Archives for posts with tag: Dan Barber

photo 4

This weekend I finally found myself visiting Bageriet, a small Swedish bakery on Rose Street, Covent Garden which is run by a pastry chef that I previously worked with and a place that has been on my list for over two years now!

Daniel Karlsson was born in Sweden and won many accolades during his training and early years before coming to London and starting his career with the team at Ottolenghi. After some time there he joined my current employer, Melrose and Morgan and really expanded their range with his skill and expertise. Daniel is that rare thing in the food world…. a beautiful, calm, talented and industrious pastry chef. Now you would think this is not such a rare thing but believe me, as someone who is trying to find just such a person to be in that role at the moment. The lesser spotted pastry chef who wants to work the crazy hours, retain that sense of calm and beauty as well as creativity is hard to come by.

photo 2

I remember my early years at Melrose and Morgan, turning up one Sunday to get ahead with a Christmas project thinking that there was no one around to disturb me. I arrived to the sounds of classical music soaring through the air and was immediately offered breakfast from Daniel: a bowl of hot porridge and caramelised apples with the perfect balance of spices to bring out the flavour and sweetness. I left him to his Christmas baking and some 7 hours later, he quietly ascended the stairs to the office armed with a small tray bearing a simple slice of salted caramel chocolate tart because Daniel knew that this was a favourite flavour of mine, so he knocked it up after he had finished the Christmas cakes and brought it up with a cup of tea. What more need I say?

When he left to do his own thing, I wanted to help as much as possible just because people like him should be nurtured. I supported him in getting his stunning giant gingerbread houses into the department stores managing to use my contacts to get him in front of Harrods with no agenda other than to support this fabulous chef but sadly the management there couldn’t see beyond the meeting to understand just how valuable Daniel was and his seasonal creations did not make it to their shop floor. It was a big mistake in my opinion as they would have sold loads…. and differentiated their offer from all the other department stores in London. But it was not to be…more, I fear, because of my presence than Daniel himself.

Background pics from Bageriet website

Background pics from Bageriet website

Daniel subsequently asked me to write some copy for his website which I gladly did. I asked him where it all started and he said it was with his Grandma back in Sweden, and all those memories of being a child in the kitchen, as these pictures from his website show.

I was reminded of this conversation whilst I watched Chef’s Table – a Netflix series that L&B recommended and worth looking up if you are interested in chefs and their inspiration. The series covers 6 chefs and their story. Each is different but there is no doubt that their drive and passion for food generally comes from their upbringing and either their mother’s or grandmother’s influence (no pressure all you parents out there!). Massimo Bottura remembers running away from his siblings and hiding under the kitchen table where Nonna was making pasta, giving him a unique perspective above his head of that process which must have driven him to look at food from a different angle and create what is now the best food in the world (his restaurant is currently number 2 in the San Pelligrino world’s top restaurant list). Ben Shewry was inspired by both parents who lived off the land killing their own meat and growing their own produce. Niki Nakayama was compelled to prove herself to her Mum as an equally deserving child in a more traditional world where the son is seen as the rightful heir to the family business of food and parental backing.

SONY DSC

Dan Barber’s mother died when he was four so it was his father’s interest in good food that rubbed off on him, but it was his Grandmother’s farm that really stuck and now that farm is not only the name of his multi award winning restaurant but the farm itself also supplies and inspires his whole food ethos. It was these latter two in the series that we particularly enjoyed.

SONY DSC

I was lucky enough to enjoy a meal at Blue Hill at Stone Barns with the aforementioned L&B some years ago and it didn’t disappoint. In fact for me, Dan Barber is challenging all the right issues and was before his time in understanding the source to plate story. His team are there with him too – from the concierge who took us round the farm to the waiting staff who talked us through the meal, it was an all round experience that I would recommend.

Leaving 014

I’ve always loved beautiful gardens and find myself feeling very happy when I have even the tiniest patch to call my own. Years ago I simply had a few troughs planted out on my first floor flat balcony and that progressed to a small but truly spiritual space at the back of my London pad. Now I am indulging in the most wonderful huge garden which is bringing me loads of joy.

The interesting thing is why there is always such a connection between gardening and cheffing. I know that it makes absolute sense that the people who cook your food like to connect with growing your food but I am not convinced it has always been as integrated as it is these days.

Restaurants like Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons and The Star Inn have integrated their gardens and restaurants for years now and I wonder if that is part of the reason they have so many accolades. Others have followed in their droves including the Pig Hotel with their kitchen garden linked to the hotel and many other gastropub owners who have a desire to link the growing garden to the kitchen menu. There is no doubt that the flavours and interest of the menu are enhanced by being able to pluck something straight from under the window outside.

Even in the inner city of London or New York there are chefs finding space to create their own garden and grow their own produce. In London, the rooftop plot at Pied a Terre boasts over 200 plants and the River Cafe continues to propagate their produce from the garden they created back in 1987.

Bello, Book and Candle rooftop garden

Bello, Book and Candle rooftop garden

In New York, Bell Book & Candle have a rooftop aeroponic garden growing their greens and some fruit and and the likes of Rosemary’s, Roberta’s, The LCL and ABC kitchen also follow suit. They are all getting great reviews for finding the shortest route from field to fork with their own roof to table gardens.

