During my August trip to Dusseldorf (for work), Pete was keen to find new ways to use some of the beautiful courgettes we’ve been growing in the garden. When he told me of about the moussaka-like dish he made one night (using courgettes instead of aubergine) I insisted he make it again as soon as I got home! We both enjoyed it so much he’s made it a number of times since then.


The recipe has varied each time he’s made it. Apart from the first time, when he used beef, he uses lamb mince – more in keeping with a traditional moussaka. The ratios of ragu, courgette and bechamel have changed too. The first time he made it, he fried the courgettes briefly before layering them into the dish but he no longer does this. And the last time he made it, he skipped the bechamel, and it was still delicious! Don’t be scared to adapt this recipe!

You can, of course, substitute your preferred recipe and methods for the lamb ragu. Pete’s very simple one, below, is easy and delicious but any thick, rich ragu recipe would work.

Recipe: Pete’s “Courgette ‘Saka”

Ingredients
-Ragu
500 grams lamb mince
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 Oxo cube
3-4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
A little flour for thickening (optional)
Olive oil for frying
-Courgette layer
Approximately 500 grams courgette
-Bechamel
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
Approximately 200 ml milk
-Cheese
Small handful of grated cheese (optional)

Method
-Ragu

    • Brown the mince in a little olive oil. (You won’t need much as lamb mince releases it’s own fat).

 

  • Add the garlic and Oxo cube and stir in well.
  • Stir in the flour (if using).
  • Add the tomatoes.
  • Bring up to a simmer and leave to thicken for 20-30 minutes. (You can get away with 10 minutes if you’re in a rush, as long as the mince was browned off properly).

 

-Courgettes

  • Slice the courgette, lengthwise or crosswise, as preferred. (Seed first if particularly large).

-Bechamel

    • Once the mince is ready, start the bechamel.
    • Melt the butter.
    • Mix in the flour with a whisk until it becomes a coherent paste.
    • Heat the milk (a quick blast in the microwave works well).

 

  • Add the milk to the flour butter paste gradually, whisking continuously. Don’t worry if it seems to separate when the milk first goes in; if you keep whisking it comes together again.

 

-Assembly

 

  • In a oven dish, use half the mince to create the first layer. Cover with half the courgette slices, spread out over the mince and half the bechamel. Repeat.
  • Sprinkle grated cheese over top, if desired.
  • Pop dish into medium oven (160-180) for approximately half an hour. (Exact cooking time will depend on how thick your courgette slices were, as these need to cook through).

 

 

A review of our evening at Mat Follas’ The Wild Garlic in Beaminster is long overdue. For those champing at the bit for feedback on the meal, it was lovely. Food, service, ambience… everything came together to create a wonderful evening which everyone in our party very much appreciated.

The Wild Garlic, Beaminster

The Wild Garlic is proving popular with locals and out-of-towners alike and weekend nights in particular were solidly booked months ahead. Luckily for me, I made or August booking weeks before the restaurant even opened it’s doors in June.

Several large Marnie Moyle tables were pushed together to seat our large party of 15 adults and 6 children in a long ‘L’ shape. Most of the kids were seated at the far end by the bay window, separating them a little from customers at the other end of the restaurant and giving them a bit of space to move around. Mat underlined his genuine welcome to the kids by letting us know that he was happy for them to move around, crawl under the tables or play in the window area. I am sure this helped reassure the parents that a little boisterous behaviour would not be a problem.

Two of Mat’s affable front of house team

We quickly settled in. The tables had already been laid with carafes of water and glasses, a nice touch. Mat’s warm welcome was echoed by his front of house team.


Our group settling in

Mat distributed and discussed the menu and his front of house team got busy taking drinks orders and serving nibbles.



Mat hands out menus, the specials board is written and hung up and we order

As well as wasabi peas we also enjoyed a wonderful pea and cottage cheese dip served with home-made seeded savoury biscuits. Delicious and very moreish, these kept us going whilst the kitchen worked their magic.

Before too long our starters began to arrive.

