Thursday, 22 November 2012

What a Turkey!

"You first parents of the human race...who ruined yourself for an apple, what might you have done for a truffled turkey?"
Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826)

The story goes that in 1526 William Strickland, a wealthy navigator, merchant and landowner dropped anchor into the Port of Bristol carrying six wild turkeys from the Americas.  Up until this time all manner of beasts would grace a Christmas table; primarily peacocks, swans, the more flavoursome goose and the odd wild boar.  A near instant success with ruling class Britain was secured due to turkeys’ formidable size and regal demeanor.  Legend has it that Henry VIII was the first monarch to grace his table with a Christmas turkey.  Never really taking off with British farmers, the turkey remained elite for another four hundred years until the dubious wonders of poultry farming mass production in the 1950’s.  Victorian England began embracing the turkey ever more closely but it wasn’t until the twentieth century that this breasty gobbler became a British seasonal staple with all and sundry.  When studying the history of festive traditions, Charles Dickens turns out to be the real Father Christmas.  Much of what we consider to be hard and fast rituals for the holiday season were either birthed or documented in A Christmas Carol, seemingly set in stone evermore with ‘a prize turkey...the one as big as me’.   Mrs. Beeton recites a vivid story where the farmers of Norfolk would walk their birds through warm, sticky tar and then sand.  The oily tar would dry and form rubber boots with a sandy gripped bottom for added protection, thus allowing for the long walks of turkey flocks off to London for the Christmas markets.  

And so to the farm.  Pipers Farm produces a fabulous bronze turkey slowly matured as nature intended.  Double the amount of time and effort has gone into producing these beauties than most other sources and the annual hand plucking of the birds brings together colourful members of the community in what has become more akin to a social event rather than a baneful chore.  The day old chicks hatch in the third week of May and are kept in a warm barn for a month.  Once the feathers have come on, it’s straight out to the cider orchard where they immediately take to grass.  Cereals augment this green feeding and the little gobblers then feast on falling apples by the third week of June.  The turkeys continue their orchard sojourn until the end of September, reaching full maturity.  Most producers will have killed by the third or fourth month, but Peter Greig knows better.  ‘Leaving them past the point of maturity lets flavour develop.  This is what sets our birds apart.’  Add to this the unheard of three week hanging post kill, and you have a turkey unlike any I’ve ever had the pleasure of coaxing along to Christmas perfection.  Think of it this way; to us chefs, reductions play a huge part in our cooking.  The reducing of a stock to intensify the flavour, the numerous alcohol, fruit or meat reductions all hell bent on building a flavour or thickening a sauce.  Hanging a beast for a prolonged period of time reduces the moisture content, thus intensifying the flavour that the farmer has lovingly built through time, care, environment and correct feed.  Pipers have developed two ingenious methods to give choice and ease to the unlucky cook that ends up with the short end of the wishbone on that fattening festive day.  The ‘Simplest Turkey’ is a complete no brainer.  Legs and breast have been boned out, stuffed with an apricot and hazelnut stuffing, rolled and tied. Pipers own sausages wrapped in their sublime streaky bacon accompany, and a tub of turkey stock for your gravy making is tossed in for good measure.  Seriously, one turkey dinner.  For those of you wanting something more traditional, you can buy a whole boned, rolled and stuffed turkey that will take half the time of bone in, still gives you a birdy shape for the table but with the meat cooked more evenly than tackling the whole bone-in shebang. Of course, if these two tempting tricks can’t dissuade you, the whole bird can be purchased and prepared old school.  But not if I have anything to say about it!  You cannot, I cannot properly cook a whole turkey on the bone.  Can’t be done. Sure, brining for 10-12 hours helps, but it won't be perfect. The breasts will be overcooked before the legs are just right.  It is always best to break big birds down, confit the legs or bone and stuff, even separately roast.  And what of basting?  Think about it.  The skin of a bird is designed to keep things out.  Basting is like an old wives’ tale; means nothing, does nothing.  If anything, basting means you keep opening the oven door, hindering the cooking and crisping of the very skin you’re trying to get just right.  Also, never stuff a whole bone-in turkey.  It’ll take years to cook as your breasts become parchment.  Make a beautiful stuffing separately and pour all those sexy, greasy resting juices from the bird into the stuffing and mix well.  Yum.   

