Thursday, 12 January 2012

The most popular of pies

Fancy a pie? Customers at Parson’s Green market certainly do. Little Jack Horner’s pie stall was voted customers' favourite in the LFM stall awards. So, what’s so special about them, apart from the squirrels that have been causing such a stir?

James, owner and chef at Little Jack Horner’s, has been selling very tasty pies through London’s farmers’ markets for two years. His first market was Parliament Hill in February 2010 and he now has stalls at five LFM markets across London.

He says, ‘I've always been passionate about British produce and traditional British food. Three years ago I decided that it was time to start my own food business and pies were the obvious choice for me. Everyone loves a good pie, but I wanted mine to stand out and satisfy everyone, which is why I sell potted pies in enamel tins topped with light, freshly-made flaky pastry that you bake at home. 

‘There’s only one layer of pastry on the top so what you don’t get is stodge. All the ingredients are seasonal and I source them directly from suppliers I know in the south east of England. My vegetables come from Ted’s Veg (always at Parson’s Green on Sundays) and the meat is all free-range from animals that have lived natural, happy lives. They’re given directly to me and I put them straight in a pie.

‘I’d say they’re the perfect ready meal if you’re too busy and don’t want to cook. You just pop them straight in the oven in their enamel tin and don’t have to worry about it until it’s ready to eat. The tins are recyclable so when you return the tin you get £1.50, £2 or £3 off your next pie, depending on the size.’

At the moment James is using hare, pheasant, rabbit, squirrels and venison as well as a delicious range of seasonal veg. His current recipes include

Slow-cooked hare with carrots, leeks, celery, juniper and cloves
Venison, roast shallot and mushroom
Squirrel, beer, prunes and pearl barley
Pheasant, butternut squash, sage, bacon and walnut

Chicken, bacon, leek, split pea and rosemary
Crown Prince pumpkin, spinach, cream and garlic

And making a comeback soon is the bestseller, the steak and ale, as well as a new rabbit, bacon, pea and mint pie. So why not pop down to Parson’s Green and try one for yourself?
You might even make them your Sunday night staple.
As for me, I'll no longer be slagging off pumpkins – long live the Crown Prince!

The Crown Prince pumpkin, spinach, cream and garlic pie

James' top pie-making tips
1. Slow-cooking is the key to stewing meat. Whatever poaching liquid you use for your

pie stew, bring it up to the boil and as soon as it starts bubbling, reduce the heat so that it's merely steaming and blipping with the odd bubble. If you do this, then with time (1-4 hours) any meat will fall off the bone.

2. Stews for pies taste better the following day - so prep in advance.

3. If stewing animals with many bones such as rabbit, it might be a good idea to poach the rabbit seperately to ensure no bones remain in the pie mix.  Then add the cooking liquor to the rest of the stew and add the meat at the end.

4. Season at the end of the stew to avert disaster.

5. After removing from the oven let your pie cool for 10-15 mins before eating.

It sounds obvious, but you can appreciate the flavour of food far better at a lower temperature.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Venison sausages braised in red wine

This recipe is one I adapted from Delia. It is a really, really delicious dish and went straight to the top of my all-time best recipes once eaten. I will make it again and again. It’s deeply rich and flavoursome, immensely comforting - especially with creamy, buttery mash - and also very easy to make.

The sausages, packed with venison, are from The Mersham Shoot ( They’re at Parson’s Green farmers’ market* every Sunday and well worth a visit. They also sell through
This is John, snapped in December under his Christmas pegs and Santa hat. He's your man to look out for at Parson's Green.

