TCS Column no.2: Misogyny in the Kitchen

I’ve been very lucky in life. I am fully committed to the feminist cause, but I’ve never felt able to be that vocal on the subject as I personally have never really experienced discrimination. With a mother and a sister who are both wildly successful from pure hard work, I’ve never felt that I couldn’t achieve whatever I set my mind to. But the restaurant industry has given me a taste of what it’s like to be put down because of your gender. As one 35 year old man eloquently put it when referring to a mistake he had attributed to me which had actually been made by a female co-worker “well they’re all pretty much the same”.Every kitchen I’ve worked in has had a disproportionate number of women and they’ve mostly worked in the dessert kitchen. I get it, tattoos, knives, muscles; cooking is a macho world. Having said this I have also had some really positive experiences of turning the stereotype on its head. For example it was quite something when, having volunteered my ipod as background music to prep work, the chefs chose The Marriage of Figaro Overture. It can be the most satisfying feeling in the world when you prove yourself to a bunch of mildly patronising men and prove that women can be strong, capable and innovative in the kitchen. But it’s sad that these positive experiences are overwhelmed by cases of a few men trying to prove they are the biggest bullies in the kitchen. It shouldn’t be the case in some of the top Michelin starred restaurants in England. One place I worked had a dangerously discriminative atmosphere. A small group of chefs undermining the women in the kitchen rippled through to influence other chefs, porters and waiters. It was little surprise that during my short time there 1 female chef walked out, another gave her notice and the last woman left was new that week.

No wonder that internationally there are over 100 Michelin starred male chefs and just 6 female. This is often put down to anti-social hours being hard to balance with family life, but as the reported 92% increase in the UK of female NEDs in just the past three months shows (Forbes, June 2015), that isn’t what has been holding women back. For a man to show weakness in this industry is a failure; for a woman, it’s career suicide. Luckily women are fighting back. As the Old Boys Club ‘The Savoy Grill’ hires its first female head chef in its 126 history, most kitchens are learning the hard way that women are here to stay. But it’s a shame that in the 21st century, a few restaurants remain a bullying and sexist environment.

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Le Manoir: The Guest Experience.

I often realise how lucky I am with my family. When I read the articles about ‘preparing’ for Christmas where others talk about throwing ornaments, seating plans and drinking to mask uncle Alfred’s stories, I thank god that my family are rather good company. I have in the past lamented the fact my family are not large enough for my Christmas spread and how much I need some teenage boys to wolf down the 11 side dishes I provide. It is a very small, first world problem I face in my family, but then again not many people have 8 in the extended relations category. Let me introduce them. There’s my grandad, this 93 year old world traveller can proudly claim that he recently flaunted an 80years or over ban on a submarine exhibit (swinging through the port holes), travelled on the train down to visit us on his own and gleefully was in charge of twister spinning last Christmas which got more and moreI agitative as he abandoned the spinner. On the other side of the family is the 93 year old, mildly racist grandma, who recent asked my (happily married) mother if she had a nice young man, said to me ‘you look really good, it’s good you’ve lost a bit of weight, I’m sure it will help you find a boyfriend’ and whilst in hospital for a hip replacement ‘ are you alright? Why am I in bed when it’s you who needs a hip replacement?. There is my aunt and One Direction/Justin Bieber loving cousin. Then we have my mother, fiercely intelligent but constantly busy, my father, with a headmaster’s presence which makes you think he’s a lot taller than his 5″10 height and my sister who is living the city life with a job in property – I still have no idea what she actually does…-.

So it’s rather nice to catch up with more distant relations who we don’t see at christmas and realise that I’m lucky that even my over-extended family are extremely good company. I was not going to turn down the opportunity to go to Le Manoir Quatre Saisons with my grandma’s sister’s grandson and his family. They do do things rather well at Le Manoir. It is the little details, from the fairy light lit drive and impeccable valet service (they even retrieved my bag from the car) to the perfect decor, dietary tailored menus and exemplary level of attention – neither too much nor too little-. I may have got a bit excited when we arrived because Le Manoir is my old stomping ground and first experience of working in a professional kitchen. My time at Le Manoir inspired the realisation I actually wanted a career in food and I haven’t looked back, well except the following year when I went back to do more experience…  

I could waffle on for ages about the perfect gin martinis I had pre dinner and the beautifully presented canapés but let’s cut to the chase of the 7 course tasting menu. Our first surprise was the selection of bread on offer. I wish I could remember all the different types but highlights included sun dried tomato ciabatta, pecan and raisin and the intriguing beer and mashed potato bread which the couple of foodies around the table decided to try. Surprisingly light and moreish it has been added to the list of things to attempt. 