A number of our group ordered the tomato and pea soup with cheesy soda bread listed on the specials board. A short while later, we were told that there had been a mix-up and the soup today was actually courgette and goat’s cheese. Those who had ordered soup were given the option of switching to a different starter. I’m glad Pete didn’t because this soup was a revelation. I would not have thought to combine these two ingredients and yet they really brought out the best in each other. The courgette mellowed the sharpness of the cheese and the cheese added richness, creaminess and depth.

Courgette and goat’s cheese soup

The squid was perfectly cooked and the sweet chilli dressing over it’s fresh flesh gave it a lovely zing without overwhelming.

Sweet chilli squid

Not only did the pork belly starter look great, it was also delicious. A creamy mushroom sauce coated the generous serving of lardons. I am glad the friend who ordered this let me taste! But only a tiny bit – he liked it as much as I did!

Wild salad with slow roasted pork belly lardons cooked in wild mushroom jus

I wasn’t sure whether the strong flavours of garlic and miso would overwhelm the sweetness of scallops but I shouldn’t have worried. The dish worked well, and again, it was visually very appealing. The miso seaweed was a particularly nice accompaniment.

Hand dived scallops cooked in garlic butter with Miso infused seaweed

As the starters came out so did the pasta Mat had made for the children. They seemed captivated with the tiny star or flower shaped pasta and I’ve been told that more than one of them has been demanding it from their parents ever since!

Starters cleared away, the mains were served. Both Pete and I went for the water buffalo sirloin, as did several others in the group. Whilst most were served as ordered, including the blue one, both our medium rares were closer to medium well. Luckily, the meat was tender and full of flavour so the dish was still enjoyable and we chose not to send them back. I wasn’t a fan of the smoked mash, which surprised me as I do liked smoked foods. But I was in the minority (and someone quickly made short work of my leftovers).

Water buffalo sirloin steak with roasted vegetables and smoked mash

The whole John Dory was absolutely huge and cooked to perfection. The flesh was extremely moist and so delightfully fresh. Another happy diner!

Whole John Dory with caper butter, new potato and wild salad

The lamb went down well not only with the adults who ordered it but also with some of the kids. What stood out about the lamb for me was not just the quality and flavour of the meat but how well the mange tout, pea puree and salsa verde brought out the inherent sweetness of lamb.

Lamb loin with mange tout, salad, pea puree and salsa verde

During ordering, one of our party asked whether it would be possibly to serve the lemon sole special (served in the same way as the John Dory) already taken off the bone for her? Only when assured this would be OK did she go ahead and order. Unfortunately, when the dish arrived it hadn’t been boned so she sent it back. What was returned to her was a bit of a disaster. Less than a third of it had actually been boned at all and that bit still retained a very high number of bones. Although the fish tasted good, the mess of flesh and bones made it unappealing and much harder work than it should have been. Her comment was that, if she had been told it would be a problem she would have ordered something different.

Fresh berry mess

In another nice touch, Mat came out and gave us some New Zealand Cadbury’s Fish chocolate bars for the children. I later learned that these are traditionally given out when kids have behaved themselves through the meal! Sweet!

Desserts were fabulous. The fresh berry mess was an impressive looking dish and I’m afraid it’s rightful owner guarded it carefully. I didn’t get to taste but can confirm from his expression that it was extremely tasty indeed with a nice mix of fruits and a good balance between meringue, cream and fruit.

Gooey chocolate brownie

The gooey chocolate brownies went down a treat, especially with some of the kids who got well stuck in. They asked for theirs to be served with ice-cream instead of cream, which the kitchen kindly did.

Chocolate mousse and Lavender mousse

Pete and I decided to share Mat’s signature lavender mousse and a chocolate mousse. Both were served in kilner-style jars and beautifully presented. The lavender mousse was the very essence of this distinctive flower. The chocolate mousse, for me, could have been more intensely chocolatey, perhaps a touch darker, but was also enjoyable.

The nectarine, ginger and whisky crumble went down well though the two comments were that it needed some cream or custard to provide a cold and moist counterpart to the crumble, and that the whisky flavour didn’t really come through but that the nectarine and ginger was a tasty combination.