450g (1lb) venison sausages
275 ml (10 fl oz) red wine
1 dessertspoon olive oil
225g (8oz) diced bacon or pancetta
1 large garlic clove, peeled
225g (8oz) shallots, peeled
A good slosh of my homemade sloe gin (a nice alternative to juniper berries but if you don’t have any sloe gin, 1 level dessertspoon of juniper berries, very slightly crushed)
1 level teaspoon chopped fresh thyme (dry is fine)
2 bay leaves
175g (6oz) medium-sized, open-cap mushrooms
1 heaped teaspoon plain flour
1 rounded teaspoon mustard powder
25g (1oz) butter, softened
1 rounded tablespoon redcurrant jelly
Salt and freshly ground black pepper (since my peppermill packed in I’ve been grounding black peppercorns in the pestle and mortar each time I need it. It takes no time at all and really brings the pepper to life).

  • Heat the oil to a medium heat in a casserole pan (one that can be used for hob and in the oven). Brown the sausages evenly all over, taking care not to split the skins by turning them over too soon. Next, transfer them to a plate while you brown the diced bacon, garlic and shallots.
·    Return the sausages to the casserole, pour in a generous slosh of sloe wine and the red wine (or the juniper berries if you don’t have sloe wine) and add the thyme and bay leaves. Season lightly, bring it all up to a gentle simmer, put a lid on the casserole and turn the heat as low as possible. Let it all simmer gently for 30 minutes.
·    Add the mushrooms and stir them in well, then leave everything to cook gently for a further 20 minutes – this time without the lid so the liquid reduces slightly.

·    To finish, remove the sausages and vegetables to a warm serving dish. Mix the flour and mustard powder with the softened butter until you have a smooth paste and whisk this, a little at a time, into the casserole. Let everything bubble for a few more minutes, remove the casserole from the heat, return the sausages to the casserole, whisk in the redcurrant jelly and serve with creamy, buttery mash.

*The Mersham Shoot attends other LFM markets as well, see for details

Alan Stewart's seasonal samplers

Here are three of the seasonal dishes cooked by Alan Stewart at Parson's Green farmers' market.
First up...

Mussels with Brussels sprouts and smoked bacon          

550g mussels
50ml cider
50ml cream
5 Brussels sprouts
3 rashers smoked bacon
1 Braeburn apple

  • Chop the bacon into small rectangular pieces and crisp in a pan.
  • Finely slice the sprouts and season with salt and black pepper.
  • Dice the apple and cook in the cider until tender.
  • Remove the apple and keep the cider to one side.
  • Place the mussels and cider into a pan over a medium heat.
  • Cover with a lid and allow the mussels to steam open.
  • Once they are open, add the cream, bacon and raw sprouts and apple.
  • Bring to the boil and serve.


Venison with pickled beetroot and Jerusalem artichoke             

200g venison loin
1 large purple beetroot
2 Jerusalem artichokes
100g sugar
175ml white wine vinegar
75g sherry vinegar
2 juniper berries
1 sprig of thyme
100g butter
250ml chicken stock

To pickle the beetroot
  • Grate the beetroot into a bowl (use rubber gloves to avoid staining your hands).
  • Mix the vinegar, sugar, juniper berries and thyme. Bring to the boil, pour over the beetroot and set to one side.
For the artichokes
  • Peel the artichokes. Spread the butter over the base of a pan and season with a little salt.
  • Slice the artichokes in half and add to the butter. Cook very gently on their flat side over a low heat for about 10 minutes.
  • Turn the artichokes over and add the chicken stock to the pan.
  • Boil until the stock is reduced to a smooth, thick consistency and the artichoke is cooked.
For the venison
  • Season with salt, brown on all sides and pan-fry on the hob, basting with butter.
  • Remove when cooked to medium rare and rest for 5 to 6 minutes.
To serve
  • Dry the beetroot in a towel and place on a plate.
  • Carve the venison loin and place on top of the beetroot.
Arrange the artichoke around the plate and use the cooking liquor for your sauce.


And finally (sorry no pic).