 

Butternut Squash Soup

 
Our first course was the best butternut squash soup you have ever tasted, displaying what Le Manoir does impeccably, highlighting the flavours of the natural ingredients. It was accompanied by a perfectly cooked scallop and blue cheese garnished crouton, which I actually enjoyed despite my normal dislike of blue cheese. The courses just improved with the next being a highlight. A melting salmon confit, topped with a little caviar to enhance the flavour and accompanied with a little potato salad and lemon, apple and cucumber to compliment rather than overwhelm. Then came a perfectly poached duck egg in a round ball (hitting my attempts far far far out of the water) with wild mushroom tea. I’m scraping the barrel for criticisms but I will say I would’ve preferred a slightly richer mushroom flavour in the broth and possibly an individual teapot the customer could pour themselves just to add a little theatre. This is possibly the only area some other restaurants have the edge on Le Manoir. My personal favourite is Midsummer House in Cambridge which for me finds a great balance between the theatricality of The Fat Duck and the simple flavours of Le Manoir.  

Salmon Confit

Poached Egg

 Anyhoo. The next course was, I believe, my favourite, – which when I looked at the menu I wouldn’t have said – but the subtle flavours of cucumber against a poached brill fillet, scallop and a little kick of wasabi was literally heaven in bowl. It was at this point I regretted earlier getting excited about wine after some phenomenal champagne and letting slip about my wine course last summer; as the pressure was on to pick a perfect more floral white. Luckily even the non-white wine drinker enjoyed it, dodged a bullet there. Next was the venison, thin slices of perfectly rare meat with a simple red wine jus and potato cake topped with caviar again, a surprise addition. Another unusual garnish was the chicory leaves and microherbs adding a fresh burst of colour and texture, lifting the dish from a traditional venison, blackberry or like combo, giving Le Manoir the edge.  

 

Venison

 
I would usually judge a restaurant on its desserts as from experience it is sometimes where restaurants try and cut corners, failing to hire specialist pastry chefs. But having been behind the scenes I knew Le Manoir had one of the most exciting pastry kitchens I’ve ever seen. Think Willy Wonka’s workshop. There is a rumour the pastry chef at Le Manoir is judging the upcoming professional take on Great British Bake off and I don’t doubt it, desserts are a serious business at Le Manoir. They didn’t mess around with dessert no.1. It promised apple and it delivered an overwhelmingly intense flavour of apple, unmarred by any others. Layers of compressed apples matched with a highly distinctive apple sorbet which we all agreed we could probably have had a bowl of on its own. The meal ended in style with a beautiful chocolate and coffee concoction. A praline layer, chocolate ganache, coffee ice cream, even gold leaf and espresso mousse gave an intense hit. Oh and then Raymond Blanc came over to the table to say hi. Even gave me some advice about my chocolate making ambitions, but that would be telling. Not a bad end to the  night.

 

Chocolate, Espresso Delice

 Le Manoir excels at stripping food back to ingredients, generally favouring to streamline one or two flavours rather than wacky combinations or too many. Some chefs should take note of the cooking style: sometimes simplicity is best; the fresh ingredients speak for themselves. What an evening. Good Food, Good Wine, Great Company. As my uncle said, we should live our lives through experiences and I will be dining out (pardon the pun) on and remembering this one for a very long time.  

  

Posh Eggs and Bacon

So preparation for Leiths has began and brought with it Bake Off style military precision sub divided into weeks. This week was egg week. My thoughts behind this dish was a way to try out poaching eggs without boring them having already experience fried eggs and omelettes that week. Something distinctly light (there had been a lot of carbohydrates in bread week the week before) but tasty and using up the random ingredients strewn in the fridge. I present to you bacon, lentil creamy, warm salad with poached eggs. You might understand why I gave it a shorter name, but trust me it is delicious. 

  
1. Brown 6 rashers of bacon in 1tbsp oil until crispy. Mix in 4tbsp lentils and 2tbsp pearl barley. Add 1tsp each of rosemary, thyme and oregano. Mix in 1tbsp tomato puree, 1tbsp red wine vinegar and 300ml beef stock. Simmer for 10-12mins until reduced. Stir in 3tbsp cream and set aside. 

  1. Meanwhile bring a pan of water to the boil. Take 2 eggs out of the refridgerator and break into 2 bowls. Poach one at a time by creating a whirlpool in the simmering water and gently dropping the egg into it so the white binds to the centre of the egg. Cook for 2mins and remove with a slotted spoon onto paper towels .

  2. Check the lentils for seasoning and stir through a handul of watercress. Place in the centre of2 plates and top with 1 poached egg each. Serve.

