5 Course tasting lunch for our winners at 'The Salon' by Marcus Wareing
This year's annual Food Development Awards 'Final of Finals' took place in Millford in October.
Each of the 4 winning couples took home the coveted 'meat cleaver trophy' and were whisked off for the day to enjoy a five-course tasting menu with matching wines at Marcus Wareing's restaurant in Mayfair.
The talented winners enjoyed a guided tour of the busy kitchens before being seated to dine on delicious dishes such as 'Halibut, white bean, Monk's beard and laverbread' followed by 'Venison, beetroot, parsnip and liquorice'. An amazing, and well deserved, treat for everyone involved.
Annual Food Competition 2017
After a long day of tasting, debating, cogitating and tasting some more alongside perhaps a tipple of this and that, we are thrilled to announce the winners of the 2017 Annual Food Development Awards:
And the winners are...
'Tomato jelly with crab salad and avocado mousse', from Ed and Dinushka, from the Mute Swan, Hampton Court.
'Ham hock and caramelised onion pie, with Blacksticks Blue cheese mousse and piccalilli dressed salad', from Anna and Adam from Little Manor, Thelwall Village.
'Braised ox cheek with caramelised shallot puree and ox tail fondant, roasted baby turnips', from Becky and Alix from the Combermere Arms, Burleydam.
'Honey parfait with blackberries, honeycomb and yoghurt sorbet', from Lauren and Joseph from Sutton Hall, Macclesfield.
Congratulations to all the winners, you can look forward to a fabulous treat at the Marcus Wareing Restaurant in Knightsbridge, to follow a little later in the month.
Well done to everyone that entered a dish this year, the standard was fantastically high and as ever we were thrilled with the creativity and enthusiasm of all the Junior Chefs and their Front of House Partners.
Food Development Competition. Day 4. The North. Mains and Puddings.
Seventh session of our food competition finals this year (had to loosen my belt this morning) and we were onto mains in the north. We didn't have any disappointments as the standard was so high.
Everyone made our job as judges so difficult today with even the execs saying, 'best of luck choosing from those'. With such quality and terrific cooking on show, it was really difficult to choose only one winner but of course there can only be one and in the end, we agreed it should be:
Braised ox cheek with caramelised shallot puree and ox tail fondant, roasted baby turnips from Becky and Alix from the Combermere Arms, Burleydam.
So firmly in The Combermere's comfort zone of classic British country dining, the returning main course champions from last year's regional and group finals showed their class again although it was very, very close. Perfect cooking and execution and with a nod to nose to tail eating (cheek to tail in reality) we were delivered an unctuous, rich and warming plate of slow cookedness. With each element expertly cooked we really had no need to feedback anything other than our admiration. The cheek (albeit a touch large) was easily eaten with a spoon and the fondant filled with slow braised oxtail looked just like a potato bone marrow - clever stuff. Super silky-smooth shallot puree with well-judged vegetables completed the picture of consummate country cooking.
Our final five northern teams really made us work this year with all of them neck and neck as the puddings came out to taste, and this gave us a hard decision at the end of a pleasantly warm September day, winners in the end by one point were:
Lauren and Joseph from Sutton Hall, Macclesfield with Honey parfait with blackberries, honeycomb and yoghurt sorbet.
Jo and Lauren were hit with technical difficulties with our freezer on go slow but persevered to win by a nose. What's the odds of having two parfaits accompanied by sorbet and with brandy snap in the final line up? Team Suttons had an excellent blend of honey and blackberries with a yoghurt sorbet they had made for them by Cheshire Farm. The surprise centre of blackberries brought tartness to cut across the smooth parfait with big hunks of homemade honeycomb adding crunch and much excitement for Mary.
Thank you to all of the teams competing with the practising and refining of dishes clear to see. Thanks too to all who sent in some great dishes for us to judge that didn't quite make it through and hopefully you will all enter again next year. There was good humour, jolliness and fun seeing managers and head chefs as expectant parents cajoling and encouraging their competitors along - thanks for coming, your teams really appreciated it.