Oak smoked mackerel with winter coleslaw

1 fresh mackerel
  10g oak smoking chips
1 head of chicory
1 Braeburn apple
10g raisins
1 carrot
50g red cabbage
25ml white wine vinegar
100ml extra virgin rapeseed oil

For the coleslaw 

  • Finely slice the red cabbage, lightly salt and place in a colander to draw out the water and tenderise the cabbage.
  • Finely chop the carrot and chicory and dice the apple.
  • Rinse the cabbage after half an hour.
  • Mix all the vegetables with the raisins and dress with the vinegar and rapeseed oil.
To smoke the mackerel
  • Add all the smoking chips to the bottom of your wok.
  • Place a round rack that fits into the bottom of the wok over the chips.
  • Oil the skin on the mackerel and place it skin-side down on the rack.
  • Cover the top of the wok with foil and put the wok over a medium heat for 8 minutes.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and leave to cool, by which time the mackerel will be smoked.
  • Place the mackerel on top of the coleslaw and serve.
If you'd like the recipe for the glazed apples with cinammon, rum-soaked raisins and cinder toffee, let me know and I'll post it.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Loved up in a Basque kitchen

If the idea of spending a morning in a traditional Basque fishing village in the company of a passionate, classically trained chef learning how to cook food ‘con mimo’ (with love), appeals, then look no further than San Sebastian Food, an enterprising company in the heart of Spain’s culinary capital that delights in offering visitors memorable food experiences.

You’ll learn to appreciate the true value of cooking with local, seasonal produce, cook several dishes from whatever food and fish are available on the day, meet the local suppliers who often pop in for a chat and glass of Txakoli, and learn some tricks of the trade including how to chop like a real chef (if you don’t already) or maybe even hack the jaws off a very large hake (optional). To top it all off, you will enjoy the fruits of your labour – and a few delightful extras from the memorable chef, Alex – on the waterfront over a leisurely lunch in the afternoon sun.

Our party of ten met outside San Sebastian Food to do just this on a glorious September morning. We were driven over one of the beautiful green hills that surround San Sebastian to San Pedro, where, in high spirits, we hopped into a small boat for the short crossing to San Juan, where the cookery class is held.

Other than a couple of walkers with sticks and scallop shells on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela, there are no signs of tourism in this village, which has been preserved entirely intact. Around the central square are just a couple of restaurants and traditional wooden houses, each with balconies and two windows framed in the same colours as the bobbing fishing boats, green, blue or red.

Greeting us is our smiling chef Alex Barcenilla, who’s going to share his love of Basque cuisine and teach us how to make the most of the day’s ingredients. Alex and his wife have been running this restaurant, Txulotxo, which overhangs the water’s edge, for the last three years. With 20 years’ experience in Basque restaurant kitchens, including three at the three-Michelen starred Akelarre, Alex is now keen to pass on his knowledge and enthusiasm to others.

It’s obvious from the outset that he is full of heart when it comes to food. The way he looks at it alone is a big giveaway; he can’t take his eyes off the produce that’s laid out before us. And once he starts talking he’s away – there are so many ideas for how to make the best of what we’ve got.

In the kitchen spread out on the worktop is the produce we’re going to be cooking with. No planning has gone into this, what’s here is simply what is available. It’s seasonal, it’s fresh and it’s local. This approach to cooking is the only one in this restaurant and it certainly gets the creative ideas flowing. Rather than deciding what to cook and then going out to find the ingredients, here, it’s about making the best you can out of the ingredients that are available. And it seems the options are endless.

Ready, steady, cook!
Today we have red and green peppers, plus guindilla peppers and two boxes of black and white beans just delivered by local gardener José Maria, who’ll be back later to get the verdict on their quality. We also have pumpkins, potatoes, courgettes, tomatoes, onions and, taking centre stage, four large hake (merluza) and a huge monkfish (ropa), typical Basque fish.