So there you have it.  What you trade for that impressive looking dead fowl centrepiece can be presented even more alluringly with platters of uniform sliced stuffed ballotines garnished with all the trimmings.  Trust me, I’m a chef.  
Happy stress free holidays and may the gods of gluttony smile upon your galliform digestion.

Christmas Turkey a la Carte

Ingredients for 2

250gm turkey breast
2 young parsnips
4 Brussel sprouts
3 Chestnuts, cross hatched
Dried cranberries
A few fried sage leaves
Chopped pumpkin pieces
Rapeseed oil & butter


1) Roast the parsnips and rough chopped pumpkin in a pre-heated hot oven with a little oil, butter and seasoning for about ten minutes.  Keep warm.
2) Roast the chestnuts dry in a separate tray for around the same time. Peel when still warm.
3) Steam the Brussel sprouts for ten minutes or boil for five. Add to the other vegetables.
4) Using a hot fry pan, add a little rapeseed oil and fry the seasoned turkey breast until golden, adding a little butter to froth.
5) Heat the gravy.

To serve:

Arrange the turkey pieces, vegetables and chestnuts fairly between two plates. Top with the fried sage and dried cranberries. Spoon over the gravy. Mulled wine, hot cider or a bold, cold white will do the trick. Merry style.

An edited version of this article was printed in the December 2012 issue of Devon Life Magazine.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Marco and Me

Marco & Me.

It's not everyday that I meet someone that humbles and dwarfs me. A true gent, disarmingly charming and the only bloke besides Johnny Rotten that I will forgive becoming an advertising whore.
Long live the Guv'nor.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Picture Perfect

Chili & Lime Stuffed Squid, Red Pepper Sauce & Polenta
Photography: Garth Vaughan - Food Styling: C. Archambault
    A strong desire to capture the fleeting moment between creation and consumption pushed me towards food photography, yet I find it very frustrating. Not due to its difficulty or the elusive British sun to provide the much needed natural light, but because only here can I achieve perfection. A wise old culinary legend once told me that he gave up on the fire and brimstone of professional kitchen life because he loved food too much. I pondered this for days but it was only my own creeping years and gravitation toward the lens that I began to understand. All factors are against a chef trying to reach the diners with creations as they were originally intended. Time, volume, temperature, distance, balance...they all want to ruin what you have so carefully coaxed and presented. Photography immortalises your creations just as you envisioned. Every possible adjustment can be made before pressing the button to ensure immortality. Apres match, photoshop encases the image in a certain - ‘even better than the real thing.’ Hence the term, ‘food porn’. All the subtle tweaks and additives making the contrived look natural, feeding the eyes with a colourful flood of desire and sending one running to either fridge for a quick fix or phone to book the next culinary outing.

    For me the penny dropped years ago when I was on yet another long day of food styling for a photographer brought in at great expense to shoot the new season of website/flyers. I couldn’t really understand why; in this age of the all singing and dancing DSLR, photography was still being seen as a mystic art. I believe that when it comes to food photography, styling trumps the snapping. Technology is making it increasingly simple for just about anyone with a little flair to take a pic that wouldn’t go amiss in a magazine or framed above the mantle. The rise of Instagram and ‘iPhoneography’ are only in their infancy; but as cameras and filters on smartphones head for pixel heaven and do the job of photoshop with the press of a button, professional food photographers need to have much more of an eye for styling. With marketing budgets shrinking; the commercial setup is certain to follow, and with it the plethora of assistants and food stylists that often accompany the big shoots. This is why a chef photographer can add an edge to a shoot when his/her life has been spent essentially food styling. Give me lots of natural light and a reflector and I can take food pictures to rival any studio. Where this guerrilla approach can fail is with a lack of kit and lens knowledge, or when the sun refuses to shine. Nothing can replace a top photographer who is at one with his camera in the way I am with my knife. And so, this leads me to Garth Vaughan, an accomplished lifestyle and food photographer from Colorado who has spent his career freelancing in New York and working for Disney in Florida. Now set up in Southernhay, Exeter, Garth’s favourite quote is from Ansel Adams, ‘You don’t take a photograph, you make it.’ I couldn’t agree more. Garth approached me after my demo at the Crediton Food Festival and a worthy trade was made. He wanted to snap my food and I wanted to glean in a day as much kit/lens/lighting knowledge from him as possible. Gordon from Intoto Kitchens in Marsh Barton was kind enough to let us work on site and his fab kitchen combined with great natural light and Garth’s amazing Kinoflo soft light managed to make some not so shabby dishes shine stellar. I learned that a £2000 tilt shift lens was needed for my Christmas list and that the right kind of soft lights can look good with food, simulating an alfresco dining sunset.