Again, this year we have a final of finals which this year is in our southern training kitchens at The Refectory on Thursday 12th October with the unenviable task of picking the overall national winners for each category. These lucky folks will win the prize of lunch at Marcus Waring at The Berkeley in London.
Food Development Competition. Day 3. The North. Starters and Light Bites.
The food competition has moved to not so sunny Chester for the second round of tastings. Over today and tomorrow we will add to our four category winners from the southern round in readiness for the final of finalists on the 12th October. Today it was the starter and light bite categories.
Some very contrasting dishes in the starter round content, style and ethnicity. We would be proud to have most of them on our menus. The top three were within 3 or 4 points of the overall winners but in the end simplicity allied with some top cooking gave the first northern win of 2017 to:
Gazpacho with mozzarella, peppers and heritage tomatoes from Rachael and Kieron from the Physician, Edgbaston. This dish from Kieron and Rachael can be taken as a great example of simplicity, quality and excellence, meeting and making a flawless dish. It really did feel like summer had arrived in Chester with bursts of Mediterranean freshness and colour. Although gazpacho essentially is a cold soup here it acted as a very flavoursome and beautifully seasoned back drop to a heritage tomato and buffalo mozzarella salad. All the elements were executed to perfection and this allied to simplicity in production and service secured them the overall winner crown.
In the afternoon we moved to the Light Bite section. A section with much debate amongst the judges as the standard was so high; across the teams only two points separated everyone, in the end we agreed that by the tightest margin the winner was:
Ham hock and caramelised onion pie, with Blacksticks Blue cheese mousse and piccalilli dressed salad by Anna and Adam from Little Manor.
This was a terrific pie and one that has pubiness written all over it. Thin pastry with a deliciously rich filling that still remained light and it combined well with the Blackstick Blue mousse and sharp piccalilli salad. Anna and Adam named it as their 'play on ploughmans' and it certainly had the same taste profile but with refinement. Only thing to work on for the final of finals will be a touch too much saltiness to the ham hock filling, but nothing that soaking the hocks won't rectify.
Another fantastic day.
Food Competition. Day 2. The South.
Day Two of our annual Food Development Awards. We are still on the southern rounds and the main courses are always a little like the 100 metres at the Olympics, in that it is possibly the keenest followed event. The pubs competing this morning didn't let us down with the quality on show being good albeit, there were odd elements from each dish that would benefit from a little adjustment, in the end one dish edged it as winner:
Sarah and Daniel's dish from the Mill House, Hook, who presented 'Slow roast lamb loin with potato terrine, aubergine puree, winter vegetables and lamb jus.'
We felt it was some 'classic British cooking'; some lovely lamb loin matched with rosemary flavoured potatoes and veggies. The lamb is cooked at a low temperature and then chilled, it is then seared off and carved whilst retaining its pinkness. There was simplicity to the potato accompaniment and in truth we would have liked a thicker slice as it was so good. The sauce was intense and flavoursome and worked well with the very tender lamb. Things to look at for the final of finals? Well the aubergine puree didn't need the chilli content, a touch more colour from the searing of the lamb and we are just about there.
Our pudding teams brought to a close two wonderful days of great food and lovely folk. It took the longest judges' huddle to eventually separate them as although there were perfect elements within all of the dishes, there were also some minor flaws. But the dish that we felt had innovated most ,making them overall southern winners was from:
Ed and Dinushka from the Mute Swan - Ed and Dinushka Hampton Court mess, Strawberries, meringue and cream.
We know that Mute Swan is into sharp interpretations of often done dishes and here they took a classic mess and modernised the look whilst adding to the B&P store cupboard an idea for presenting this genre of dish that no doubt will be picked up and developed. It wasn't just the idea though the application was impressive too. Glazed meringue onto the base of the plate, strawberry jelly, vanilla panna cotta (with lovely consistency) and a mix of fresh, macerated and freeze dried strawberries to boot. Some classy cooking and plating from Ed and Dinushka.