They’d hoped for some line caught squid from retired fisherman Juanito, who supplies the restaurant when he can, but it wasn’t to be. Nonetheless, Alex tells us that frozen squid is perfectly good to cook with as the ice crystals break down the fibres, making the squid softer. A spanking fresh squid is too hard to eat; like crunching cartilage, he says. For squid to change from transparent to white when it’s ready to cook takes about three or so days, so the absence of a fresh catch is not a problem.

Each day brings new ideas for dishes. As the catch of the day and various produce comes in, so Alex’s ideas about what to do with them take shape. He knows exactly which village everything in the kitchen is from, or which fisherman, and has complete respect for his ingredients. He also tells us that his vegetables talk to him. Just as a piece of stone talks to the sculptor, so the pumpkin is offering up suggestions. As he moves around the kitchen, he tells us that ideas are constantly occurring to him, at every stage of cooking a dish.

While we’re gathered round in our black aprons, he’s inspecting the produce and planning the menu aloud in Spanish; ravioli with pistou is an idea for one dish. Perhaps a soup with some of the beans and he thinks we’ll make hake in parsley sauce, a classic Basque dish. (See recipes).

The black beans are poor quality, however. They’re different sizes so some will take longer to cook than others. Alex treats all his food with love (‘con mimo’), and he tells us that these black beans will need more than their fair share. The white ones, however, are pronounced to be the best in the world and his eyes light up as he admires their quality.

Down to business
It’s time for our party to split into groups of three. Over in one corner of the kitchen, work gets started on the hake and instructions given on how to prepare it from scratch. It’s lifted niftily from the counter by its eyes, slapped onto another surface to be de-scaled (this one’s been net caught as its scales have been damaged in the rough and tumble), snipped of its fins, skinned, and then it’s over to any willing volunteers to take a machete to its jaws. It’s not an easy task and its eyes take a fair few blows from two determined women in our group, but the job’s eventually done and a fair few photos taken in the process. Then the group switches so everyone gets a chance to see how the fish are prepared.

Nightmare in a Basque kitchen
At the hob, we’re being taught to cook the black and white beans ‘con mimo’ and to use our senses. The right amount of water is needed, then a rolling boil needs to be maintained with more cold water added if the pressure rises. A chopped, peeled potato goes into each pan. The pieces need to be angular, so rather than slicing through, the knife must break off beforehand so you hear a snap. These angled pieces release more starch into the water and will give a good consistency to the soup.

The kitchen’s warming up and there’s plenty of preparation to be done, vegetables to chop for the pistou and bean soups (following a brief ‘how to’ lesson), fish to fry, beans to monitor, ravioli to prepare and anchovies to wash for canapés.

Soft hands, anyone?  
These anchovies are real treasures. They’ve been stored in a large black bucket that hasn’t been moved from its spot on the kitchen floor for the last year or more. Alex lifts its lid to reveal the very last layer of lovingly salted anchovies at the bottom of the bucket. Someone with soft hands is needed to wash the salt gently away to prevent damage to the skin
(sadly, I was on rolling boil watch).

We hear that anchovies from the Cantabrian Sea are considered the best because they’ve had to work hard to survive in the rough, cold waters. A ban has been in place for the last five years due to over-fishing, but last year it was lifted for three months.

The anchovies in the bucket were salted last April and it’s a privilege to sample this final layer. We thread them onto cocktail sticks with pickled guindillas and an olive to make Gilda pintxos, I wanted to wolf the lot.

As the sweet, red pepper aromas of the pistou fill the kitchen, it’s time to pre-cook some hake. Alex demonstrates, then it’s over to us. Into a heavy-bottomed pan on the heat goes some chopped garlic and a couple of dried chillies. Olive oil is added; two generous glugs. On hearing the garlic, a piece of seasoned, floured hake goes in. It’s left for less than a minute, then the pan is shaken before adding a few splashes of white wine. The hake is then turned over, given another good shake and then put aside until it’s time to cook through just before serving.

We learn that when the fish is cooked its flakes will separate and that it’s best to check near to the bone to ensure it’s cooked through.

