Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Foie Gras or Fight!

     Firstly, for those of you that are unsure: Foie gras (French for "fat liver") is a food product made of the liver of a duck or goose that has been specially fattened. This fattening is typically achieved through gavage (force-feeding) corn, according to French law, though outside of France it is occasionally produced using natural feeding.

So, allow me to lob my own missile into this hard drawn battle...this foie gras war.

     So foie gras is the new fur, eh?  Everyone is calling each other a liar in this bitter dispute over an ancient delicacy.  On the one hand is the industry.  It is vast, and of course has vested interests.  You can never blindly trust any biased corporation related propaganda.  There is no escaping the fact that gavage is, even during the most humane of productions...not entirely attractive.  On the other hand are the activists.  They attack with religious fervour bolstered by some members' politicized hidden agendas that boil down to a deep loathing of us carnivores and our flesh eating.  Foie gras is easily the 'weakest link' of targets especially when one knows nothing of the history, production or flavour- and is presented with brutal scare tactics.
  The debate on foie gras has heated up and The Terminator himself has passed a bill which eradicates all Californian foie gras production by 2012.  Under immense pressure from his own Hollywood flock, Schwarzenwhatevah has decided to wield his power to control what the rest of Californians can and cannot eat.  (What about fast food?)  The gilded cages of Sir Paul McCartney, Kim Basinger and Roger Moore etc. have opened up just long enough for them to come down to tell us all how 'immoral' we are in our consumption of this delicacy.  As usual the success of special interest groups rarely reflects that of the silent majority's stance or apathy, as is often the case.  I don't want to come off as a grease-splattered, mad-eyed chef waving his cleaver in the confines of his own kingdom (kitchen) giving a two fingered salute to a bunch of amoeba nurturing vegans, but....come on, where does all this end?  Certainly anyone that knows me is aware of my passionate dedication to locally produced, seasonal and often wild product free from chemicals and ill treatment.  I whole heartedly believe that animals should be cared for as much as possible to ensure they aren't caused any grief that would toughen up their little carcasses before I get to work on them.  The same rule applies to the foie gras I purchase.  I don't want poor quality, bruised and bile speckled lobes.  I buy only grade 'A' foie gras from a supplier that free-range their ducks until the last ten days when they do receive that unattractive yet 'means to an ends' twice a day force-feeding.  I have seen the horror movies on the animal rights websites.  It is easy to find bad practise in any industry.  I loathe this sort of production the same way I despise imprisoned, steroid plumped battery hens.  The technique employed in quality foie gras production is carefully time controlled.  Stress greatly affects the flavour and look of the lobes, hence reputable producers take great pains to eradicate as much discomfort as possible under the circumstances.  
     The act of foie gras is an exploitation of a process that ducks and geese perform naturally, that is to over feed for the migration period.  It really disturbs me when I hear certain people comparing the duck or any other animal for that matter to us humans.  That is a duck.  An animal without a gag reflex I might add, hence the force feeding does not choke them as many would like you to believe.  The very lining of a duck's throat is keratinized.  This means it is composed of a fibrous combination of protein cells that resemble bristles or fingernails, allowing large, coarse pieces of food to pass safely.  The technique and tradition of creating foie gras reaches back to Egyptian times and thank God for the bloody French that managed to thwart the ever-frustrating EU machine into allowing them to continue their 30,000 employee industry under 'heritage grounds'.  Vive la France, Vive le foie gras!
'The Foie Gras Wars'  A superb and well-balanced read on the subject.

'Tarte Tatin au foie gras, creme fraiche estragon'

I weep at the modern trend of taking advice from celebrities.  The brain drain is truly under way.
     Lastly, I see foie gras as a treat to be delighted in a few times a year.  It is too rich and too expensive to be a weekly food stuff.  Foie gras has pride of place on many chefs' menus for good reason.  It isn't just the incredibly wonderful flavour or the velvet texture.  It is fab to work with.  Very malleable and pairs well with so many other elements.  If you don't like the idea- fine.  If you don't like the flavour- fine.  But please, I implore you...let us chefs continue to play with one of our most treasured and delicious ingredients.