So we've come to the end of a great two days in the south. It's been another super foodie event with some terrific cooking, great invention and lots of lovely folk to boot.
On to the northern rounds.
Food Competition. Day 1. The South.
Every summer we run a competition across all of our pubs to crown creators of the best dishes. Each pub enters a junior chef and front of house partnership to represent them in our company wide competition to develop the best starter, main and pudding. We run it in heats; Southern and then Northern pubs before holding a grand final.
It felt very calm on the first morning of this year's competition with all the teams exuding a steely confidence. Cooking excellence with good innovation on show meant agreeing the first southern crown was tricky but in the end, it went to: Ed and Dinushka, from the Mute Swan, Hampton Court, for their 'Tomato jelly with crab salad and avocado mousse.'
This winning starter struck us as a great bit of innovation and a concept of presentation that dovetails nicely into our food style and has legs for further adaptions with different jelly or shellfish combinations. It is stunningly pretty with the refreshing (just set) tomato jelly married with crab and avocado. There was certainly 'heat' in the background and we debated whether the wasabi in the avocado puree and finely sliced chilli were completely necessary? If these were 'dialled down' it would allow the crab to come more to the fore. These are small things to consider for the final of finals in an otherwise excellent crisp, appetising and fresh starter. It's the second year in a row for Mute Swan to win the starter category in the south, well done to them and all the others who cooked for us this morning.
In the afternoon, The Black Jug and Leather Bottle joined the trio of Mute Swan, White Hart Sevenoaks and Mill House from this morning's starter round and made things very close with our overall best Southern 'Light bite' being won by: Ali and John from the White Hart Sevenoaks, who created a 'Pan fried pigeon wrapped in Parma ham with puy lentils and a blackberry and sloe gin sauce'.
This dish spelled confident country dining pub cooking in spades. A neat touch of wrapping the two breasts together visually made for a well sized light bite. As we head towards Autumn this would certainly be that warming dish you'd eat with a glug of a good red wine. The blackberries and lentils were happy bedfellows with a well-judged beetroot purée, adding earthiness to underpin its gamey origins. Negatives? Well none really, perhaps in the final of finals they may consider swapping the sloe gin for Créme de Mur as this would accentuate the blackberries but other than that this was a well-executed light bite that sits beautifully into our food style, not at all bad considering John has only been cooking for two and a bit months.
Such a fantastic start to this year's competition. We are excited to see what tomorrow brings.
Billy's chef fishing day
Billy held his chef's day out last month, and luckily the weather was on our side, it was the second time we had spent the day fly fishing and there was a good turnout. We visited a fishery in the Kent area which was perfectly tranquil and peaceful, unlucky for us so were the fish and they seemed to have buggered off somewhere, out of 16 angles we managed to catch, wait for it... 4 fish.
The winner's trophy went to Szabi from the Mill House who won the crown by catching two, some of us felt he was being greedy by catching 50% of the days catch but at least we had an out and out winner (thank the Lord) it would have been a struggle to split the trophy between 3 chefs. Nicest fish went to Gabi from the Hare for catching an elusive Tiger Trout.
After 4 hours of enjoying the scenery more than catching the fish, we headed back to the Nevill Crest & Gun for some supper and cold beverages which too was very relaxed and enjoyed by all.
South Cheshire college Cooking Demonstration
We were delighted with the great turn out of 'the next generation' of chef students at South Cheshire College this week. We went along to give a presentation about all that is B&P, along with a cooking demonstration of a few popular dishes.
We hope that many of these talented students will choose to start a long and rewarding career with us when they graduate.