Checking up and tucking in
In comes José Maria, who’s supplied the beans and various other produce. Alex can’t bring himself to be too critical about his black beans. They converse in Spanish but the facial expressions say it all. But the guindillas and white beans are praised and as they chat and Txakoli is served, his produce is admired by all.

Once all the preparation is done (recipes for all dishes made on the day will be given out at the end), we’re led to our table outside in the sun, overlooking the boats and San Pedro across the water. A six-course feast follows some entertaining exchanges with the local villagers who’ve popped in for their lunchtime tipple.

We start with a thick slice of deep red, juicy tomato – I can’t take my eyes off it myself now – and salty slices of monkfish cheek. This is followed by two courses of the beans, the first a black bean soup served with tender slivers of much-prized monkfish liver. It’s delicate in flavour and feels full of goodness. Next are the white beans in a warm tomato and red pepper broth with smoky pieces of spicy chorizo. It’s a simple, hearty dish and one you’d happily survive on for weeks at a time.  

A glorious looking plate then appears before us, lightening up the table with its sunny colours and beautiful presentation. A gentle, golden pumpkin purée is topped with the deliciously slippery ravioli pistou. Upon this is a softly poached egg, its deep yellow, liquid yolk a delight to release.

We then eat monkfish and hake, which are brought out whole and served at the table. The hake is then left at the end and we’re invited to help ourselves to the most flavoursome, gelatinous chunks to be clawed out of its head. They don’t go to waste.

Then, after dessert and coffee and an hour over time, though no-one is watching the clock, we clamber back into our boat for San Pedro. Recipes for the dishes are handed out once back at the San Sebastian Food offices, then our happy throng disperses into the sun-filled, sandstone streets of San Sebastian.

The Basque cookery course is a whole lot more than learning how to cook this type of cuisine. It’s an opportunity to go behind the scenes of a real Basque restaurant, see how a typical day’s dishes are prepared and meet a chef who will fill you with inspiration to make the most of local, seasonal ingredients, wherever you may be.
It’s an experience you’ll no doubt be longing for when you’re back under gloomy skies.

Tempted? See

For examples of Basque dishes, see Recipes.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

You're the one for me

A pintxo tour around San Sebastian’s old town is the perfect way to get any visit off to a flying start. Here’s a review of one
I heartily enjoyed

It’s impossible to lay eyes on San Sebastian and not fall madly in love, so says the Lonely Planet’s guide to Spain. A week in and I was decidedly smitten. There is plenty to love. Apart from the beaches, surfers cycling along the seafront with their boards, sandstone buildings and tree-lined avenues, sumptuous churches, sculptures, hills and a glamorous international film festival every September, there is, of course, the amazing food. This really is a gastronomic paradise. There are more Michelin-starred restaurants per capita in San Sebastian than anywhere else in Europe. Some gluttons cram the top three into a weekend stay.

But accessible to all are the pintxo bars, which abound in the old town. Pintxo (prounounced pincho) comes from the Basque verb pintxar, to spike, which makes perfect sense when you see that many of the tasty morsels that grace bar upon bar in this tightly-bound grid of streets are neatly secured with a cocktail stick. 

The experience of entering this foodie heaven can be overwhelming. The sight of countless plates of tantalising tapas, many of them artful creations, others in fact slices of bread topped with various fishy mixes heavy with mayonnaise, can be a tad intimidating at first. Some dive in upon being handed a large plate and stack up as if at a wedding buffet, but at between one and six euros a pintxo, it soon adds up and in any case, that’s not the Spanish way.

To really immerse yourself and learn from the offset how to make the most of this most marvellous Basque city, head to San Sebastian Food. Among the many gastronomic experiences this young and enterprising business offers are pintxo tours and, for a very reasonable 85 euros (a fair bit more than the tourist office tour, yes, but worth it), you’ll find yourself, as I did, in the charming hands of our guide for the evening, Jon Warren.

