Friday, September 30, 2011

Glorious mushrooms, wild and tame

The end of the summer is usually met with mixed feelings, some of you will say that they don’t remember a summer at all this year but that is another story. For chefs just as summer starts by bringing lots of different ingredients, think peas, broad beans, asparagus, jersey royals, new season lamb to name a few, so does Autumn.

Squashes, celeriac, chestnuts, partridges, quince and pheasant are suddenly available or become available over the season. The focus also changes from light fresh food to food with more of a comfort feel. You would not want to see heavy braised dishes in summer but on a cold day stews and braises are a must.

Autumn is the best time for wild mushrooms, when damp conditions tend to suit the funghi. Varieties such as golden chanterelle, penny bun, horse mushroom, cones of death and others become more plentiful. Foraging has become more and more popular over recent years with celebrity chefs extolling the virtues of “free food “and in this case mushrooms. Picking mushrooms does have a dangerous edge to it, there are apparently over 383 species of poisonous mushrooms in the UK with 19 of those classified as deadly. If you don’t fancy playing mushroom Russian roulette then having a good knowledge is essential. Alternatively find a good supplier or forager to do the hard work for you.

Most supermarkets now stock lots of different species of mushrooms now and shopping baskets are being filled with new varieties rather than button or field mushrooms. We use a company called Fundamentally Fungus, they grow organic varieties of mushroom from the common oyster mushroom to the less common Japanese varieties like enoki and nameko. Using different mushrooms adds texture, colour and flavour to a dish.

My favourite mushroom has to be the penny bun although you will probably have heard of it by either its Italian name, porcini or its French one, cep. The penny bun has a delicate enough aroma to flavour a sauce and yet will stand up to all meats and fish. I like to have them fried on toast with a fried duck egg. This is a simple approach to mushrooms that I prefer but other chefs like to adopt a more radical approach.

Claude Bosi a 2 Michelin star chef of Hibiscus restaurant in Mayfair had a sweet Cep tart on the menu when I went last year. He uses short crust pastry filled with a sweetened cep puree. The result is a sort of earthy under sweet tart which was not to my taste although I understand it is a bit of a signature dish for him.

We tend to use a mixture of wild and tame mushrooms in a vegetarian version of suet pudding with the addition of dried cranberries. This proves very popular at this time of year and would work well as a vegetarian alternative to Christmas dinner.

Fried Penny Bun and Duck Egg on Toast

Serves 4

4 tbsp veg oil

1 diced shallot

1 clove chopped garlic

250g fresh penny bun thickly sliced

2tbsp chopped parsley

4 slices good bread toasted

4 duck eggs

Knob butter

Heat a non stick pan with 3 tbsp oil, add the mushrooms and fry gently until golden brown, add the shallots, garlic, parsley and butter, toss together for a minute and season well. Divide the mixture on to the toast slices. Wipe the pan clean and heat the remaining oil, fry the duck eggs and place on top of the mushrooms.

Mixed Mushroom Suet Pudding with Dried Cranberies and Port

Suet pastry

450g self raising flour

225g vegetable suet

Pinch salt

Cold water

Mix the flour, salt and suet in a bowl at room temperature, slowly add cold water until a smooth elastic dough is achieved, cover with cling film and leave to rest. Once rested roll out to half cm thick and line your preferred buttered and floured mould, roll out any left over pastry to form the lid.


100g dried cranberries soaked in ruby port

1 onion chopped

1 clove garlic

2 kg mixed mushrooms

25 g butter

250ml double cream

2 tbsp chopped parsley

Sprig thyme

3tbsp oil

In a heave bottomed pan heat the oil and fry the mushrooms until golden, put in a colander to drain over a bowl, add the butter to the pan and sweat the onion, thyme and garlic, once softened add the cranberries and port and cook until the port has evaporated, add the cream and any juice that has come out of the mushrooms. Reduce the liquid until it coats the back of a spoon then season and add the parsley and mushrooms, remove the sprig of thyme and leave the mixture to cool.

Spoon your mixture into the lined mould, if the mixture is too wet then drain a little juice off to use as a sauce (depending on what mushrooms you use will depend on how much sauce you have) cover with the pastry lid, cover with cling film and steam for 30 minutes, turn out and serve.