Fried Sole Verdure, Sea Herbs & Cherry Tomatoes
Photography: Garth Vaughan - Food Styling: C. Archambault
    Back to smartphones. Everyone is taking pictures of everything. If I see one more dog or cat photo...we get it. You love them. Great. Yet this is how food lovers have become over their every plate. I must check Instagram twenty times a day. It has become a great source of inspiration to follow other like minded food freaks or chefs that can’t eat a morsel without first getting the angle right, choosing a filter and uploading. The app of choice seems to be Instagram due to its social aspect but I prefer Camera+ for snapping, Instagram for loading, a far better choice of filters and frames to the former. Then you have fun toys like Paper Camera, Starmatic, ColorSplash, iColorama S and DMD for ace panoramics...although this is now built into the iPhone 5. Add the Photo Collage app and you can start arranging triptychs. What a brave new world. My new favourite toy is the Olloclip. A clip-on three-in-one lens for the iPhone that gives you fisheye, macro and a passable wide angle option. £56 from Amazon. 

    So there you have it. In my opinion; good photography, in particular quality food photography will become increasingly led by the artistic flair and creative skill of the person composing the subject matter. This technology is getting scary folks. Happy snapping.

Top 10 Tips for Great Food Snaps

-If you want to take incredible photos, even the best smartphone isn’t yet going to trump a DSLR. Nikon or Canon. Toss a coin.
-Understanding light. Natural light is best but direct sunlight is too hot. A bright day in front of a big window is perfect.
-A large piece of white styrofoam or card will enable you to bounce the light from one side and fill the shadows into the other.
-Take the same dish with all different angles and props available; in various states of eaten, it will surprise you what looks best later. Sometimes crumbs and tableware look great with rustic dishes.
-Plan the shoot! Think long about the order of dishes, which ones will depreciate quickest etc.
-Shoot tethered to a laptop or have one nearby so you can just slide the card back and forth for checking.
-A fine spray bottle will make anything leafy or raw look dewy and just picked.
-Garth says: Don’t rely on photoshop, get it right the first time or you’ll spend forever in post production.
-Garth’s top tip: If not using a tripod, shoot in three shot bursts...the middle one will be the most sharply focussed.  
-Keep it simple and let the food be the hero.

Some of my recent iPhone shots:

Leeks Vinaigrette

Salmon 'Mi Cuit'

Chicken Chowder

Crab, Citrus & Avocado

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Le Menu

The Fat Duck Restaurant parting gift:
the menu sealed in a velvet embossed envelope and wax stamped.
Chefs are well known for their flowery speech, not so the translation to page. Institutionalized and tucked away in hot, cramped quarters does little for our social skills save holding our own in a raucous corner of the pub. I have seen chefs more skilled than I balk at the thought of having to put pen to paper to aptly describe their creations. When I first arrived in London, it was with some surprise to be thrust into the office chair once my guvnors learned I could type 45wpm, had a proper education, a penchant for poetry and a fetish for spelling and grammar. I had no idea my schooling would benefit me in a professional restaurant, but...if you’re the only one that can turn your knuckle dragging on and off...? I became an asset beyond the stove for all manner of correspondence and proofreading.

    So...what of these hallowed documents? One thing is for certain, most people barely read them. True and painful fact. People are there to socialize and eat, to soak up ambience and to be satiated. Not, scrutinize the menu. But good chefs don’t write or cook for most people. They cook for themselves first, the discerning customers second and hopefully the rest will fall into line. There are a myriad of tripwires that one needs to be aware of when writing a menu and I speak from no plateau of perfection but a wizened old dog learned from mistakes.

Less is more

The smaller the menu, the more attention to detail, the fresher the ingredients. This is generally a rule of thumb. The trick is to still offer a good selection that will cater to most tastes. If someone doesn’t like being offered a realistic amount of options per course for the size of the restaurant...send ‘em down the Chinese takeway where they can order a number 89. Chef Achatz of Alinea in Chicago foregoes the menu only get it when you’ve finished the meal.

