Friday, 8 May 2009

South East Food Group Partnership dinner

On the 6th May, I had the pleasure of attending a wonderful evening hosted by the South East Food Group at the Pillars Restaurant at the Thames Valley University. The raison d'etre was to celebrate regional and seasonal food, prepared by James Martin and Laurence Keogh of Roast restaurant in Borough Market. Worthwhile funds were raised for the student which would be used to enhance their learning and development in food knowledge and sustainability. I was fortunate enough to attend due to the company that I work for, Secretts Direct, having donated the baby mixed leaf to be used in delicate amuse-bouche...a classic amalgamation of asparagus (from Ben Brown of AE Brown Farms in the Isle of Wight) and leek snuggling up together under a creamy duvet,in a deliciously crumbly pastry abode. Served with a perfectly sweet pea, herb, mint and rapeseed (from Pratt's Food in Hampshire) dressing - each entity clearly identified, with a clear, seemingly practised, role-call with each flavour stepping up to the plate when required.

I had the pleasure of sitting with the contributing members of the Hampshire Fayre, Taste of Wight, Taste of Sussex and Surrey Food Links as well as Sylvette, who is the sustainable fisheries development officer. This was much to Oli's (my boyfriend) delight as he finally had someone to talk 'fish' with who could equal, if not out-do, his enthusiasm, knowledge and passion for angling. Luckily, the starter had been served which I was happy with for company - a Kent crab risotto with roasted butter-glazed seafood with crab bisque. The aroma swimming off the plate took me back to the coast and although the salmon and bass may not have, been the ideal choice of Sylvette, with regards to seasonality, none were in denial that the succulent morsels of aquatic life were cooked to perfection.

Each of the courses incorporated ingredients donated by various, regional suppliers and the main course was no exception - Hogsback
Brewery in Surrey gave their fine ale in which feather-blade of beef was braised and served with horseradish and thyme dumplings, mash and carrot. Never to let a large portion get the better of me, I dived in. The meat gave way with less than gentle persuasion to reveal a tenderly caressed piece of beef. The dumpling (a firm childhood memory-evoking favourite) rang true with the subtle flavours of thyme being set off by the caramelised onion chutney that was in place as it's throne. The carrots, delicate and sweet, the mash, buttery and cloud-like. Some complained of volume and density, I relished in it.

The finish-line was unfortunately in sight but I knew that the largest hurdle was still to come and was looking forward to attacking it with all my might. James Martin has a distinct aversion to small portions as well as a full set of sweet teeth. This combination, as I had anticipated, was to provide an architecturally stunning delight in the form of vanilla and ginger cheesecake with cider-spiced pink Champagne rhubarb and a take-on two forms of home-made honeycomb. Now, time for an admission, there are some flavours (which I loathe to confess) that I am not overly keen on. My reluctance to make this public comes from the feeling that a dislike for a taste automatically equates to ignorance and a firmly closed-mind. However, in my defence, it is not for the want of trying that I have tried to overcome this, just a stubbornness that I can only blame on...ummm, well, nothing. That's just the problem. There is no excuse, it's just a fact. No-one's perfect and this, I must say is what I consider one of my flavoursome flaws. My 'list' is comprised of parsley, coriander, celery, ginger and cheesecake. Any one of these I find hard to stomach but the latter two found their way to be key characters in the spectacle that was being performed in front of me on the plate. Despite my well-honed dislike of said protagonists, the abyss which I expected to appear, actually stayed firmly in my head and I, more surprised than anyone else making mmmmmm noises, tucked in. The rhubarb generously complimented his leading lady, Senorita Cheesecake, superbly and the textural difference captured by the honeycomb added a satisfying crunch.
The evening was deliciously fantastic and the South East Food and Drink Group should be proud. You can find more information at It's initiatives like these that pave the way for our much needed and much loved small producers.

Friday, 1 May 2009


Elderflower ice-cream, blackberry jam, horseradish puree, apple and plum pie...I could go on but these are just a sample few of what I remember when I think back to my childhood of growing up in the countryside. From a hands-on perspective, the tastes that nature has created for us to use were there for me on my doorstep, in my back garden and along the overgrown footpaths that entangled themselves through the village. Of course, it is only within the last couple of years that I have truly started appreciating the benefits of having such a wilderness to get lost in as a nipper.

Back then, it was the norm - I was yet to realise that I was actually priveleged in experiencing the proximity to such divine and yet, the most wholesome of produce. Back then, as I grew into a grumpy teen, I resented the fact that there was no decent public transport links to the nearest town, that there was no shop nearby that sold anything but home-made bread, conserves, pates and cheeses. Back then, I was naive and lost sight of what I loved to do as a child...before those horrendous hormones kicked in! Thankfully enough, this torrid period didn't last and I was soon back out, basket in one hand, thick glove on the other - ready to pounce on the sunshine-glazed fruit that adorned our garden and hedgerows.

I am 26 years old and have truly reverted back to my roots - embracing all that Mother Earth pioneered and all those who get cosy with it. I live in Surbiton - a definite half-way house between the bright lights of London and the leafy environment of Surrey. Being here gives me great perspective on both sides and allows me to inspect the blurred lines of rural and urban living, haute-cuisine and seasonality (not that I'm defining them as mutually exclusive), and excessive and frugal living. I work for a company that supplies specialist fruit and vegetables to an extensive number of restaurants ranging from Le Gavroche, Fifteen, Pied a Terre, to fantastic gastropubs including The Builders Arms, The Windmill and The Guinea Grill. The insight is wondrously eye-opening and speaking to fantastically passionate chefs is an opportunity I only could have dreamed of. The farm is in Milford, Surrey - a haven of tranquility and freshness.

The main driver for me to start this blog was an ever-increasing need to vent my feelings on the importance of our independent producers. The more I have become involved in the direct source of where our food comes, the more I have seen apparent the destructive forces of those behind the gigantuan supermarkets that dominate in our cupboards, freezers, minds all for the simple reasons of convenience and, more often than not, mis-placed, perceived value. Once upon a time, the high streets of our country were full of independent butchers, fishmongers, bakers - all arm-in-arm fulfilling not only the nutritional needs of a nation but also the metaphoric communal kitty of warmth, respect and kind.

The projects embarked on by the likes Rosie Boycott, Henrietta Green, and Philip Lowery to name but a few are fine examples of highlighing the steps we all need to take in this fight against big-wigs and their commercial babies.

So, in this vain, this blog intends to do exactly as the name suggests and get everyone going LOOPY ABOUT LOCAL!! Sanctimonious and pious, it is not, simply a review of the best of those places and people that welcome and have taken on the transition. Enjoy!

Please feel free to leave comments, suggestions and tip-offs!