Throughout the meal we were regularly looked after by the team and I think I can speak for everyone when I say we had a lovely, relaxed evening of good food and company in a warm and welcoming environment.

The bill, including a range of soft drinks, beers and a little wine, came to approximately £35 per head for adults and about a tenner for children (kids pasta, a regular dessert and drinks). Plus service.

Here are some images of our group enjoying the evening:





Some of us enjoying the evening

And some comments they’ve made:

It was fabby. Lovely food. Delicious but not too rich or too heavy.

Loved the decor and the wooden tables and lack of fuss, the friendly service and the focus on the food.

I felt spoilt for choice with the menu but didn’t regret any of the selections I made.

The John Dory was melt in the mouth – went well with the capers.

I didn’t feel too laden down to have dessert and what a dessert – the loveliest ‘mess’ I’d ever tasted!

Thanks for booking us into the Mat Follas place – very good indeed, and a fine way to end the holiday.

The kids _still_ go on about ‘star’ pasta!

That was probably the best Mess I’ve had!

What he should really have done was set up his restaurant near Guildford so that I could eat there more often!

(Click here for the previously posted interview with Mat).

 

Having enjoyed such a magnificent meal at Bell’s Diner the evening before, it was really hard to assess our meal the following night, at Brasserie Blanc, objectively. It suffered in comparison. Which is a shame as it’s the kind of relaxed, straightforward French brasserie that we’d probably appreciate more without that juxtaposition.


The brasserie is located within a beautiful historical building. The exterior of this former Georgian Quaker meeting house doesn’t really prepare you for the amazing room inside. As you walk through the doors your gaze sweeps around a cavernous space, beautifully and sympathetically restored and adapted. Tables in the balconies are accessed via a striking modern staircase hanging infront of an impressive decorative wine display cabinet.

The balcony tables along the front wall seat two. Those along the other two sides seat 4. I really liked being up in this area, we had a great view and plenty of space but it felt cosy and intimate at the same time.

After ordering drinks (a carafe of wine for Pete and a mojito for me, though I asked for a regular rather than the vanilla version on their cocktail menu), we were served sourdough and butter; very nice.

I order mojito’s quite often, always requesting them to be made on the sweet side, but otherwise normal. What arrived was undrinkably bitter, with an additional unpalatable flavour I couldn’t identify. This is where our fantastic waiter, Luke, came into his own. When I explained the situation, he suggested he’d pop down, have them make another (or make it himself if need be) and if it still wasn’t to my taste, we’d find something else for me instead. A South London lad who’d come to Bristol to study several years previously and ended up staying, he was the kind of waiter that’s a little too rare in the UK – knowledgable, friendly, extremely professional, efficient and very good at making his customers feel well looked after. Like Shelly, the previous evening, Luke’s input improved our overall evening’s experience. And my second mojito was absolutely spot on!

Both of us went for the day’s special starter – a chicken liver parfait with white truffle butter served with toast and pickled vegetables. The parfait was really rich and creamy (though Pete earned brownie points when he said it wasn’t as good as mine). I quite liked the pickled vegetables served with it, which helped cut through the fattiness though on reflection, I rather like sweet chutneys with rich, smooth pates such as this one. Given the generous serving, I would have liked more toast.

Pete opted for the beef Stroganoff with pilaf rice, which he enjoyed. It was a far subtler sauce than his version, and less creamy too. He enjoyed it but I prefer the one he makes, based on a Nigel Slater recipe, though it’s no doubt less authentic.

For my main I chose rump of Cornish lamb with pommes château (translated as pot roast potato). The lamb was really good. Full of flavour what I really liked was how the outside was really nicely browned, to the extent of provided a little crunch here and there, and yet the inside was beautifully pink, as requested. The potatoes were nicely seasoned and just the right texture; both firm and soft. And the jus or thin gravy was really tasty too. With the meat and potatoes came a few baby carrots, some braised celery pieces and a huge mound of rocket. The first I enjoyed, the second I removed from the plate as fast as possible and the third I found rather baffling – it doesn’t really go with or improve the dish at all!