Keeping it fresh

Repetition is anathema to the creative mind. A daily or weekly dated menu is not always proof that the chef is constantly creating something wonderfully new, but it is a good start. Your menu should, of course, truly reflect the changes in local seasons. Bored chefs churning out the same old same old lack passion and care, busy chefs that are challenged by regular menu changes are always on that knife edge of chasing a carrot of perfection.


I have gone from one end of the spectrum and back again on this issue. Personally I believe a good restaurant should have simple descriptions stating little but the primary ingredients. This inspires conversation between waitstaff and punter and gives the menu an elegant, modern feel. But geography and demographics have a play. I’m not in London. Provincial British folk tend not to want diatribe engagement before ordering. I have decided with our new menu to include both worlds. A simple top line heading with a more detailed description beneath. Also, keep the preachy bottom page disclaimers/supplements to a minimum and don’t go overboard on stating what farmer killed which chicken by such and such a hill over that particular dale. Over stating your provenance can clutter the wording. Try dedicating the back page to your producers...they richly deserve their own showcasing space. Every chef of any substance uses local, and increasingly wild produce, it smacks of flatulence to harp on about too much.
Wording to avoid;
‘On a bed of’
‘Scented with’
‘With a hint of’
‘Garnished with’
‘Chef’s special’
The list goes on and on. Tack-o-rama. When I see this tripe it’s the equivalent to seeing a hair salon called ‘Cut n’ Loose’ or the obligatory black board outside a bar stating...’Good Food Served Here’. You can’t teach class, but you sure can sense it’s absence.
It is a struggle. The grail is to create a document of substance if not beauty that does not intimidate. I don’t really believe that can be done on the scale that I would personally enjoy, so compromises must be made to set the average diner in your chosen locale at ease. You have to pay heed to your surround.

The Details

Spelling, grammar, fonts, paper quality...all these things matter. Even those customers that don’t pay much attention will have a subconscious current of...’all is how it should be’. Think of the style of your establishment and follow suit with your menu. A leather and silk ribbon bound tome for a gastro pub would be as out of place as a laminated A3 sheet at The Ritz.


It is a fact that the way something is worded dictates it’s rank among sales. ‘Grey’ mullet doesn’t sell. Silver does. ‘Blackened’ doesn’t set the till in motion, ‘Cajun’ may. Head Cheese makes quease. Brawn is bold and traditional, or even ‘Tete de Fromage’...Brits aren’t multilingual. A whisper of the exotic and foreign can entice, too much will alienate and confuse. Some believe keeping the £ sign away is of psychological benefit, let the numbers suffice. And 9 will do. Not 8.99 or 9.99. Keep things simple and elegant.


The last thing to do when the menu is written is to count up all the meat and fish dishes to ensure a good mix. Do you have varying meats, fish of different species? Have you put tomato on four different dishes? Unacceptable. Have you garnished three different mains with asparagus and it’s January? Off with your head. I was always taught not to repeat ingredients or if you have to, give it a different name. Lemon in two dishes? Call one citrus. My uber alpha carnivore nature struggles the most with the vegetarian options. Personally, I would keep them off the main menu entirely so as not to taint. Scribe a separate veggie offering. This will make the leaf eaters feel special whilst enshrining that which you care about most.


As a head chef, unless you are at the perceived top of your game, chances are you won’t have enough skilled staff to execute exactly what could be the pinnacle of what you yourself could create. Accept this. Your dishes can only be as good as what the weakest member of your team can be trained to replicate on a busy night. The larger the restaurant, the less detailed and fussy the food. There are few things worse than good ideas executed badly due to a lack of time or skill.
The best, busiest, most lauded and often awarded restaurants have the luxury of doing exactly what they want. They build up a following by forging their own niche. People go there for a new experience. If you aren’t in this elite game, a balance must be struck between what the customer wants and what will satisfy your creative drive.
I'm getting up there in this game, been at it a long time. Bit bored frankly. With my new menu I've decided to break a few of my hard set rules, rattle the cage as it with my food. A bit more contrived, more elements, heavy on the clever, light on the rustic. Still stay true to my ethos, but give the diner a bit more of a show. Who knows...I may even enjoy the journey.