Leftover Baked Beans

On the day I came home from my first experience of a magazine food photoshoot, (amazing by the way) I can only apologize for the shocking presentation and photography of this dish. My only excuse is that after getting up at half five, I was simply trying to get dinner on the table. Having said that, the reason I included this dish on the blog is that you will inevitably crave this when the whether gets cold and it’s pretty damn tasty. I am always trying to encourage my family to eat leftovers but sometimes it helps if you literally hide it in a dish. So with the bacon and baked beans leftover from brunch, save of breakfast for dinner, I had to dig deep. The weather is getting colder, the leaves are turning brown and this blog post is dangerously close to sounding like a cheesy hymn primary children sing at their morning harvest assembly… Cheese now there’s an idea. How about a warming stew, lentils, bacon and beans with pumpkin wedges and spinach (well they were in the fridge) and to stop my father from complaining about all this beany crap, I hide it with a nice layer of cheese….

Smokey Bean stew (serves 2)

  1. Heat 1tbsp oil in saucepan and add 3 rashers of smoked bacon, chopped. Cook for 3-4mins. Add 1tsp chilli powder, 1 tsp paprika, 1tbsp red wine vinegar, 1tbsp soy sauce and 1tsp ginger.Add 5tbsp lentils and 1tbsp oil. Pour over 450ml stock, using 1/2 stock cube. Leave to simmer for 10mins, stirring occasionally.
  2. Add 2tsp honey and 1tsp smoked chipotle tabasco. Pour in leftover baked beans. Cook for 2-3mins. Serve in bowls sprinkled with grated cheese with roasted pumpkin or sweet potato wedges and spinach.

  

Green Chicken Curry with Cauliflower Rice

I have, for a very long time, been intrigued by trying one of the new vegetables-replacing-carbs health fads going around at the moment. Given that courgette pasta would involve spending money on a spiraliser…I thought cauliflower rice would be a better starting point. Normally if I served my father any spicy food or indeed a carb-free, vegetable-rich meal I would get “oh what’s this” and a healthy pile of food left on the side after it had been pushed around the plate a bit; but this time it got the thumbs up. Whether this is just because slowly I’ve started to indoctrine my family in food that has flavour and is different or whether he actually liked it is for you to decide once you’ve tried the recipe. (See what I did there…)

 (Serves 2)

  1. Pulse 350g Cauliflower florets in a food processor to fine pieces. 
  2. Meanwhile put 1tsp sesame oil, 1tbsp olive oil, 1 onion (chopped) 2 cloves garlic (chopped), 1tbsp curry powder, 1tsp coriander paste, 1tsp mild chilli powder, 1tsp ginger and 2tsp sea salt in a saucepan. Sweat the onions over a medium heat for 5mins. Add 2 chopped chicken breasts and cook for 3-4mins. Add 1 small can coconut cream, fill the can twice with water and add to the pan. Add 1tsp lemon and black pepper. Simmer over a low heat for 5-10mins. 

  3. Meanwhile add 200ml water to a pan with the chopped cauliflower and cover with a lid. Bring to the boil and cook for 4-5mins. Drain well. 

  4. Add a handful of chopped green beans to the curry and cook for 2-3mins. Serve the curry served over the rice and sprinkled with flaked almonds.

  

Chocolate and more Chocolates

I’ve realised that if I actually want to commercialise my chocolates (watch this space) I probably should stop giving tips about how to make them. So here is some pure food porn of the chocolates I’ve been making. I’ve been getting a bit excited about making themed choocolates recently so apologies about how pretentious they might seem.

 

Dr Faustus – Chilli, Lime, Salted Caramel

 
 

Coconut Creme – Coconut ganache, toasted coconut, orange jelly, coffee ganache

 
Both made for the occasion of the book launch of The Tragick history of Henry Fowst by Griselda Heppel.

 

The Ella Fitzgerald Collection – It’s Alright with Me and Georgia on my Mind

 
It’s Alright with Me – Salted Caramels

Georgia on my Mind – Peach ganache, raspberry coulis, orange liqueur jelly

 

Part of the Noel Coward Collection – Don’t lets be beastly to the Germans

 
Noel Coward Collection

Don’t Lets be beastly to the Germans – Marzipan, Brandy Soaked Figs, Almond Ganache smothered in white chocolate.

I’ve been to a marvellous party – Honey and Ginger Caramel and Honeycomb covered in milk chocolate.

The Stately homes of England – Layers of blackberry ganache, lemon ganache in a milk chocolate cup, sprinkled with shortbread.

Lemon and Garlic Cod, Truffled red pepper puree, pearl barley risotto and crispy pine nuts. Pimms Jelly, Avocado mousse and Vanilla and raspberry macaroons.