Northern Head Chef 'meeting'
This month saw the Northern head chefs meet up with Mike, Warren and Dave for a spot of afternoon go-karting at Daytona in Manchester.
Purely for fun, and why not after Mother's Day, one of busiest weekends of the year? It certainly brought out everyone's competitive streak, a very nice break from the norm and lots of fun.
Southern Head Chef Day
This week saw the Southern head chefs' meet up, which was held on the outskirts of Tunbridge Wells at The Nevill, Crest and Gun.
The day started with some clay pigeon shooting in the morning, even with the flourishing of fake news elsewhere we must accurately report this was won by Mr Ian Slater, Ops Manager extraordinaire with an impressive maximum 24 out of 24 - those of you who know Ian's giant stature will understand that 12 of those he just grabbed as they flew past!
The other part of the day was spent back at the Nevill, Crest and Gun with Chris from Harvey and Brockless who showed us five of the best English cheeses in each category (blue, ewe, goat's, Cheddar style and soft) with a full range of jellies and chutneys to accompany them.
Light Lunches at the Wharf, Manchester
Through popular demand from the regular business 'lunchers' that frequent the Wharf in Manchester, their head chef Simon has added a range of lighter bites to the menu that are perfect for a quick business lunch.
Poached chicken and tarragon grape and little gem salad with sage croutons; Moroccan spiced chicken thighs with lemon cous cous, apricot, date and pomegranate; Smoked haddock fishcake and poached egg with chive and caper sauce to name a few and if you don't mind sharing, there are 2 'platter options' - a Vegetarian option with Falafel, Hummus, stuffed peppers, Mediterranean vegetables and chargrilled sweet chilli Halloumi and the Manchester platter with Castlefield egg, sausage and black pudding roll, ham, Blacksticks blue cheese, savoury Eccles cake and hash cake.
There are many more to choose from. The menus are uploaded to the website daily so those sitting at their desks fantasising about their lunch our can peruse before they arrive.
Food Development Award Finals
This year's annual Food Development Awards 'Final of Finals' took place in Chester. Although there was a high level of competitiveness the atmosphere is always one of fun with an ever-growing number of head office crew 'just popping over' to see what's on offer at the development kitchen.
The official judging panel of our MD Mary Willcock and 'Head of all things food' Mike Carney had their work cut out to choose 4 winning dishes from regional north and south winners. It's always difficult, but 'With such an amazing spectrum on offer, it's becoming ever more difficult to decide a winner with the diversity of dishes'. This year they were faced between choosing an overall 'light bite' winner between a vegan dish of 'Roast savoy hearts with crispy noodle salad, soy and sesame dressing' offered by the team at the Wharf and the Mill House's offering of 'Slow braised beef cheeks' - the difference between the dishes couldn't be more polar opposite, but both will one day be loved equally we are sure by our B&P customers.
Each winning couple is made up of a junior chef and a front of house crew member so the competition not only creates delicious dishes that our customers will no doubt enjoy on future menus, but also gives the pubs the opportunity to spot light the talents of our junior chefs who thrive on the creative process. It's also a chance for front of house crew to get into the kitchen to experience a different side to the business.
Elle from the Architect in Chester, presented a starter of 'Warm crispy pigs head terrine with piccalilli dressing' along with her team mate Alan. Elle usually works Front of house but working with the kitchen team to develop the dish has given her a real insight into the workings of the kitchen and she has since done a 2 weeks' spell with the kitchen team as she loved it so much.
Each winning couple take home the coveted (but rather vicious looking) 'meat cleaver trophy' and will next week be whisked off for the day to enjoy a five-course tasting menu at Le Manoir Aux Quat'Saisons.