New menu tasters...

‘Beefsteak Tomato Tartare’
This is one of the most clever dishes I’ve ever created. By created I mean stolen from someone and made it better. A fresh, colourful and flavourful vegetarian dish that mirrors the most classic of meat dishes. No, that's not a yolk in the centre...

‘Pigeon Fricassee, Cherry & Walnuts’
Pigeon is my favourite of the game birds. Pared with a little sweetness, richness and texture...a winning dish.

'Hock Terrine, Ham Mousse Leek Cannelloni & Smoked Bacon Sausage Olive'
This dish was inspired by the Kandinsky print hanging in my bedroom and out of a strong desire to challenge my own repertoire. An old dog playing new tricks.

An edited version of this article will appear in the October issue of Devon Life Magazine.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Cooking the Books

    As I sit in the late night dark of my office; lit only by monitor’s harsh glow, I am stumped.  How, by Marco’s unruly mane or Gordon’s furrowed brow can I even attempt to condense my vast collection of cookbooks into ten that stand above all others?  Those most worn would indicate the most use.  Those like new might have found a place of high esteem, a desire to keep their superior photos in top form or to cement their coffee table status.  However sliced; this list will be in no way definitive, but you can be sure they’ll all be worth a purchase.
    What of cookbooks?  Why is it that a nation not known for its home cooking often finds the culinary arts topping the bestseller charts?  A large part of the answer may be found in the very question.  The popularity of chefs/cooks/celebrities and their glossy offspring are at the very forefront of current British culture and everyone has to have the latest Jamie, Hugh, Gordon or Nigella.  The zippy MTV style programs that often pre-empt the books certainly aid the process along.  Sex sells and riding the rails of just how the lighting hits Nigella as she pours silken chocolate sauce whilst grazing an expectant digit, or the barely contained overload of testosterone a la Ramsey all hit their intended marks.  Whether you fancy the unfussy bish bosh blah of Jamie or the impossible to attain idyllic prose of Hugh, there is a package for everyone to buy.  Every personality type and lifestyle aspiration can find its corresponding chef patron.  I would love to see the great names of this culinary golden age put out books when they have something new to offer, not just linked to a TV program or biannual contractual obligations.  And for the love of foie gras, make sure the recipes work!  
    Don’t take this as cynicism.  I revel in a lot of what’s on show, but I dare say my chef filters are slightly more attuned than the layperson.  I suppose cookbooks are a lot like knives; you only use a few good ones, funny how all the rest stack up over time.  And let’s not forget, I’d bloody love to do one myself!  
And now, in no particular order...ten of my favs.  

Nose to Tail Eating
Fergus Henderson

The importance of this book and its corresponding London restaurant St. John cannot be overestimated.  The seismic shift that occurred within the culinary world due to this Spartan tome still reverberates every time a chef puts roast bone marrow with parsley salad centre stage.  Fergus Henderson reminded everyone it was time for a return to primacy.  Heavy on offal, big on gp’s and wonderfully unique photography; Nose to Tail Eating and to a lesser extent its successor, Beyond Nose to Tail, will stand all tests of time as faffy trends come and go.

Michel Roux & Martin Brigdale

A classic. Simple, clear, practical...but what really lifts this book to the top is Brigdale’s masterful photography.  I would go so far as to say that he inspired M&S for that advertising campaign.  Bright, bold and sensual photos inspiring the reader to make the food.  A must have for home and professional cook alike.  An abridged saucier’s handbook.  One can rarely go wrong with a Roux involved.

Week in Week Out
Simon Hopkinson

One of the most used books from my shelf.  A collection of Simon’s work from The Independent Saturday magazine; it goes a lot in saying I am not a fan of Jason Lowe’s food photography, yet I still turn to this book again and again.  That’s how good are the recipes.  I love putting my presentations on Simon's preparations and I deeply respect the effort he puts into ensuring the recipes work and how his cap is so oft doffed to those that have inspired his path.  

White Heat
Marco Pierre White

A book that broke the mould.  The enfant terrible at the cresting of his powers.  Perfectly chronicled in Marco soundbites and Bob Carlos Clarke’s stark canonizing of the man.  Partly to blame for the martyr game us chefs play that is only now starting to wane under the glaring lights of human rights and health and safety.  Difficult reading the recipes; but the ravioli, the lamb en crepinette, the peach Melba version.  Wonderful.
‘At the end of the day it’s just food, isn’t it?  Just food.’  