You will be given a thoroughly enjoyable introduction to some of the best bars in the old town, each chosen as they specialise in a particular type of pintxo. No commission passes hands; these are simply Jon’s favourite places. He’s keen to pass his knowledge on and give people a real sense of the pintxo experience so they know where to go for tip-top tapas.

Groups generally meet outside San Sebastian Food’s offices in the old town at 6.30pm. The two-hour tours run most evenings in high season. A quick introduction to the honour system, whereby we’re informed that usual practice is to pay at the end rather than as you order, and we’re on our way.

Ready for the off 
A complete run-down of the tour could spoil the fun for anyone considering going, but here is some idea of what you can expect. At our first stop we sample gambas a la plancha, mini skewers of smoky prawns and tiny pieces of bacon served straight from the sizzling grill. A touch of sweet vinaigrette studded with finely diced peppers, carrots and onions adds just enough moisture to this lip-smacking treat.

This is accompanied by a glass of the local wine, Txakoli, poured impressively from a great height to ensure it is fully aerated and, undoubtedly, to add to the sensory thrills. The flavour is fresh and sharp, a perfect accompaniment to fish. 

We move onto our next bar. Here, tiger mussels in a gently spiced sauce excite, as do plates of the freshest calamares fried in light, crisp batter and served with salty, emerald green padrón peppers. Here too are patatas bravas smothered in aioli so addictively pungent, you know you’ll be back for more. Here, local cider is our accompanying tipple. And the mussel shells? Simply discard on the floor in careless fashion.

And then Jamón, oh yes! Jamón Iberico de Bellota: free-range, acorn-fed Iberian pigs, treat of all treats. These pigs fatten up fast when the acorns drop, so much so that they double their body weight which makes them deliciously fat, and of course the fatter they are, the longer they can be cured for and the better the flavour. It’s like no other. A Jamón weighing 7 kilos costs about 700 euros. They hang at room temperature and just sweat, don’t you just love it? No trip to Spain should pass without trying this finely sliced Jamón, and happily, we’re in luck.

It’s then onto another bar to try the original pintxo, the Gilda, and for me, this one tops the lot. According to Jon, it’s a fantastic flavour combination, and he’s right.

The name for this pintxo was inspired by Rita Heyworth for her signature role in the film, Gilda. A salty anchovy is rolled around a long, curvy, pickled guindilla pepper and a firm, juicy olive added to the spike. Down in one! A total delight, particularly when enjoyed with a chilled glass of rosé from Navarro.

By this time, the party is really warming up. The streets and bars are filling up with locals and people in our group are mingling too, aided no doubt by the various tipples. This is what usually happens, Jon says, and by the time the tours are over, people have made friends and tend to carry on the night together.

After a quick stop off at the mushroom place (the display of mushrooms on the counter is worth going for alone), we are introduced to one of the best bars for meat where we sample a solomillo, a bite-sized chunk of rare, chargrilled sirloin steak washed down with a juicy Rioja.

Before we move onto the more inventive pintxos, we stop off at my favourite of all favourite bars. This tour is full of surprises. Here, we eat meltingly soft foie a la plancha, so fresh it wobbles on the plate at the slightest nudge. The caramelised crust is sprinkled with coarse grains of sea salt and it squats snugly on a soft pillow of apple purée. Imagine the texture of intensely rich, warm butter melting in your mouth, and you’re half way there. Beyond that, the flavour is in a world of its own.
We then eat goats’ cheese risotto topped with a curl of creamy pesto, and roasted pig’s ear.

And so to the cutting edge of pintxos, and this is where the artistry takes over. Many of these morsels are unrecognisable – it’s Heston Blumenthal type cooking. But guided by Jon, we move in and have some truly memorable taste sensations.