I’m sure it appears that my house is an endless stream of dinner parties at the moment. This is mostly because my parents have been storing up invitations to dinner until I came home, giving me an opportunity to practise my cooking before next year. This time it was the turn of some very good family friends of ours who I credit for helping further my career with advice and investment. They were the first people to listen to the ideas of a precocious 17 year old and trust me with catering 21st birthdays, engagement parties and even help me out with my brief hamper business. So no pressure with actually delivering something which lives up to their high opinion of me then… I was tasked with creating something not too heavy and of course given the dreariness of the British weather, something enticingly summery to counteract the rain. But then who in England isn’t extremely used to drinking Pimms outside whilst a faint mist of drizzle falls around them?

   

 

Lemon and Garlic Cod, truffled Red Pepper puree, pearly barley risotto and crispy pine nuts (serves 4)

Cod

4 skinless, boneless cod fillets, 4 garlic cloves, 1 sliced lemon, fresh coriander, black pepper, groundnut oil

Pepper Puree 

3 red peppers, drizzle truffle oil, 1tsp dried oregano, 1tsp dried basil, 1tsp chilli powder, 1tsp paprika, 1tbsp lemon juice, 2tbsp white wine vinegar, 2tsp sea salt 

Pearl Barley Risotto 

2 onions, 4 garlic cloves, drizzle olive oil, lemon juice, 3tbsp sherry, 2tsp each dried rosemary, parsley, thyme, 1tsp turmeric, 1tsp chilli powder, Fresh Coriander, 280g pearl barley, 1 stock cube 

75g pine nuts

  1. For the cod, place fillets on a piece of foil. Scatter with chopped garlic, slices of lemon coriander and black pepper (nb NO SALT) and drizzle with groundnut oil. Fold up into a parcel and crimp the top like a cornish pasty.
  2. Roast the Peppers whole in the oven on the highest setting for 20mins, turning halfway, or until skin is blackened slightly and blistered. Leave to cool.

  3. For the risotto, chop the onion and garlic and sauté in oil and a sprinkle of salt until translucent. Add the sherry and some lemon juice followed by the spices. Add pearl barley and cook for 2-3mins. Add 600ml water and stock cube. Leave to simmer stirring occasionally until water has mostly gone and barley is cooked. Add more water if needed. Stir through herbs. Season to taste with salt, pepper and lemon juice. This can be heated up just before serving, if doing this, leave a little undercooked and add more water before heating.

  4. To finish the puree, remove the skin and seeds of the peppers. Using a blender liquidise all the ingredients, adjusting seasoning to taste.

  5. Bake the fish at 180 o C for 7-10mins. Meanwhile toast pine nuts on a medium heat in a frying pan for 3-5mins, then crush in a plastic bag with a rolling pin. To serve, spoon puree onto plates, top with risotto, then fish and finally crushed pine nuts.

  

Pimms jelly, Avocado Cream, Vanilla and Raspberry macaroon

Jelly 

125g sugar, 100ml water, 4 sheets gelatine, 125ml pimms, 100ml lemonade, selection of berries to serve, mint leaves

Avocado Cream 

1 avocado, 2tbsp greek yoghurt, pinch salt, 2tbsp icing sugar, 1tbsp lime juice

Vanilla and Raspberry Macaroons 

2 egg whites, 2tbsp caster sugar, 110g icing sugar, 175g ground almonds, 1tsp vanilla bean paste, 75g frozen raspberries, 1tsp vanilla bean paste, 2tbsp caster sugar

  1. For the Jelly, Bring the sugar and water to the boil and boil for 2-3mins. Meanwhile soak gelatine leaves in cold water. Remove syrup from the heat and add gelatine leaves, squeezed out. Add pimms and lemonade and stir. Pour into 4 teacups. Leave to set at room temperature for 1 hour. Add fruit, leave to set in fridge for 2 or more hours.

  2. For the macaroons. Whisk egg whites to stiff peaks. Add caster sugar to form a meringue. Fold in icing sugar, almonds and vanilla bean paste. Scoop mix into a piping bag and pipe into circles on greaseproof paper. You may find it easier to draw templates on the paper first. Preheat oven to 210 o C. Drop trays onto a flat surface from a low heat to remove any air bubbles and peaks. Leave macaroons for 20mins to set the tops. Put in the oven for 5mins or until the macaroons start to brown. Immediately turn the oven off and leave for 30mins.

  3. For the filling, Heat raspberries, caster sugar and vanilla paste over a medium flame. Stir and mash the raspberries together as they defrost. Leave to simmer till dark and jammy Remove from the heat. When room temperature, sandwich to macaroons with the jam.

  4. For the Avocado cream, blend all ingredients together and adjust to taste.

  5. To serve, pipe cream onto the jellies, top with a mint leaf and serve macaroon on the saucer.