Keep it Simple
Alastair Little

An old faithful full of love and great recipes.  Add superb photography and stunning illustrations to secure its position.  Hailing from 1997,  Alastair’s food was being called ‘modern British’ and yet bears no resemblance to the molecular jazz or cookie cut out Michelin presentations we witness today.  An interesting footnote into how labelling and pigeonholing creates confusion.  Just eat! 

Thai Food
David Thompson

A bible.  If you own only one book on Thai food, this is your purchase.  A definitive compilation of meticulous research elevated to reference status.  A culinary masterpiece of culture, history and of course, recipes.  Many of Thompson’s dishes have become my ‘go to’ favourites for entertaining or buffets.

The French Laundry
Thomas Keller & Michael Ruhlman

The French Laundry restaurant is a culinary benchmark recorded forever in this sacred book.  A flawless must have made marvelous by the great technician and zen monk of cookery, Thomas Keller, the masterful food writer Michael Ruhlman and ground breaking photographer Deborah Jones.  The detail, format and sheer style of this and Keller’s proceeding books set him apart from the tight pack at the top.  This book presents one with some of the very best food devised, in such a way that much can be recreated with success in the home kitchen by a savvy cook.  Buy it now.

Nico Ladenis

The first cookbook I ever bought.  My gateway into learning about top chefs and restaurants.  For me, paying heed to trends and culinary politics started with opening this book.  Through it I began a journey of discovery to all the big names and set me off on a cookbook obsession.  I still use the red pepper coulis recipe and I still find the story of Nico Ladenis fascinating.  A beautiful book.  

Au Pied de Cochon
Martin Picard

Cooking as it should be.  Fun, primal, big flavoured and big boned.  A humorous and thorough romp through this stripped back, unpretentious, all embracing Montreal restaurant.  A Canadian St. John with less somber, more fanfare.  Not all the recipes or presentations are to my taste, but it is a unique and joyous shout from the shelf.

Formulas for Flavour
John Campbell

If your forward is scribed by Heston Blumenthal, you must be doing something right.  This is a beautifully shot, technical yet approachable journey through the creative mind of John Campbell, former head chef of The Vineyard at Stockcross.  Incredibly informative and precise, this is a book for an experienced cook wishing to dabble in Michelin territory.  The rabbit saddle recipe is one of my all time favourites.

So, there you have it.  Interestingly, I have chosen seven of the ten from English chefs.  This cannot just be due to these shores becoming my adopted home.  Britain is at the very forefront of global culinary endeavours.  It continues to incorporate foreign- in particular Asian/Oriental cuisines, expanding beyond its own simple past and shrugging off the intimidation of supposed French superiority.  Long may the golden age of British cooking reign and choose your cookbooks wisely!

An edited version of this article can be found in Devon Life September edition 2012
All pictures have been shamefully robbed off the net excluding yours truly and the Nico cover.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

The Importance of Tomatoes

   The importance of tomatoes to our cultural and culinary world is so great it nearly goes unrecognised.  The vast myriad of sauces, preparations, signature dishes, home cooked favourites and processed goods which contain this South American fruit are incalculable.  At times, we need to step back from an ingredient and examine it at its very best, raw and untouched state.  The colours, shapes, varying sweetness, acidity and fragrance of heritage, (heirloom across the pond) tomatoes are unsurpassed.  The versatility of beefsteak, the honeyed hit of cherry, the earthy aroma of any fresh tom from the vine.  The varieties are endless.  Green Zebra have a firmness that hold up to breading and frying, Beef Hearts are meaty and robust, Goldens adding a great colour twist and San Marzanos the classic.  The older I get as a chef, the simpler I prefer my cooking.  So; if I can present a stripped down Caprese but use an unusual mix of tomatoes, I’m keeping it real but still giving the diner a unique experience.
    Tomatoes were once regarded with much suspicion in Britain, even poisonous by some.  By the mid-18th century they were a near staple and British tomatoes in season, (possibly not this one) are some of the very best.