For more recipes see

Friday, July 29, 2011

COOKING art or craft?

I was in a book shop recently and saw a book by Escoffier called “le guide culinaire” or the culinary guide in English. The strap line for this book was “the art of modern cookery” This got me thinking whether modern cookery or indeed any cookery is an art form at all. I have been asked many times whether cooking is art or craft and it is a difficult one to answer.

I still have a book that was bought for me in 1989 called “the art of Anton Mosimann” (anyone still remember him?) flicking through the pages now, it is very noticeable that the focus of the food is very much a visual one. Mosimann was very much a pioneer of Nouvelle cuisine which dominated the 80’s restaurant scene. Nouvelle Cuisine was about making food lighter and healthier by getting rid of flour based sauces and replacing them with reduction based sauces or jus that are still common today.

Nouvelle Cuisine is often remembered for its small portions even though these small dishes were supposed to be eaten as part of a larger menu. There are lots of restaurants today that serve several smaller courses as part of a larger menu. Brighton’s own Graze restaurant is one such restaurant, as is Maze in London and almost every fine dining restaurant in the country serves a “tasting menu” made up of several dishes. Could it be that Nouvelle Cuisine was ahead of its time?

It is easy to understand the art element of Mosimann’s cooking with dishes that are delicate and colourful. He uses gold leaf and many different coloured plates. It is only when you read the recipe that the craft side of it comes to the fore. Cooking involves years of training and in many cases an apprenticeship is involved. The idea is you learn your craft from a talented chef and then introduce your own ideas and approaches when you have the skill.

Anyone who has made a layered terrine or boned and stuffed a duck will know that the craft element is very important, as is science. A cook has to know why the soufflé will rise when the egg whites are whipped and not when the egg whites are over whipped. Why do egg yolks in mayonnaise thicken when the oil is added?

Art is also less obvious in modern styles of restaurant. Today the onus is very much on the provenance of the ingredients used and by the simplicity in which said ingredients are cooked, in order to show off their flavour best. It is probably fair to say that farmers and growers are considered the true artists today. I also think we need to look at the nature of art itself, surely art is supposed to be a one off and not to be replicated. Surely restaurant food by its very nature needs to be replicated day in day out, a dish in a restaurant eaten on a Monday needs to look and taste the same on a Tuesday and a Wednesday.

My own view is that cooking is mainly craft with a smattering of art, not dissimilar to furniture or jewellery making. Fast food restaurants cater for the mass market as do furniture warehouses. It is only when you go to hand maid bespoke furniture that you see the true craft and I suppose art as well. You only have to look at a really well made hand crafted piece of furniture to appreciate art and craft together.

I also think that art is a personal thing, give 10 chefs the same ingredients to cook the same dish and you will get 10 different interpretations of the same thing. There are chefs like Mark Hix, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Fergus Henderson and Simon Hopkinson who advocate a more simple robust style of cooking and presentation and there are chefs like Heston Blumenthal, Gordon Ramsay, Marcus Wareing and Tom Aikens who prefer a more delicate arty style. I suppose ultimately it’s the customer who decides which is preferable.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Gingerman Wine Nights

In about 2004 we started the Gingerman wine club. The idea of this was to organise and run wine dinners for customers at one of our sites. We have been doing wine dinners on and off since we opened in 1998 but they were very infrequent. Since 2005 we have aimed to do about three a year.

The idea is to get a wine maker to come to the restaurant and talk about their wines. We then do a tasting menu to go with the wines on show. We have had producers from Chile, South Africa, New Zealand, England, Italy and France over the years.

I think these dinners are a win, win, for everyone involved and can be a very entertaining evening. The wine supplier gets to show off his wine in an environment that is relaxed. It enables him to meet what is essentially, his target market. Wine producers spend a lot of time meeting wholesalers, distributors and wine press but very little time speaking to the actual people who buy the wine to enjoy over dinner.