One was a dessert. It featured many sensual thrills. On a square black plate gleamed a perfectly cooked fried egg, a lacy-textured white column of what appeared to be natural sponge, a mulberry coloured piece of chalk in a sticky pool of dark liquid, and the yellow, nubbly centre of a daisy.

I’ll just mention the yolk. Pop it in whole and an intense explosion of passion fruit liquid fills your mouth. And here ends the tour. Apologies for the complete run-down after all, though I can’t imagine for one minute it will spoil your fun.

Of course, you can discover all these bars for yourself in your own good time, but if its first class pintxos you’re after, cut to the chase and call in at San Sebastian Foods. It’s a first stop you won’t regret making.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

First stop, farmers' market!

Alan Stewart is head chef at Fulham brasserie Manson. Here, he talks about his enthusiasm for farmers’ markets and seasonal produce, his most memorable meal and the food that he can never resist

On a cold Sunday morning in December, recently-appointed head chef at Fulham’s Manson restaurant, Alan Stewart, tore himself away from the heat of his own kitchen to do a spot of cooking at Parson’s Green farmers’ market. The idea was to inspire shoppers and show off just how wonderful seasonal produce is by making dishes using ingredients bought from the market. It was also an opportunity for Alan to make connections with independent growers and, of course, to encourage people to drop by for a meal at Manson.

It was a treat indeed. From the Handpicked Shellfish Company’s mussels cooked with Brussels sprouts, smoked bacon, cider and cream to venison from the Mersham Shoot with pickled beetroot and Jerusalem artichokes, followed by glazed Essex apples cooked with cinnamon, rum-soaked raisins and cinder toffee, it didn’t take long for a crowd to form around the savoury smells of the open air kitchen and enjoy sampling Alan’s tasty dishes (see recipes for more).

Alan took up the position as head chef at Manson, a relaxed neighbourhood brasserie on the busy Fulham Road, in October. Prior to this, he spent 12 years training with some of the UK’s best chefs. These include two years working as head chef under the celebrated Tristan Welch at Kensington’s Launceston Place and before that two years under Bruce Poole at Chez Bruce in Wandsworth (if you’re in the mood for drooling, just take a look at his sample December menu). Alan’s training has also taken him to Perthshire’s grand Gleneagles Hotel, which has long upheld a reputation for excellent cuisine and fine dining.

It was while working at his local gastro-pub, the Anglesea Arms in Hammersmith, aged just 15, that his love of food really took hold, though both his parents and sister Laurie, who runs front-of-house at Manson, were definite influences. Alan, 29, says, ‘As a young person I was quite unadventurous but aged 15 something awakened in me. Growing up in a household where eating was a big focus definitely had an impact. We had a large garden and grew a lot of our own produce so much of what we ate was home grown. There were different influences from within the family as my mum’s mum was an amazing chef whose father was Russian. Chopped liver on Sundays was one of her specialities.’

Celebrating the seasons
A continual theme running through all Alan’s training has been the importance given to using the best of local seasonal produce. It is his experiences of working with many of the best chefs in Britain that have undoubtedly shaped his ethos today. He says, ‘I spent 12 years working under some great chefs and I’ve taken little bits that have inspired me from all of them and am now using them in my own way. I take the best produce from the British Isles and cook it with love, care and attention to create the best tasting dishes which put the produce on display.

‘It’s about showing respect to the produce in order to show it off to the best of its ability. You can’t do this if you cook out of season. This is why farmers’ markets are absolutely fantastic, the fact that they make all this wonderful seasonal produce like Jerusalem artichokes, Brussels sprouts and game available to people at the right time of year. It also means people get a chance to meet independent producers and they get to sell direct to customers. There’s no better way of shopping, and it’s also cheaper to buy what’s in season.

‘It just comes down to wanting and being able to cook because people aren’t going to buy vegetables if they can’t prepare them. Take Jerusalem artichokes, they’re incredibly versatile. You can make soup with them, purée them, thinly slice them and eat them raw, pan fry them gently in butter and stock. They’re wonderful!’