Saturday, 23 October 2010


     A welcome break down Dartmouth way.  What a great place.  Always nice to dip in and see how the other twentieth live.  Shazz, Dill and I stayed at the warm and welcome Brown's Hotel, (www.brownshoteldartmouth.co.uk)  where great food was had in just the right surroundings.  The best sirloin steak I have had in ages, home made taramasalata, serrano ham, well priced vino and great calamari fritti to name a few of the table side highlights.  Big thanks to old friend, manager Robin Tozer.
     Dartmouth has so much to offer a food lover.  Of course it has been well known for JBR...thank Christ he has finally disappeared.  The most hated man in the culinary world.  I had a megabucks crap meal there years ago.  But enough chef bashing.  Just stay away from most one starred joints!  Ok, ok...we'll discuss all that some other time.  Places not to be missed- The Seahorse, (Superbly simple fine dining from Mitch Tonks.  Had a memorable evening there years ago at- 'An evening with Fergus Henderson.'  Of course Hix was in attendance and the booze made it all blurry towards the end.) Saveur Bakery, Rockfish, Anzac Bistro, countless stylish and inviting coffee shops...we'll explore more next time down.  It is no secret I am a fan of a more rustic, real cuisine.  The older I get the less I wanna play with my food, man.  So we hit Rockfish for an early lunch.  The wife and I are serious novices at the whole dining out with baby thing so it was with some trepidation that we clambered up into the the narrow corridor of this most posh of chippies.  We needn't have worried.  Warm staff sorted it all out for us and Dill was fast asleep anyhoo.  A big thanks to the manageress that clocked and comped two terrible bellinis, (Well...I wanted to see if a chippie could handle it.)  The food was spot on if a little pricey for certain items.  The only complaint being that the chips were a bit fusty.  Possibly they were cut in water too long pre frying?  Lashings of vinegar and salt nearly solved the problem.  I just love the whole concept of the place.  A child friendly yet posh and stylish chippie.  Tonks, yer a genius and this one is gonna go all the way to the bank.  Location, location, location.
     A note to the chef on duty:  We actually had to leave because I just couldn't take it anymore!  It was like watching Gordan Ramsay doing an episode of Kitchen Nightmares at Fawlty Towers.  I really wanted to dive in there and help you, man.  I mean, how dare the EHO take over your kitchen and extract you from a full restaurant lunch service.  Two young pups that must have just got their certs, all gung ho and out to save the world from nothing at all.  First of all, I have never seen two go in before.  One standing there at your pass like a plank, the other a complete spanner in the works of your service.  Shazz had to firmly tell me that I absolutely could not go and tell them to piss out of chef's way.  They wouldn't have got in my kitchen at that time of day, old boy.  Anyway, rant over.  No, I do not have any problem with the EHO...but there is a time and a place.  www.seahorserestaurant.co.uk  www.rockfishgrill.co.uk

Brutish Boletus

Hello...is there anybody out there?

       Once again I headed off blind-folded by my long standing yet cautious Breton friend/forager extraordinaire, M. Kilda Giraudon.  His protective nature over hidden mushroom patches knows no bounds and is a little unfounded as so few of you Brits can be found basket in hand, forest bound.  So, if anyone observed a passive passenger in a small French car careening about the South Devon lanes chatting away happily to his 'captor' check the calendar...it was mushroom season.
  Now tis the end of mushrooms.  As soon as the first frost hits, that is usually the end.  What a great harvest.  Ceps everywhere!  Ok, ok, so the majority weren't true porcini but lesser cousins...still a great haul, free and tasty.  Also spotted and eaten- parasol, pied de mouton, girolles, and a good few field mushrooms.  I really want to find puffballs.  Not sure if there are any down this way but they are prolific in other parts of the UK.
     The cep is a king amongst mushrooms second only to the divine truffle.  Attractive, earthy and meaty they lend themselves well to any number of dishes from soup to risotto.  I love them simply sauteed in a little butter, garlic and parsley and served on grilled bread.  Once dried, the sublime cep transcends its fresh state and becomes a heady additive that can be used almost as a stock cube for bolognese or any preparation where you desire a beefy kick.  We harvested so many this season that I pickled a couple kilo to great effect.  Simply boil them up for two minutes in a little white wine vinegar, white wine and water to cover, drain well and pour into a sterilized canning jar.  Top with a flavoured rapeseed or olive oil.  I infused mine with a hint of garlic, bay and thyme.  Let sit for a few weeks in a cool dark place before popping.  Great for an antipasto or through pasta etc.  
     Remember, wild mushroom picking is a healthy mix of knowledge and skill.  Do not put anything into your mouth from the forest floor without possessing the former.  The latter comes with years of practise.  I am confident to go picking on my own, but it is difficult to spot the camouflaged little blighters.  The real skill comes from M. Giraudon...he can spot a 2 centimetre girolle peeking above a bed of autumn leaves at 100 yards.
     Top tip:  If there are loads of fly agaric around...good chance ceps are nearby.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Chefs & Blogs

     Ok, so here goes.  I have entered the ether and what can I possibly say?  My views on blogs, blogging and bloggers, (blogeurs?) has been low to nil to say the least.  A slight tacky sensation would film the roof of my mouth in a similar manner to some over reduced veal glace when confronted with this new fangled 'tinternet' thingy.  Heaven forbid I come across like Julie...heaven forbid I get stuck to my computer rather than a stove...heaven forbid I start caring whether anyone is reading this.  Regardless, here I am.  First and foremost I am a chef, (more on that later) increasingly I am a food photographer and food writer.  For many years I have had a regular feature in Exeter Living and Salisbury Life magazines.  I have had free reign and no editing from a great guy who has moved on.  New editor, new rules.  I am sure this is for the best, for as you will find out...I do go on.  This change of the guard has been my spur.  At the mere whiff of a cursory curtailment I demand an unfiltered forum to spill my guts about spilling guts or wherever else my food journey may take me.  I look forward to banking an archive of all my anorak-ish thoughts on food and the people and places that get my chef's blood pumping.  Off to pick some ceps.

Everything for a reason, everything in season.