Customers who enjoy wine and food find it interesting talking to the person who has made the wine, hearing their philosophy of wine and what they tried to achieve in making the wine. Customers can also taste a six course meal specially designed to go with the wine on show. Wines and courses are carefully matched, with most of the combinations working, or at least working for most people. One of the great things about food is that it is subjective, some people will love a dish and others will not, there is a lot down to personal taste. Either way it gives people a talking point.

For us wine dinners work because it gives us a chance to meet the producers. We try to use wines from only small artisan producers who have a passion for what they do, rather than big brands. The trouble with the big brands is that they try to produce the same flavour year on year in order to satisfy their brand rather than making a wine that has the characteristics of the year in which it is made.

Wine dinners also give us an opportunity to cook something different and maybe experiment a little. On this month’s Burgundy wine dinner we have matched a light red burgundy with an Arancini. Instead of using white wine for the risotto in the Arancini we have used red wine, along with Taleggio cheese and Scottish Girolle mushrooms. We think this combination will work well but will wait for the feedback on the night.

For the cheese course we are matching a 2008 Gevry Chambertin with an English cheese called Oxford Isis. The French wine producer suggested that we use a Burgundian cheese called Epoisses. Now Epoisses is a great cheese but we wanted to promote an English cheese and we think that Oxford Isis will do a good job. I wait to hear what our French friend thinks!

The wine nights usually start between 7 and 7.30pm with canapé and aperitif. This is usually one of the lighter wines on show, wines that are designed to be drunk by the glass and not necessarily with food. We go on to starter, fish course, main course (usually meat unless we are tasting white wines only or Champagne) we finish with cheese sometimes or dessert. Not every vineyard produces dessert wine so we might pick one from another vineyard to compere or use a demi sec Champagne to go with the dessert.

If anybody wants to be kept up to date with the next wine dinner then let us know by signing up to our newsletter at http:/

Here is an example menu of our last Wine Night:

Burgundy wine dinner

English Asparagus with Pink Grapefruit Hollandaise
Macon Villages, Jean Francois Gonon, 2009

Grilled Channel Slip Sole with Vermouth and Sorrel Cream
Chablis, Domaine Nathalie & Gilles Feves, 2008

Pinot Noir and Taleggio Arancini with Sauteed Girolle
Domaine Lucien Boillot, Bourgogne Rouge, 2009

Rack of Sussex Lamb, Grilled Aubergine, Caponata and Lamb Jus
Volnay, Dom L.B. 2007

Oxford Isis Cow’s Milk Cheese
Gevry Chambertin, Dom L.B. 2008

Vanilla Pannacotta with Poached Raspberries and Pistachio Filo Crisp
Muscat de Rivesaltes, Chateau Montesquieu, 2009

£65 per person plus 12.5% service

and a dish for you to try at home:

Radichio Arancini with Pinot Noir and Taleggio

Half head Radichio finely sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
50g butter in a small dice
1 onion finely chopped
300g Risotto rice
250ml Pinot Noir
750g fresh stock (chicken or vegetable)
2 tbsp grated Parmesan
100g Taleggio cheese
1 egg
50g plain flour
200g breadcrumbs

Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed pan and sweat the onion, add the radicchio and rice and stir for a few minutes so that all the rice is coated with the oil. Add the red wine and stir over a medium heat. Once the wine has evaporated, add the warmed stock a ladle at a time, stirring constantly. As the stock evaporates add more until all the stock is used up.

The rice should be cooked but with a little bite in the centre. Take the risotto off the heat and add the butter cubes and the parmesan, season with salt and pepper and leave to go cold. Once cold portion the rice and roll into balls (90g for a main course and 40g for a starter) insert a small piece of Taleggio in the centre of each ball and roll them in the flour, then the beaten egg and finally the breadcrumbs.

Deep fry just before serving until golden brown.
Smaller ones can be made for canape’s

Monday, March 14, 2011


Children have a very profound effect on your life as many of you will know. You suddenly become very aware of children and seem to become more tolerant and sympathetic (not always of course) I remember going to Edinburgh with friends for the weekend without the kids, on the plane there were several families with crying children. The kids cried all the way but it did not bother me in the slightest because the children were not mine.

Similarly any delay at an airport or somewhere else is no longer a problem if you are not with children because you are so used to having no time, that you are able to occupy yourself easily.