The Importance of Caprese

An Italian classic.
The simple combination of fresh tomatoes, basil, buffalo mozzarella, olive oil and seasoning will be with us until the end of time.  The first picture here reflects Caprese at its most base principle, contrasting with the other offering, an altogether posher affair.  In the latter, the very best of heritage tomatoes have been tossed with extra virgin olive oil, freshly ground black pepper and Cornish sea salt flakes.  Arranged carefully and dotted with basil cress from Teign Valley Micro Herbs, fresh buffalo mozzarella and little quenelles of basil pesto.
Take care when buying mozzarella. Price usually dictates quality and buffalo is far superior to cow. Those 80p rubber balls at your local hypermarket aren’t worth the bother, spend a bit more for the real thing and always serve at room temperature.
Pesto shouts of summer and is a great condiment. Easy to make, stores well and flexible for all manner of pasta, bread or salad combinations.

To make:
3 good handfuls of fresh basil leaves
½ garlic clove
3-4tbsp Parmesan cheese
2-3tbsp toasted and cooled pine nuts
Olive oil
Simply blend to a paste, drizzling oil to your desired consistency.
Top Tips
-Seasoning. So important. Tomatoes love sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper.
-Room temperature. Always. A tomato served fridge cold is a near crime in my world.

The Importance of Sauce

It would be near ridiculous to include a recipe.  Everyone should be able to whip up either a fresh or cooked tomato sauce to their taste with olive oil, chopped onions, garlic and seasoning.  One of the most effective concoctions and one of the very simplest.  There is no excuse to buy jarred sauces.  Period.  A fresh tomato sauce takes mere minutes.  A cooked, thirty or so.  Tomatoes have a powerful flavour, high liquid content and soft flesh that breaks down easily to aid in the thickening to a superb and unmistakable mouthfeel end.  The key is to use fresh ripe tomatoes or quality canned.  Napolina plum tomatoes would be the only ones I use from the hypermarket.  In the restaurant we use Caesar.  Whether it be puttanesca, arrabbiata, Mama’s secret recipe or ketchup...tomato sauce is the queen of all the mother sauces.
The classic Tomates a la Creme first graced the pages of Edouard de Pomiane’s unique and charming book, Cooking in Ten Minutes, and has been handed down through the ages by Elizabeth David and Simon Hopkinson.  A near sauce itself; here I have utilised the best of heritage tomatoes. The end result just keeps the integrity of the tomato with the added luxury of near caramelisation. The acidity of the tomato cuts the heaviness of the double cream beautifully.

Tomates Heritage a la Creme
For a starter or side dish for 4

8 medium size ripe tomatoes (a nice mix of heritage if you can get them)
2tbsp Butter
Sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
8tbsp double cream
Basil leaves

1) Cut the tomatoes in half through their middles.
2) Season the tomatoes well and let sit for five minutes.
3) Heat a frying pan, melt the butter and lay out the toms, cut side down.
4) Cook for a few minutes, jabbing a few punctures in the upturned bottoms.
5) Turn carefully with a palette knife, (try to avoid tongs for most things) and cook for another    5-10 minutes depending on the thickness of the tomatoes.
6) Turn again and add the cream between the tomatoes. Add the basil to the cream.
7) The cream will bubble and reduce very quickly, mixing well with the leaked tomato juices.
8) Serve immediately.

The Importance of Concasse

The simple act of cross hatching the bottom of a tomato and carefully digging out the root with a sharp knife from the other end is one of the first things one learns in a professional kitchen.  Plum, San Marzano or Roma are best for this due to their supple, tapered shape and the subsequent 30-40 second blanching in boiling water, ice refreshing and skin peeling is a job I have performed countless times.  For a time; top chefs tired of using this technique, but we had to return in the end.  There is no substitute for the silky and acidic hit of tomato concasse.  Its most famous incarnation being heaped on Italian bruschetta, the tomato concasse became somewhat restaurant weary with its uniform inclusion into every sauce and garnish in the chef’s repertoire.  A good long rest from the table and a begrudging nod to its irreplaceable position has brought it back to my daily mis en place.  Here I have tried to do a very simple dish of fried cod with a chervil butter sauce, the classic tomato concasse presented very old school- dotting the sauce, and a uniform petal gracing the crisp top of the cod.  The flaky, buttery fish with silky, just-so-tart peeled tomato is heavenly.