I booked the table by phone on Thursday and had phoned again on Friday to check whether or not anything later than our 6.15 slot was available. It wasn’t. But on neither occasion was any turnaround time mentioned to me. So we were pretty annoyed when Luke came up at 7.25 to deliver a message he’d only just been given informing us that they were expecting the table back at 7.30. To his credit, when I responded that, as far as I was concerned, that was too bad, since it wasn’t mentioned on booking and I would not have gone ahead and made the booking if it had he agreed completely and said not to worry about it. We didn’t and went ahead and ordered dessert.

None of the desserts really grabbed me and I was feeling a little full so I abstained whilst Pete went for the rhubarb brulée cup. Served in a martini glass, a base of rhubarb compote was topped by a compotent creme brulée with silky custard and crunchy topping. It disappeared fast!

There was no further pressure to hurry us away from the table, though we did soon pay the bill and head back to the hotel. Without drinks or service , our bill was a little under £25 a head which is reasonable for the setting, service and food.

I’d go back to try the pork rillettes and cheese soufflé starters and perhaps the steak or fish mains.

Back at the Hotel Du Vin, we decided to stop in the bar for a while. The restaurant was extremely busy but the restaurant manager and staff were happy to serve me a dessert at a table in the bar. I had a delicious buttermilk panna cotta with fresh cherries and a glass of Pedro Ximinez with which to finish off the evening!

 

A couple of weeks back I had a most marvellous evening attending the Dine with Dos Hermanos event at The Bull & Last in Highgate. Really fabulous food eaten in the company of fellow foodies, I ate and drank until I was stuffed and then carried on!

The entire team involved in delivering this evening really did themselves proud!

I’m not going to provide a full review but I’d like to share a few photos of the menu board and some of the dishes as well as my brief thoughts on each dish.






Cornish Skate Cheeks – moist, posh fish nuggets. Nice!

Scottish Razor Clams – served on the half shell; the perfect canapé. Really fresh; transported me to the Med!

Steak Tartare + Quail Egg Yolk – what a clever way to make a canapé out of something you’d not expect as one. Very nice indeed.

Tea Smoked Mackerel – possibly my favourite of the canapés; fantastic flavour and texture.

Caerphilly Sticks – greedy bastards on the other side of the room scarfed too many of these, so never got to taste one!

Deep Fried Calves Brains – never had brains before; not what I expected. White and creamy, I wouldn’t have realised it was meat rather than dairy, if I’d not been told. OK but didn’t thrill me. But at least it didn’t make me gag, as it did one guest!

Rare Hare Loin – cooked nice and pink and tender, worked well with the roast pumpkin, walnuts, salad and dressing.

Slow Cooked Mutton Shoulder – oh my, this was incredible! We literally spooned the meat off the bones and onto our plates. Rich, meltingly soft and very popular. Really fabulous mash too and I have discovered that I rather like salsify!

Roast Hand of Pork – Already stuffed by the time this came out, I still managed to eat not just one but two helpings, it was that good! My neighbour gnawed contentedly on a trotter. I stuck with the soft, soft meat.

Heritage Apple Trifle – this is the only dish of the evening that I didn’t like at all. No bother as it was followed by…

Blackberry Eton Mess – which turned out to be huge squidgy meringues sandwiched together with cream and gorgeous whole blackberries and blackberry sauce. I am sure I detected hazelnut in the meringues too but was poo-pooed on that front by fellow guests, so don’t know. I love meringues, and they’re easy to make too, but these were a cut above and I had seconds again!

Served with the above were three beers – Badger Original Ale, Fullers ESB and Thornbury Jaipur IPA. I do not drink beer. I really don’t. Not even lager but certainly not full on malty or hoppy stuff. Somehow I rather liked these beers with the food and whilst my table mates switched to wine, I necked enough beer to render me a wee bit tipsy. But just a wee bit!

Fit to burst, I did manage to find space to taste the tiniest slivers of some nicely matured Lancashire as well as some invigoratingly fresh curd cheese kindly sent up by Leagram Dairy. The Bull & Last team paired the cheese with home-made oat cakes, pickled grapes & damson cheese.

