By way of an introduction, my name is Paul Bellchambers, otherwise known as The Late Chef. From the age of 18 I have been passionate about cooking and felt at home in the kitchen. I worked for many years in the IT sector finally losing my patience with corporate life in 2009 I started my catering business. I trained between 2003 and 2005 at Thames Valley University qualifying with a Diploma in Professional Catering. The period between 2005 and 2009 was a time to learn more, including a short period in the kitchens at Le Manoir Aux Quat’ Saisons, I used the time as the gestation period for The Late Chef. Today I cater for private and business events and many regular clients. I can be found at a number of local farmers markets, especially Wolvercote and East Oxford, selling my delicatessen food and meeting great local food producers who are creating and making some of the best produce you will find anywhere in the UK. These producers inspire me to create and make the best dishes I can as a chef, the produce deserves nothing less. I also broadcast on BBC Radio Oxford and tutor at the WI Cookery School at Denman College. I started the Wallingford Food Festival in 2010 to celebrate the producers I have got to know and it will be the third festival in May 2013. I am also a member of the Guild of Food Writers.
I hope that I can bring you a sense of what can be cooked using locally grown and produced ingredients. There is so much great produce available with great flavour and quality. Most of all, it has provenance – you know where it has come from and you know that it is the real thing. Provenance has always been important but is especially so at this time with all of the issues around meat and processed meals. Most of all I would like to highlight the produce and producers wherever possible to show how to make the most of what is available.
March – cooking seasonal food this time of year….
As the winter is slowly slipping away and spring is beginning to take hold of the world around us there is a feeling of optimism building for the year ahead. The great inspiration for chefs is the burgeoning list of ingredients that are becoming available. This includes the wealth of vegetables, cheeses, breads and so on plus our local meat and fish sources. This choice can be daunting but it is exciting and provides the chance to experiment with recipes.
March is full of noteable dates, from St David’s Day, St Patricks Day, Commonwealth Day, Mother’s Day and or course, Easter. So the opportunity for a celebration, family get together or just to relax with friends is there in abundance! This means that the recipes books are dusted off or the internet is browsed for suitable ideas and inspiration. But where do you start?
My first port of call would be a visit to the local farmers market or farm shop. See what the selection of vegetables, meat and fish is on offer, from there you can start to build up ideas for meals, dishes and parties. You will also get plenty of advice and suggestions on how to make the best of the produce. If you do not have a local farmers market or shop then I suggest browsing the internet. There are some great sites with the information about what is in season and naturally recipes as well.
So where would I start? Well game is a great source of low fat meat and is such a versatile ingredient. Venison is a fabulous meat with great flavour. One of my favourite recipes is Venison Steak with Oyster Sauce. The combination of the red meat and the introduction of oysters in the sauce the recipe is a truly seasonal dish in every sense. Serve it with some Purple Sprouting Broccoli and a Potato Gratin. In my humble opinion, the dish stands up as a great competitor to a Rump or Sirloin steak.
Another game dish that I love is Game Terrine. The contrast between the minced venison, the strips of rabbit and pheasant highlight the flavours and the textures of the meats. The meats are infused with shallots, garlic, fresh rosemary, sage and thyme, the hint of ‘quatre epices’ giving tones of cloves, nutmeg and ginger combine to put a wonderful delight of food on a plate. Served with some fresh sourdough bread, some salad leaves and a dollop of onion marmalade, this is a plate fit for enjoying with a chilled glass of Chablis.
Coming in to season on the vegetable front are spring green cabbage, leeks, savoy cabbage, kale and cauliflower. These are wonderful ingredients filled with the flavours of earth providing a great base to build a recipe on. I love leeks with a roast, especially lamb, chop the leeks into one inch rounds, them cook the leeks in boiling until just tender and cool them off quickly in cold water. Whilst they chill I make a simple white sauce spiced up with a hit of smoked paprika. This smoky hint of heat from the paprika compliments the sweet onion flavour of the leeks. When your sauce is ready put the leeks in an ovenproof dish and cover them completely. Cover with foil. When your meat is nearly ready put the dish of leeks in the oven for 10-15 minutes to heat and serve with your roast.
So for a celebration such as Mother’s Day, apart from a lunch out somewhere, the thoughtful gift is to cook a delicious roast dinner. Very traditional I know but a roast is to me the quintessential meal for bringing the family together in a special way to recognise how much Mum means to everyone. I enjoyed doing this and it was great to have all the family together on that day. Lamb is a great meat with a sweet tender flavour, especially the early spring lamb available these days. The joints are easy to prepare and a simple way of adding to the flavour is to prick holes in the skin and insert a sprig of rosemary or garlic into the pocket. With a slow roasting time the flavours infuse into the meat and give a subtle dimension to the gravy. I put my meat onto a piece of tin foil which has been oiled with rapeseed oil, lay 5 or 6 sprigs of rosemary on the oil, place the joint on the rosemary and lightly oil the skin of the joint and season with salt and pepper. Add a small quantity of water and the cover the meat with the foil being careful not to push the foil down onto the surface of the meat. Slow cook the joint and with about 30 minutes to go remove the foil lid and allow the joint to brown. When ready remove the meat from the oven and cover with the foil lid to retain the heat. Use the liquid from the foil to make the gravy. Serve with the seasonable vegetables available.
With the meat and the vegetables in season that would seem to be the dinner sorted out. There is of course the small matter of dessert. Well you will find that the supermarkets will have a selection of everything that comes from outside the UK but there are still jewels to be found here at home. The humble apple is still available, albeit from being well kept and stored, they are just as tasty as when they came off the tree. Rhubarb is around too and is, I suspect, a ‘marmite’ fruit. You either love it or you hate it. I love it in its many forms, fool, pie and so one. I think to round off the dinner I would go for either a Normande Apple Tart or a Rhubarb Meringue Pie. Both for me traditional dishes that show the flavours of the main protagonists off perfectly.
I hope that this gentle ramble has been a useful way to see how to use the food available this time of year. Recipes are available on www.thelatechef.com and www.pick.com . Please send me any questions you may have to: firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the Wallingford Food Festival please go to www.wallingfordfoodfestival.co.uk .,