Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Something to spice up the New Year...

I had a little epiphany the other day whilst carefully preparing lemongrass skewers for my dining club.  I had been thinking about how the higher costs of fine dining are often in the time it takes to apply multiple (and sometimes complex) processes as well as the cost of ingredients.  I know many people, myself included, are feeling the financial squeeze these days and the post christmas excesses are more than likely going to make us all feel that even more.

So I had a think about what kind of food I could make that could be delivered in a more cost effective way.  For me this would be Indian food every time.  The ingredients are accessible and affordable, especially for vegetarian food.  The other key component is the number of guests.  My usual dining club is set in a beautiful open plan Edwardian dining room and contemporary garden room.  Expensive and complex dishes that require meticulous presentation then limits the number of guests it's feasible to cater for (not to mention sets of relatively expensive plates).

By now I had moved onto trimming banana leaves, and that's when it hit me.  Traditional thali cafes across the Indian subcontinent, and indeed in parts of SE Asia, are usually pretty cramped affairs with stools and benches around ramshackle tables, serving AMAZING food on banana leaves.  Well I could certainly do that!  I adore Indian food, both cooking and eating it, especially the more traditional regional dishes (rather than what you see in most restaurants these days).  I will cook some mouth watering delights from Punjab and Mumbai, as well as from more far away corners such as Orissa and Tamil Nadu.   

We have plenty of room to double the number of diners for one evening (I'm not sure I could cope with doing this on a regular basis in my own house).  And that's if you don't mind sitting on benches, Indian cafe style, and eating delicious thali served on banana leaves.  Thali normally consists of several curries and dals served with rice, flatbreads and pickles. Allowances would also need to be made for mismatching glasses, cutlery, chairs and the like.  But I can guarantee you an evening of exceptional traditional Indian food for this one off event, and a New Year treat at half the price of the usual dining club (so that's £15 per person).  I reckon it will be a rather fun evening.  Email to book

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Check out the lovely new dining club menu... yum yum!

I'm looking forward to cooking my new menu for the dining club from next weekend.  Places available for Fri 18th (2 left) and Sat 19th November.  To make a booking, send an email to: 
Amuse bouche
Sweet & sour popcorn tofu
Buddha’s Delight, noodle soup with exotic mushrooms & bean curds, served with vegetable crackers & chilli cashews
Balinese satay sticks, lemongrass skewers of smoky tempeh, served with spicy candlenut sauce & sticky rice
Duo of jackfruit & mango sorbet and lime sorbet
Pear & frangipane tart with vanilla & star anise ice cream, served with salted almond praline & goji berry sauce

There are several highlights for me with this menu, but I am most proud of the dessert.  I think it sings and my dessert loving daughter agrees.  She says it's the best dessert I've ever made.  Slightly biased I suspect.  I'll post some photos when I get the chance.  

I made the Balinese satay sticks during the fine dining challenge week on MasterChef.  Posh Bertie said it wasn't posh enough, but JT said he 'missed a trick'.  I know who's opinion I'd trust! 

The starter is based on a rather ubiquitous noodle soup from China that uses a variety of beancurds and fungi, including lily buds, wood ears and black moss.  Some versions have over 19 ingredients.  My version has 16.  It's also delicious.  But then I would say that, wouldn't I  :0) 

Saturday, 5 November 2011

The truth about a life changing decision

I've had an odd week.  After being laid low by a severe bout of tonsilitis, I probably spent too much time in my own head, admittedly in a somewhat fever addled state at times.

Having some time to stop and think about my where I am up to now, what my next steps might be, well to be perfectly honest, it was fucking terrifying. Like staring into an abyss that I have already leapt into, and feeling most unsure about myself.  I've had so much wonderful support from friends and even strangers, telling me how great it is that I am following my dream in food.  And it is.  But for all those people who dream of making life changing decisions, there's a reason so many don't.  It's scary to think about doing it and even more so when you actually take the leap.

I've worked pretty hard since MasterChef to make this transition and find the path I want to take with food.  But it's one of the steepest I've ever tried to climb and I think it's worth a truthful blog about the experience of the journey in making such a big decision to quit everything and start a new career.  Self employment in itself is a tough place to be right now.  Add to that working in a highly competitive arena where few actually succeed in the long term, makes for quite a scary place to be.  There are moments where I wonder if I have made the right decision.
I know some of this comes from my own self doubt that I have unfortunately been plagued with since childhood.  I had a tough father.  I can write that here as I know that he would never read anything I had written.  He didn't even watch me on MasterChef.  So me being riddled with doubt and worried about the future and the pressure this all puts on my family, well it's not exactly helpful to have close family members also think you are making a terrible mistake.  The thing is, he thought it was waste of time to study social science, and yet I had a successful career as a researcher.  He thought I was crazy to take the children out of school and go travelling for a year.  So yes, he could well be wrong.  It wouldn't be the first time!

I also cannot lie and say I don't remember how much negativity I received during the airing of the programme.  People who think they know me and can define me from watching the output of smoke and mirrors.  That backlash rocked my confidence a little too.  Only because it's echoes my critics who may be closer to home.  I met a troller face to face once.  In that moment, it took all the power out of anonymous critics right there.  I will leave you to figure out why. 

And then there's me, with my fever and head full of doubt, thinking what the fuck have I done.  I have worked my backside off for the last few months and for every few steps forward, I take more than the odd one backwards, not least financially.  The impact of me quitting a full time grade 8 NHS post is huge.  The impact on my family is evident and the pressure it puts on my husband immense.  Being skint again after years of middle class comfort is no fun whatsoever I can tell you. 

I spend a day in the kitchen, and I remember why I am doing this.  That isn't in doubt.  But is it enough?  I know I have a long steep path ahead.  But I also believe that I'm going in the right direction.  It's a bit painful right now and I'm going to have to dig deeper than I probably ever have before.  For now it's about stamina, with more sweat and tears to come I suspect.  I do need to take more time to develop myself as a cook and my future business.  So I think I'm just going to have to ride this one out....