Pete would have been envious of the Islay-heavy Compass Box Oak Cross Whisky that rounded off the evening. Me? I thought it smelled of muddy socks and gave it a miss!

I’m yet to work my way through most of the goodie bag contents we also went away with but have promised myself a return visit to The Bull & Last!

Note: Just realised I exported all the images above with (c) of Peter J Favelle. They’re actually all (c) to me but as they’re just snapshots, I can’t be ****ed to redo so I’m leaving them as is! :)

 

On Friday evening, I enjoyed the best meal of my year so far. And it was in a restaurant I’d not even heard of 48 hours previously!

Having finally decided on a destination for our celebratory weekend away on Thursday morning, I booked us a posh room at the Bristol Hotel Du Vin and then set about making restaurant reservations. I had a feeling it would be too late to secure a table at michelin-starred Casamia but emailed just incase. When I received their confirmation that they were full, I cheekily asked where they would recommend as a second choice? Online reviews backed up their kind advice and I quickly booked a table for ourselves and a Bristol-based friend.

Bell’s Diner has, so I learned, been going strong since it opened back in 1976. Current chef and owner, Chris Wicks, took over almost a decade ago and has been serving his innovative cuisine ever since. Located in Bristol’s colourful Montpelier district; bohemian and funky, but with a bit of a rough reputation – we chose to take a taxi there. (Having chatted to the driver about the recent local council initiative to ask locals about which graffiti to keep and which to clean up, we looked at interesting pieces en route, including an unfamiliar Banksy he pointed out).

From the outside, the restaurant – housed in a former grocery shop – seems tiny, but as we were warmly welcomed and shown to our table, we realised it’s a bit of a warren, with two further dining areas. Simply and elegantly decorated with a warm, cosy style, it’s an inviting interior.

We were looked after by a team of 3 waiting staff during the evening but the lead waitress was Shelly. She was friendly, efficient, proactive about offering advice about the menu, enthusiastic about the food and an absolute asset to the restaurant. In truth, our perfect evening was almost as much down to the service as to the excellent food.


Shelly – our friendly, welcoming, enthusiastic, efficient and knowledgable waitress

Drinks ordered and delivered, we enjoyed olives and home-made breadsticks followed by a selection of delicious breads. Foccacia, walnut and raisin and two others, we chose two each, sampling all four between us. Very more-ish indeed.

Not long after, we were served a complimentary amuse bouche of egg emulsion with black truffle. Velvety smooth, creamy rich and pleasantly warm it was served simply in an egg shell with a tiny toast soldier alongside. Its mild savoury flavour was a perfect introduction to the rest of the meal.


egg emulsion with black truffle

One of the things that I most liked about the menu was the strong appeal of several dishes – often I’m drawn to just one dish, or worse still, find that there’s only one which even vaguely interests me – but on this menu I found several dishes in each section that I longed to try. How handy then that I was dining with two fellow food sharers and was able to taste a fair selection of dishes!

Matt opted for the two hour poached duck egg, salmon tartar. Somehow, after it’s two hours of poaching, the egg yolk was beautifully runny and the white still translucent and gelatinous. The salmon complimented it very well.


two hour poached duck egg, salmon tartar

Pete went for the tomato essence, tomato salad, thyme flowers, olive oil. Aptly named, this dish really did deliver the fundamental character of tomato in every single mouthful. The clear “soup” was the biggest revelation – so strange to have such a vibrant red fruit distilled into a concentrated liquid version of itself. I’d even seen tomato essence recipes before (I think Raymond Blanc does something similar), but hadn’t imagined they would pack such a punch! The tomato salad within was also delicious.


tomato essence, tomato salad, thyme flowers, olive oil

I chose the cornish crab, mango, avocado ice-cream, shellfish bisque. Sat on a bed of chopped fresh mango was a generous mound of crab, bound, I think, with creamy mayonnaise. Delicious and fresh. On top was the avocado ice-cream, the sweetness countered by salty cheese crisps. The only off-key note of the dish was the bisque – it tasted to me as though the pan had caught and the burnt flavours had accidentally been stirred in and this bitter flavour fought with that of the shellfish.