Children bring joy, worry, anger, frustration, laughter and lack of sleep all rolled into one. They represent the future and you start thinking much more about your own future when they come around. Children represent probably the most vunerable group in our society and their welfare should be high on the agenda of any civilised society.

Every year we give away hundreds of pounds worth vouchers to various charities across Brighton and Sussex. These are all deserving charities but this year we thought we should concentrate on one charity in particular and try to make a big difference.

The Rockinghorse appeal was set up by a very forward thinking Doctor by the name of Dr Trevor Mann in 1968, the baby unit at the Royal Alexandra Childrens Hospital bears his name today. Dr Mann recognised that new expensive technology was needed in order to offer children the excellent standards of care that they deserve. Brighton was one of the first places to have a ventilator designed to breathe for tiny and premature babies, who may not have previously survived. Doctors were also able to carry out pioneering research into new areas of medicine such as neonatal care and oncology.

In 2006 Rockinghorse launched a £1 million appeal to help fund the new Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital and since then they have worked hard to raise funds to provide equipment for needy and sick children.

Gingerman’s aim is to raise initially £7500 to help fund the new children’s A&E department at the royal Alex. I recently visited the children’s hospital and was very moved by what I saw and impressed by the passion and dedication shown by the nurses on duty. It all came to a head when I saw the bedrooms for sick children. There were two windows set into the wall, one normal height and one set about two feet from the floor. The lower window was so sick children could look out of the window while in bed. It takes a lot to move me to tears but the level of thought and consideration in this simple addition did just that.

The new A&E department will be vital in enabling doctors and nurses to evaluate children as soon as they come into hospital. Speed is of the essence when dealing with children because they deteriorate very quickly. At the moment children arriving at hospital go straight to the A&E Department. There they have to wait with all the other patients in order to be seen. You can only imagine what they see in the A&E department of a busy hospital on a Friday or Saturday night. The new kids A&E department will enable specialist doctors to treat sick and injured children quickly in an environment suitable for their needs.

We will arrange a number of fund raising events throughout the year with the hope of supporting this wonderful local charity and making a difference to sick children. Find out more here

One of the things we will be doing to support other people raising funds for Rockinghorse is to create 'high-energy boosting' dish across two of our venues, for all marathon runners supporting Rockinghorse, in the week leading up to the Brighton Marathon 4th-9th April 2011 .

Marathon Pasta

Potato and Wild Garlic Gnocchi with Pancetta, Brocoli, Kalamata olives and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

Serves 4 or 2 hungry people

For the Gnocchi

500g dry mash potato (cook potatoes in their skins)

150g pasta flour

1 egg

Small handful fresh wild garlic chopped

Salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients thoroughly and roll into small bite sized balls, flatten the balls a little with a fork and place in boiling water with a little olive oil. Lift the gnocchi out gently when they rise to the surface and place in cold water. Drain and set aside.

1 head of broccoli cut into florets and blanched until just passed al dente

200g diced pancetta

6 Kalamata olives (chopped roughly)

1 clove garlic chopped

30g toasted pumpkin seeds

30g grated parmesan or more if you prefer

Olive oil

Squeeze of lemon juice

Knob of butter

Fry the pancetta in a little oil until brown, lift out of the pan leaving the oil behind. In the oil gently fry the gnocchi until golden on both sides. Add the broccoli, butter, pancetta and olives and warm through. Add the lemon juice and season, making sure not to add too much salt due to the pancetta. Serve and sprinkle with the pumpkin seeds and parmesan.

Please note this dish would work well with freshly cooked spaghetti

Friday, February 11, 2011

Steaming Puddings

As I write this it is steadily raining outside and has been all week. Christmas has left us and we are into a new year. It is not exactly cold outside but it is pretty miserable none the less. At this time of year comfort food is what we fancy eating. To my mind the ultimate British comfort foods are steamed puddings.
Christmas pudding.