Knowing your sources
Having respect for ingredients is at the heart of Alan’s philosophy. He says, ‘Our gardener comes in every day with produce from our allotment and we also use small, independent producers. Everything at the restaurant is made on site. We butcher our own animals, churn our own butter, make our own mustard and ketchup and prepare all the fish ourselves. There are two reasons for this. It means we’re in control of the produce we’re selling so we have a greater knowledge of it. And, as a youngster, I really benefited from training under great chefs and I want to be able to do the same for the people who work here.’

The best of British     
Alan is clear about what he wants to offer people.
He says, ‘We try to offer great value for money.
We’re creating interesting and innovative dishes using the best possible seasonal produce in an instinctive way, and having worked in amazing restaurants I think my food is as good as theirs. But I don’t have linen tablecloths or lots of waiters. I want a relaxed atmosphere and that goes back to my love of the Mediterranean. Seeing French families around the table for four hours together enjoying food and wine is my idea of how to eat well. 

‘I still think we’re ten years behind the continent in the way we shop and eat but our food culture is really blossoming. Things like farmers markets, chefs and producers have slowly gone, ‘We can do this.’
I think farmers’ markets should be set up all over the place and opened up to as many people in as many areas as possible to give more people an opportunity to shop there and enjoy the best of British produce.’

See the Recipes section for dishes cooked at the market.

Alan Stewart’s best of

Best expensive mealL’atelier de Joël Robuchon, Paris (one dish in particular stood out: soft shell crab with avocado puree, well worth queuing for, they don’t take bookings).

Best inexpensive mealpizza at Franco Manca, Brixton.

Most memorable disha barbecued grey mullet on a little island off Belize cooked by a Creole guy sitting on the beach.

Most admired chefStephen Harris, chef patron at the Sportsman pub in Seasalter, Kent (which happens to be my favourite pub, he really does have good taste!)

Guilty foods  Tunnocks teacakes and Haribos, especially the fizzy cherries.

Christmas dinnerkippers for breakfast, always, a family tradition, followed by Rib of Beef cooked by his dad, who wanted to be a chef himself but his parents talked him out of it.

Sample dinner dishes at Manson
  • Salt baked beetroot, potato dumpling, goats cheese, walnuts
  • Rib of beef, bone marrow, chips, green salad
  • Roast gurnard, salt-baked parsnip, black cabbage, fennel seed yoghurt

Monday, 2 January 2012

Parson's Green

Hello from Parson’s Green farmers’ market! This market is one of 21 run by London Farmers’ Markets. It’s held every Sunday between 10am and 2pm in the playground of New King’s primary school on New King’s Road and is already very popular with locals, having only opened in September.

Marjorie and Dot of Eden Farms with some of their
gorgeous organic veg. If you buy one thing,
make sure it's the spinach!

Every week, 25 stalls fill the playground selling all kinds of wonderful produce. There are six stalls selling high-quality meat including excellent game from Kent and rare-breed poultry from Buckinghamshire, two stalls selling rare varieties of apples, pears and delicious juices, a wide range of outstanding artisan cheeses and organic breads, fresh shellfish and wet fish caught from day boats on the Weymouth coast, irresistible displays of seasonal vegetables from Lincolnshire, tomatoes from the Isle of Wight, as well as milk, cream, butter and homemade cakes, pies, pasta and pestos.
Sarah from Celestial Cakes.
              Her brownies alone are well worth a trip!
Going along simply cannot fail to put you in a brilliant mood. Buying the food makes you feel good for supporting local producers, cooking it makes you happy and think about where it’s come from and who you bought it from, and eating it is the best of all. It’s an all-round wonderful experience. Over the coming months, I’ll write short pieces about each of the stalls at Parson’s Green market and tell you more about the produce and the people and throw in a few ideas about what to do with fresh ingredients too.

Caption, anyone?