There is also a big fashion to having bee hives in inner cities as well. Fortnums have their own hives on their roof which in turn produces their own honey and there is a company called Urban Bees who will help city dwellers set up their own bees and then there’s Hire a Hive which was a business proposition featured on Dragon’s Den which is now going strong.

Food shopping for dinner at Babylonstoren

Food shopping for dinner at Babylonstoren

I find myself pondering what to put in mine and love the idea that you can grow great things to eat that are also wonderful to look at. My gardener in London had some great suggestions. Artichokes are like some sort of prehistoric beast taking over from the earth and cavalo nero is not only imposing and curvaceious but yummy too. Red chard was just lovely adding colour as well as food options and of course peas growing up tripods give height as well as interest.

The two most inspiring examples I have seen on my travels in terms of a growing kitchen shop is Babylonstoren in the winelands of Cape Town and in Rosendals Tradgard in Stockholm.

Rosendals Tradgard in Stockholm

Rosendals Tradgard in Stockholm

I guess it is this connection with the earth and all things that grow from it that inspires us to create good food. I was listening to the latest interview with Dan Barber who is the master of all things from the ground and has now written his next book all about it. He set up Blue Hill at Stone Barns and really has changed the way we could cultivate produce for the better. His work not only with the soil, but also the rotation of planting, is changing the quality of the raw product and by working on different varieties as well, he is discovering some amazing things about veg that you can listen to in that interview. It was inspiring to eat at a restaurant where the first 12 courses were to be eaten with our fingers and 11 of the 24 savoury courses were vegetarian. It was about picking up the most wonderful version of a carrot and eating it straight from the field it was picked in. What more could a chef do to improve on nature?

The fashion to connect more with the grower and produce is reflected in the continued strength of farmers markets across the world. Watching the film Chef last week had Jon Favreau’s character at the LA markets that I so enjoyed and this weekend I was back at the award winning market in Stroud. Once again there was an abundance of seasonal fruit & veg to inspire your cooking. There is no point going there with a list as it is the product that creates the recipes and menus. I was also taken to Jolly Nice which is a lovely concept parked on the side of the street with a great organic stall as well as home baked goods and a funky airstream trailer serving hot food. Who knew that a roadside venue could be so great but here in the Cotswold countryside it really is charming.

Freshly plucked tayberries

Freshly plucked tayberries

We have had the most indulgent weekend cooking with beautiful perfumed tayberries plucked from a friend’s garden, yellow courgettes adding colour to our Sunday afternoon ham hock salad and a delicious goats cheese from the lovely Renee at Windrush Valley Goat Dairy which was a centrepiece to our Saturday lunch browser board.

Windrush Valley Goat Dairy at Stroud market

Windrush Valley Goat Dairy at Stroud market

Just adding some fabulous herbs from the garden to our salad and a frond of fennel in our water made everything seem so much more beautiful not only to look at but to eat. I think by connecting back to the earth you stimulate even more of your senses because your hands have grown it too and there seems to be a heightened smell and taste just because it is so fresh and vibrant.

Ham hock, bean, yellow courgette and lovage salad with honey mustard dressing

Ham hock, bean, yellow courgette and lovage salad with honey mustard dressing

I am going back to my raised beds, plucking the wild strawberries from the mouths of the birds and planning the next phase of planting for my delight and delectation.

The man himself - Bruno Loubet

The man himself – Bruno Loubet

Bruno Loubet was my first chef crush.

I remember him turning carrots at the BBC Good Food Show many many years ago and I was in awe of someone who could be so passionate about a little orange vegetable. Many years later I was equally enamoured by another carrot loving chef, this time Dan  Barber of Blue Hill. Dan was extolling the virtues of his carrots, grown organically at his Blue Hill restaurant on Stone Barns farm.

SONY DSC

Course number one of our incredible meal at Blue Hill at Stone Barns

These little beauties demonstrate the benefit of great sourcing and respectful farming, which add up to something oh so much better. Our first few courses at that restaurant were all raw, eaten without cutlery and just super super tasty. No carrot has ever tasted sweeter and if you don’t believe me, listen to the podcast and see what Dan has to say.

But back to Bruno, I followed him ever since the food show, trying his various signature recipes and eating at his restaurants until he escaped to Australia. On his return, he went back to classic Loubet land at the Zetter hotel, but it was apparently only a toe in whilst he brought to us his new approach to food which is now well and truly launched at The Grain Store. It is said to have been 2 years in the making and a concept that he has wanted to create for many more years than that.

The overall premise is to respect the vegetable as much as the protein. This is not a vegetarian restaurant and nor would you expect that from a classic French chef, but Bruno certainly redresses the balance and that ticks lots of boxes for me. The decor is funky, the menu interesting and there are great cocktails to match. Partnering up with the equally fabulous Tony Conigliaro is another sign that Bruno has his finger on the current pulse. There is a great cocktail menu including some wonderful non-alcoholic ones. My French Blonde came complete in a brandy glass and was just fabulous.