Congratulations to all that took part, especially the finalists and really well done to the 4 winning teams: Isobel and Marius from the Mute Swan for their starter of 'Korean chicken wings with kimchi salad', the Mill House team of Stephanie and Gregely for their light bite of 'Slow braised beef cheeks with pearl barley & parsley risotto and horseradish cream', the Combermere team of Alix and Rebecca who offered a main course of 'Pan fried Venison steak with rabbit and pigeon faggot, fondant potato and bramble gravy' and to the Hare's Ollie and Luke for their beautiful pudding of 'Blackberry mousse with brown sugar meringue, roasted plums and pear jelly'.
And now the turn of the South
The finalists from the north have been chosen and now they know who will join their categories from the south.
Each southern pub, as did those in the north, duly nominated a Junior Chef and Front of house Crew member to represent them in the annual food competition.
There were 4 categories to be won and these winners will now go head to head against the northern winners. An overall winning dish will then be chosen at the final of finals on October 20th, but as they say, to get this far they are all winners and so will all enjoy an amazing evening of celebration.
Congratulations to: Marius and Isabel from the Mute Swan for their starter of 'Korean chicken wings with kimchi salad', to Stephanie and Gregely of the Mill House for their light bite 'Slow braised beef cheeks with pearl barley, parsley risotto and horseradish cream', to the Old Windmill's Rob and Paige for their main course of 'Harissa marinated mackerel, prawn and mussel meat paella with crispy shallots' and finally to the Hare's Ollie and Luke for their dessert 'Blackberry mousse with brown sugar meringue, roasted plumbs and pear jelly'.
And the Northern Winners are
Each pub duly nominated a Junior Chef and Front of house Crew member to represent them in the annual food competition. They then set about devising the greatest dish possible to fit within the starters, light bites, mains or pudding section of the menu. Hours of practicing, tasting and tweaking then ensued before they presented their dishes this week to the panel in Chester. After an arduous 2 days or tasting, the overstuffed and extremely lucky panel announced the northern winners to be:
Alan and Elle from the Architect for their starter of 'Warm crispy pigs head terrine with piccalilli dressing', Jacob and Jess from the Wharf for their light bite 'Roast savoy hearts with crispy noodle salad, soy and sesame dressing', Rebecca and Alix from the Combermere Arms who dished up a main course of 'Pan fried Venison steak with rabbit and pigeon faggot, fondant potato and bramble gravy' and finally Ryan and George from Sutton Hall for their pudding of 'Pressed apple with elderflower cream, hazelnut crumble and blackberry sorbet'.
Next is the turn of the southern pubs who present their dishes to the panel next week. Then follows the ultimate cook off to find the overall champions.
Billy's chef's day out earlier this month, was held at Frensham Trout Fishery in Churt. Not too far from the southern office.
All the chefs were given the basic tuition from Mick the Gillie, to get them started, only a couple had been fly fishing previously so there were a lot of newbies getting ready to hook themselves or a fish. Luckily for us the weather was on our side which made the day more enjoyable. Frensham consists of 2 main lakes and 3 much smaller ones, most of the chefs started out on the bigger lakes which were much easier to fish. The fish were very visible from the banks in the main lake and you could see the trout chasing your fly, only to get spooked and move on, but time and time again you would see the trout chasing the fly... but not taking the bait, stupid fish!
Almost everyone was luckily enough to feel the buzz from hooking one of the little firecracker's, some were really greedy and caught five (Ian, Ops manager extraordinaire). But for a party of 11 we took 13 fish away with us, so not bad. The general feeling was this should become an annual chefs event as everyone enjoyed the day so much.
We all went back to the Refectory for a BBQ which Damian had organised; piri piri chicken, steak burgers and loads of lovely salads with some freshly caught trout to help sign off on a great day out.