Steamed pudding has been made in this country since the fourteenth century and can come in both sweet and savoury versions. The most well known version is probably Christmas pudding which started life as a sort of porridge known as frumenty which included cereal, breadcrumbs, mutton, wine, raisins, currants, prunes and spices.
By 1595 the frumenty had been replaced by a pudding which contained eggs to give it a firmer texture, it is about then that it became a Christmas dessert. In 1664 it was banned by the puritans because the act of flaming the pudding was seen as a Pagan custom. The pudding was reintroduced in 1701 by George 1st and continues to be popular to this day.

A recent version of Christmas pudding by Heston Blumenthal for Waitrose sold out within days of going on sale and was reputed to be selling on e-bay for £129. Interestingly Heston’s pudding which contained a whole orange was inspired by a classic Sussex steamed pudding called Sussex pond pudding. The pond pudding consists of suet pastry enclosing a whole lemon, currants, butter and sugar and then steamed for several hours.

The Savoury Pudding

The most famous savoury version of steamed pudding is probably steak and kidney pudding. This pudding or versions of it have been around for hundreds of years. The original pastry was not eaten but served as a protector to the filling while it cooked in the oven. Medieval ovens were crude affairs with not much in the way of thermostats or temperature control. Once cooked the puddings lid was removed and the filling eaten before the rest of the casing discarded.

In the fifteenth century oysters were put in the puddings to help make the beef go further, it is hard to imagine today a time when oysters were less expensive and more readily available than beef! There is even a mention of beef and oyster pudding in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales’ which was written in late 1400’s.

Once you have mastered the basic construction of a savoury pudding the filling can be very much at your discretion. Pig foot, ham hock and pheasant work well together as does rabbit and bacon with whole grain mustard. We have done a few vegetarian versions using vegetarian suet instead of beef suet. Wild mushroom and chestnuts with dried cranberry is popular as is roasted squash and sweet potato with pickled walnuts.

The Sponge Pudding

Probably my favourite dessert of all time has to be steamed treacle pudding with vanilla custard. I could enjoy it in any time of the year and almost any time of the day. In fact sponge in all forms is a winner in my eyes, victoria sponge with a cup of tea, Rum Baba soaked in aged rum syrup or the almond version of sponge that you put in tarts to bake, called Frangipane.

When I was a child my mum used to make pineapple upside down pudding for my birthday, this consisted of a tin of pineapple rings in a buttered dish with sponge mixture poured over the top and baked in the oven. It is something that we have revived lately at the Gingerman with great success.

To make sponge richer it is good to use duck eggs instead of hen’s eggs. It is a general point that duck eggs make better pastry than hen’s eggs but they are more expensive and more difficult to get hold off. As with the savoury versions, steamed sponges can have many flavours or combination's of flavours it is really up to the individual and I have added a couple of recipes to help.

Duck Egg Sponge with Champagne Rhubarb and Ginger

6 small stems champagne rhubarb
1 thumb crystalized ginger diced
Little sugar
1 knob butter
Put all ingredients in a non- stick pan and heat gently until the sugar is dissolved. Put into a buttered and floured pudding basin.
For the sponge
170g butter
250g caster sugar
2 duck eggs
2 duck yolks
2 duck whites
200g plain flour
Half tsp baking powder
Cream the butter and 110g sugar, add 1 whole duck egg at a time, then the 2 duck yolks and beat well. Fold in the flour and baking powder. Whip the 2 duck yolks with the rest of the sugar and fold into the sponge mixture.
Pour the sponge mix over the Rhubarb and steam until a knife blade comes out clean. Serve with custard.

Sticky toffee pudding

Date puree
375g dates (stones removed)
375g water
Simmer for 10 mins and then puree in food processor

For the sponge

130g butter
375g muscovado sugar
3 eggs lightly beaten
450g flour
10g baking powder
3g bicarb
Cream sugar and butter until fluffy, add egg a little at a time, add flour, baking powder and bicarb. Mix well and fold in the date puree.
Pour mixture into buttered and lined oven proof dish and bake on 160 degrees for approx. 30 mins or until the inserted knife comes out clean. Leave to cool and turn out.
For the sauce
640 ml double cream
340g caster sugar
130g glucose
130g unsalted butter
Boil half cream with sugar, glucose and butter until golden brown. Take off the heat and add the rest of the cream.