Grain Store

Overall, I enjoyed the tone of the place. It is open, honest and just a little bit quirky. The designers have had some fun with this one and at times it is a little bit over done but it adds up to something different and I like that. The best bit for me is the kitchen itself which is at the heart of this vast space, with Loubet plonk in the centre conducting the orchestra. He is an imposing host at the centre of the modular pass with nothing separating the kitchen from the seating. It’s almost as if we are sitting in his kitchen somewhere in the country….and that’s hard to create in the middle of Kings Cross.

IMG_1798

Loubet is trying to show us that we don’t have to eat meat to eat a meal. It goes back to the way his family ate and the truth is that most people shouldn’t be eating meat every day. Not only is it not great for you (or your purse) but it’s also not great for the environment. We shouldn’t need to breed the amount of animals that are projected to be needed just to suffice our appetites. Loubet understands this and is leading the way. Clearly people are following and I would recommend you do too.

PIGS

Pigs are very intelligent, clean, social animals with a wonderful sense of smell, which is why they are great truffle hunters. So we should love them for that reason alone. Oh, and they also taste great!

As a nice Jewish girl, I am not sure it is legal to have such a penchant for pig, but what can a girl do? It is definitely the meat of the moment having showcased its best sides through Jamie’s shoulder of pork recipe, the trend a few years ago for pork belly, the whole scratchings fashion and latterly, barbecued ribs a la Pitt Cue co.

Tea towels from Ham

Tea towels from Ham

This Christmas, my presents and cards will also have a piggy feel thanks to the wonderful Jo at Ham who is manufacturing beautiful piggy based things for the kitchen here in Britain.

The Pig Sign

This week, I finally managed to get down to the New Forest to have lunch at The Pig hotel, which has been on my list for some time now. Created by successful hotelier Robin Hutson, this reasonably priced, 26 room hotel is the latest incarnation from the Lime Wood Group. Mr Hutson is a bit of an inspiration in the hotel world. He created the Hotel du Vin chain which reinvented the town hotel and now he has applied his immense talent to the country hotel. The beauty of The Pig is the walled garden, which is central to the concept and really does define the identity of the place. By bringing the food into the heart of the hotel, The Pig has partnered two key elements required to satisfy even the most discerning lodger.

The walled garden treats

The walled garden treats

Cavolo Nero is such a wonderful veg

Cavolo Nero is such a wonderful veg

The Pig menu is created from within a 25 mile radius with chef, forager and gardener working well together to create wonderful British garden food. Everything was presented with a nod to garden, from the first seating in the Victorian conservatory to the presentation of the menu and table complete with herb pots. But the most exciting part was the menu itself. It was creative and interesting and the food generally delivered in the same vein. This wasn’t exciting cutting edge food and some of the flavour was not as intense as I would have expected, but we had a great time and a thoroughly enjoyable, good value meal.

The Victorian conservatory houses the restaurant

The Victorian conservatory houses the restaurant

The Pig hotelThe whole experience reminded me of two other places I have written about before in Top of the World and The Promised Land.

The Stone Barn that houses Blue Hill

The Stone Barn that houses Blue Hill

The first is Blue Hill at Stone Barns, home of the brilliant chef, Dan Barber in New York. This is the best overall meal experience I have ever had. It began with a tour of the farm and ended with a 28 course meal that blew my mind. The first 10 course were vegetarian and the first 12 course were eaten without cutlery!

What the team at Blue Hill don’t know about veggies is not worth knowing. It was the Driven by Flavour podcast that first introduced me to chef Barber, changing my whole outlook on vegetables, and was the only reason I went to Blue Hill in the first place. If you ever get the chance, go there, take the farm tour, see what it is these guys do with every single element of meat and veg and just bathe in the glory of these ultra talented passionate people. Ask about the charcoal, go and see the pigs and make the most of the incredible knowledgable passionate staff who will tell you everything you need to know about the meal. Each table gets something slightly different as the chef creates dishes from what is available so go for it…we did! The Blue Hill clan are genuinely changing the world with their revelations and delivering incredible food at the same time. This is the premier league of garden centric restaurants and it doesn’t get much better than this.

One little part of the garden at Babylonstoren

One little part of the garden at Babylonstoren

The other place that puts a garden at the heart of its hotel and restaurant is Babylonstoren in the Winelands, near Cape Town. The menu and cooking here was not as exciting as Blue Hill, but in terms of design and gardens, this wins hands down. My ‘room’ was actually a cottage which I could quite happily have lived in forever and every single part of the hotel embraced the surrounding grounds. Room service had touches of herbs, you were positively encouraged to go pick your own and cook in your room and the staff even let me go cook the morning breads for breakfast. This is a piece of heaven and a must if you are in the area.

My herby fruity breakfast bread baked alongside the Babylonstoren chef who cooks for Babel restaurant

My herby fruity breakfast bread baked alongside the Babylonstoren chef who cooks for Babel restaurant

Garden centric restaurants and hotels rule and I hope that The Pig is one of many that follow in this country.