Our northern chefs had a day of all things 'cheese' up in Lancashire this week. There was a very good turnout with chefs from all over the northern patch attending - head, sous and chef de parties, anyone free was welcome as always. We started off at Butler's Farmhouse Cheeses near Inglewhite (not too far from our new pub, Haighton Manor). They have owned the farm since 1932 slowly growing the business and refining the cheese making process. Today they still make all their cheese by hand on the Farm in Inglewhite and they cut it and pack it in Longridge. There is a good tie in with our own home base in Saighton as they purchased Raven's Oak Dairy close to another of our pubs, The Dysart a couple of years ago and so not only well known for their Lancashire (it has won Supreme Champion cheese at Nantwich cheese awards) they added Kidderton Ash and Ravens Oak goat's cheeses to their most famous cheese of Blacksticks Blue. They took us through the dairy and we saw the cheese making stages with all these cheeses and the differences between how the recipe/maturation alters from blue to hard or soft cheeses. They then treated us to a tasting and lunch which everyone enjoyed with good banter and chat.
We then drove a couple of miles across to Mrs. Kirkham's (although it's made by Mr. Kirkham now - Graham her son). Although Butler's are a small producer Mrs. Kirkham's is much smaller again and so it was good to see the difference between both producers. Graham was very passionate about the whole process; starting with happy cows (they have mechanical cow brushes for the cows to be massaged and relaxed and mattresses to chill out on - honestly!), to what they eat, how quickly they are milked (not standing waiting for hours and hours like other dairies). It was all very impressive and listening to their trials and tribulations as they moved from the cowshed that his grandmother used to make the cheese in with all the natural bacteria and flora that helped the cheese making process to their new dairy in 2007 where nothing seemed to work as it was too clinical and sterilised was very interesting. We then tasted various ages/maturation of Lancashire which varied dramatically. To top it off Mrs. Kirkham laid on some afternoon tea for us, so a good day was had by all.
Fishy goings on
Our Northern chefs took a well-earned day out to visit M&J's in Warrington and then onto Anglesey to see Menai Oysters and Mussels Ltd.First off was the tour of M&J Warrington, meeting the sales team, then downstairs to see all the fresh fish, followed by a filleting demonstration. Then onto Anglesey to see Shaun the owner of Menai oysters and mussels. He gave us a quick tour of the shellfish purification rooms before heading down to the Menai estuary to see the mussel beds where the oysters are grown.
Our Southern chefs stayed closer to home at Billingsgate fish market near Canary Wharf.After recovering from the shock of needing to be up and dressed by 4.45am a really interesting and varied morning ensued; a couple of talks; one from Norwegian Seafood Council about how and what gets fished up there; followed by a chap from Direct Seafood who talked carefully and with detail on species and sustainability. Then a fish filleting display but with species lesser used followed by a final bit of cooking they prepared fish in many different ways. Baked Gurnard and braised cuttlefish and Pollock in beer batter to name but a few.
Winners Dinner - The Chester Grosvenor
Congratulations again to all the winners of the 2015 Food Competition. This year, not only did they win the presage and self-satisfaction of knowing that they beat their colleagues over 4 rounds, they were also whisked away for the day to be wined and dined with a 6 course tasting menu followed by tours, talks and cocktails, back at the end of October. Reece, our winner from the Grosvenor Chester: "Our lunch at The Grosvenor was amazing, we had a great time, the food was amazing, the drinks flowed and it was great to meet up with everyone again.
Mike Carney was really pleased with how the competition went this year: "The Michelin starred lunch and kitchen show at The Chester Grosvenor was a brilliant prize for the teams and a first that we should repeat next year. My overriding memory is of the great people we have working within the pubs who were courteous, good fun and mixed so well together. In particular, the number of very junior and inexperienced kitchen assistants/junior chefs who produced some remarkable dishes that required technical knowhow that could only have come about by the training and mentoring of them by their head chefs'; so all working together to make beautiful food."
The Bolney Stage Children's Cook-off
In a remarkably brave gesture of community education, the Bolney Stage threw open its doors to the local Primary School for a cookery lesson. Children embarked on a High-tea preparation class, before sitting down to enjoy the results of their labours washed down by their own home-produced fruit punch. All agreed it was a joyful occasion, and will be repeated shortly!