 'back stage' room I was warmly welcomed and offered free cakes, quiche and drink (all courtesy of Sainsbury's), though I was none too hungry at this stage. There were only three other participants present (including one with a broken arm), all who seemed notably more relaxed than me. “This is the recipe we're doing,” announced a middle-aged Mancunian in a stripy polo shirt. I glanced over his shoulder at the GFS Recipe Collection & Guide 2011 to see a recipe for rainbow trout with steamed vegetables, daikon julienne, miso mayonnaise, and a ponzu beurre noisette. It consisted of 24 ingredients. I gulped, now even less comfortable than before, and dashed out to get my own copy of the recipe for a bit of last minute revision.

After what seemed like an age, Tim was introduced and interviewed (see the video below), and then Andi Peters asked the crowd to give a warm welcome to the cookery students. Hearing the muffled voices and clapping from the backstage room, and then walking out onto the brightly lit stage, I felt like something from Gladiator – a bizarre and humorous thought considering the reality that I had simply paid to cook some fish on a stage.

Last year's MC Champ, Dhruv.

The good news was that we each had an assistant, a catering college student who would prove to be invaluable (I am much indebted to that girl!). The bad news was that we only had half an hour, and I am a very slow cook at the best of times. I'm also a messy cook, and the work surface looked a state before I had even started thanks to all the ingredients and equipment.

Fortunately, the cooking went reasonably well. It was a bit of a struggle as I had to try and keep up with Tim, which meant turning round to see what he was doing and listening to what he was saying whilst trying to cook the recipe at the same time. My chopping was all over the place, I managed to knock a pot and some spoons onto the floor, and my 'steamed' vegetables were somewhat charred, but we got there in the end; getting the ingredients plated in the nick of time – in true MasterChef style.

Unfortunately, in the excitement of the moment I forgot to photograph my plate, but I certainly enjoyed eating it. The fish, miso mayo and the beurre noisette were particularly delicious.


Overall then, it was a very worthwhile experience. Not only did you get the experience of cooking one of Tim's dishes alongside him, but you also got to enjoy eating it – a dish that would have cost a fair whack at a restaurant. You also got to keep the MasterChef apron and towel as well. Considering the aprons were being sold for £15 each, the fact that the whole affair only cost £20 makes it very good value for money and truly worthwhile. It definitely goes down as one of the cooking highlights of my life.

Oh, and as an added bonus, Andi Peters gave me a bottle of Sainsbury's Basics washing up liquid as a result of my basics joke. How touching!

Oh, and here's a little video I put together from the show featuring an interview with Tim. Hope you like it!:

BBC Good Food Show Summer 2011 feat. Tim Anderson Interview from Jason Wain on Vimeo. (Thanks to Jannic for the Fraiche Food jingle!)

Pan-Fried Trout with Miso Mayonnaise, Steamed Vegetables and a Ponzu Beurre Noisette

It has been far too long since I last posted a recipe, so I thought it would be nice to do a somewhat simplified, slightly more accessible version of Tim's recipe here. Admittedly, when making this at home, I managed to make a fair amount of mess and also burned the fish whilst pan-frying – unforgivable I know!

Serves: 2
Time: 1 hour?
Cost: £3.10 per serving (approx)

Ingredients

2 trout fillets (approx 100 – 200g)
20g butter
1 ½ tsp vegetable oil (or preferably rapeseed, if you have it)

For the Miso Mayonnaise:

2 egg yolks
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp white miso
150ml vegetable oil (or rapeseed)

For the Ponzu Beurre Noisette

50g butter
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 ½ tsp caster sugar

For the vegetables:

10 asparagus spears
5 baby corn
6 radishes

Method

1) For the miso mayonnaise, set a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Whisk the egg yolks, rice vinegar and miso together in that bowl. Drizzle the oil in very slowly – add too much and your mayo will split. Keep adding until you have the desired mayo consistency (you don't have to use all the oil), then season with salt and white pepper. Remove the pan from the heat and leave the bowl on the pan to keep warm.

2) For the steamed vegetables, prepare the veg by washing, chopping the baby corn in half length ways, chopping the tips off the radishes, and cutting the asparagus so that the heads are roughly the same length of the corn.

3) Cook the veg for 6 minutes in a steamer until tender. Alternatively, as we did at the show, put a knob of butter in a largish pan, put the veg in and a lid on top. Jiggle the pan every now and then to ensure the veg don't catch and cook them over a low-medium heat until tender.

4) For the ponzu beurre noisette, melt the butter in a pan. When the butter has melted and started to go pale brown, add the soy sauce and rice vinegar. Sprinkle over the caster sugar, stirring continuously. Keep warm over a very low heat.

5) Finally, for the fish, season the trout with salt and pepper (on the skinless side). Melt the butter and oil in a pan over a high heat. Add the trout fillets, skin side down and cook for two minutes. Turn and cook for a further 2 minutes (or until done). Remove from the heat and peel and discard the skin. If properly cooked, the skin should peel off easily.

6) To serve, spoon and streak some miso mayo onto your plate and partially cover with a trout fillet. Arrange the vegetables on the side and drizzle with the ponzu beurre noisette. Enjoy!