First Article in OX Magazine – March 2013

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: paul@thelatechef.com. For more information about the Wallingford Food Festival please go to www.wallingfordfoodfestival.co.uk .Image,

Marketing a small new business

The fun of setting up and running a new small business is enormous. The satisfaction when you do something that encourages a customer to buy is great, especially when you have made the product yourself. However, it is easy to get sucked into the making of the product and forget the marketing.

I have tried a number of different ways to market my business and so far the most successful ways of doing so has been online, press coverage and the market where I have a stall, each Saturday. I have found that paid advertising, both online and hardcopy, has not delivered the results. The companies that sell advertising space over rate their reach and the reality is, that for my type of product, food, people want to see it and taste it. What disappoints me is, these advertisers use a range of propositions to get you to advertise which really don’t make sense if you analyse them carefully. You learn quickly!

The press coverage I received earlier on this year in the Oxford Times Business section and BBC Radio Oxford made a huge impact in getting me going with interest and I had a number of clients contact me because of this publicity. I have now become adept at writing press releases!

I love the www.wallingfordlocalproducersmarket.com for many reasons, not least the great people who use their talents to produce a wide range of things. The market has a great feel to it and the customers who follow the market have developed a highly attuned sense of what is good quality and support the goals of produce being local. The true meaning of the word market comes out when you get involved in a market like this. It has been a great way for me to develop my own customers and spread the word about my products and services.

I have an IT background which tends to pigeon hole me for the website side of things.  I have built my own website and now the markets website in the last few weeks. I am really pleased with that site and it is gradually getting more content on it. I am now working with Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to grow the awareness on both my business and the market.  This is fun and I am enjoying the quirks of each social media site and how to get the best from them. These things again will impact the business opportunities for both the market and www.thelatechef.com . Blogging and Twittering is going to be a key way to spread the word and develop a wider audience.

So what else is there? Well there is networking which I do through a couple of groups but I do find that there are some that have come over from the USA or base themselves on those models and I find the way they work is just too forced. I just think that networking is about meeting people and building relationships. This referral groups seem to me to be about generating income through some fairly high membership fees. I found the entry fee for one network to be over £500! Difficult for a small business to justify!

My LinkedIn profile is up to date and 100% and I have engaged in a number of groups there which is a great way for me to get some help, ideas and exchange views.

So Twitter and Blogging are my next little mountains to conquer. Hopefully my skills will improve over time and the tweets and blog posts will become more interesting.

Meantime, must go and do some cooking!! Catch you later……  Paul aka TheLateChef

Wallingford Local Producers Market

A key element in starting my new business is the Local Producers Market in Wallingford, Oxfordshire. This market started three years ago and has grown with over 30 different stall holders. The goal of the market is to provide an outlet for quality local produce, be that fresh vegetables, meat, food or crafts. The market has interested talented people who are committed to producing product that people want to by locally.

Celebrating the 3rd birthday this weekend the occasion was supported by the Mayor of Wallingford and the symbolic opening of the market, cutting a specially made cake, was performed by Angie Best.

Angie Best and Bernard Stone, Mayor of Wallingford

The morning was very busy as I have been involved in setting the event up. I have acted as pr manager, marketing manager, website manager and with help I produced a booklet celebrating the market. I also had to prepare my own produce for my stall on the day. So I was extremely pleased with the success of the morning and the number of new faces we saw coming to the market.

The market is regularly held inside the Regal Centre and one of our new stall holders designed the decorations for the hall on the day. The effect was amazing. The comments from both stall holders and our customers was that the hall looked great and the atmosphere was just like a street market!

A new look for the market

A new look and colourful feel to the market

The effort that everyone involved with the market paid off and it was great to see the market looking bright and there was a buzz all morning. This celebration market 3 years but more importantly it marked the opportunity for the market looking forward.

For me the market has provided a great way to not only sell my food but also sell my business and it has generated a good number of catering engagements. On a wider point there has been a rise in the cost of food especially in the supermarkets. How much of that is generated by the cost of “food miles”, packaging and other issues is difficult to identify but I believe that local producers markets have a great future based on the talent of the people and the need to have access to quality local produce that has travelled the minimum miles and created with a greatly reduced impact on the environment. The bottom line is that a growing percentage of money spent locally stays locally, benefiting the local economy.

Make sure you take advantage of your local market!!!

A day off!

Well I had a day off yesterday. I was invited by a good friend to go to Silverstone and spend the day watching the final Le Mans Series race. 1000 kilometres of racing. Teams included Nigel Mansell and his two sons, Jean Alesi and a number of ex-F1 drivers. The weather was dry and sunny but as per normal a cold wind swept the whole of the circuit.

We arrived and had a much needed hot breakfast. Enjoyed eating this whilst watching the LMS cars tear past with great speed and huge noise! The paddock was open and we wondered through there looking at the cars used to transport their occupants to the track. TVR Tuscan, Mustang, Porsche, Audi, Noble, and many more.

The LMS race started at 12 ish but before then I was lucky (!!!) to get a hot lap in an Audi R8 V10 round the new Silverstone circuit. Boy!!! What and experience! 580 BHP ridiculous acceleration and the ability to pass the other cars on track, apart from the other R8s.

Audi Hot Lap event at Silverstone LMS meeting

The lap was amazing! Thanks to Peter and Audi for a great day out. It was a real treat to get away and do something like this. Now to sort out all the other pictures I took!! Ugh!