cornish crab, mango, avocado ice-cream, shellfish bisque

Matt and I both ordered the gressingham duck, pear jelly, balsamic, pumpkin, pomme anna, baby leeks. With the exception of the balsamic, which was such a tiny dribble on the plate that I assume it was only for decorative purposes, all the elements worked together fantastically (and somewhat surprisingly) well. The duck was truly superb; cooked to perfection with a gentle crispness to the skin and yet medium rare flesh that was incredibly tender and meaty, it tasted so good I couldn’t help commenting on it repeatedly until it was all gone! The roasted pumpkin, served both in cubes and a purée, was a perfect, sweet yet earthy foil to the lightly salted meat. The pomme anna was suitably plain. The tiny leeks had just the right balance of softness and crunch. And the pear jelly cubes just added an extra flavour dimension to a few of the mouthfuls. Duck is something I order fairly often. This dish of simple ingredients, simply presented was something special. Matt seemed to agree!


gressingham duck, pear jelly, balsamic, pumpkin, pomme anna, baby leeks

Pete went for the anjou pigeon, confit leg pastilla, cherries, yoghurt, summer beans, cacao nibs. The dish included both confit pieces of pigeon as well as pigeon pastilla – crispy filo parcels based on the delicious Moroccan original. Perfectly cooked, full of flavour and much more tender than we expected the pigeon and cherries were the two main flavours of the dish. The yoghurt and cacao nibs were garnish. Not a fan of the white beans, Pete left them, but I liked them very much and thought they provided an appealingly light and summery carbohydrate choice.


anjou pigeon, confit leg pastilla, cherries, yoghurt, summer beans, cacao nibs

Our desserts arrived and both Pete and I were convinced we’d won the (good-natured) “I chose best” contest which so often arises when dining at lovely restaurants!

Matt knew his toasted brioche, mirabelle de Nancy, bay ice-cream couldn’t compete but still enjoyed the sweet bread, sharp fruit and herby ice-cream.


toasted brioche, mirabelle de Nancy, bay ice-cream

The four miniature desserts that made up Pete’s lemon fantasy were tart, soufflé, sorbet and jelly. The lemon jelly was intensely sharp and topped with a similarly tart foam; much too acidic for me, they were very much to Pete’s taste. The sorbet, similarly acerbic, was served in a light pastry case. The slice of tart had more sweetness to in it’s thick, creamy lemon curd filling and was more universally appreciated. The soufflé too offered a nice balance of sweet and sharp and was everything a good soufflé should be – nicely risen and light without losing moistness or becoming hollow inside.


lemon fantasy (tart, soufflé, sorbet, lemon jelly)

My banana soufflé, toffee sauce, vanilla ice-cream just blew me away. Shelly broke the surface and poured in the toffee sauce. And then I dived in. Like the miniature lemon soufflé, this one had risen nicely and was light, moist and yet had body. The taste, for a banana-lover, was indescribably delicious. The ice-cream was nice and gave a respite, if one wanted it, from the sticky sweet combination of banana and toffee. Despite being so full I could hardly move, I could have eaten this again immediately I finished it!


banana soufflé, toffee sauce, vanilla ice-cream

With coffee and tea came a pretty slate of petits fours – mini macarons, madeleines and biscuits. All lovely!


petits fours

Pete and Matt enjoying coffee

And finally, our meal was over and it was time to leave.

Without wine, our bill came to about £40 a head (which includes a few soft drinks). All all three of us felt this was great value for the meal we’d enjoyed so much. I genuinely contemplated cancelling our Saturday night reservation elsewhere to see if we could get in again, but was persuaded against it!

Note: the wine list is extensive and expensive. To my recollection there are only 2 or 3 wines below £25 and the majority were £30 and up, up and away.

 

A short while ago I was invited to attend an inaugural food photography training session organised by Helen of aforkfulofspaghetti, run by Chris Windsor, a freelance professional photographer and hosted by the Scandinavian Kitchen, a shop, deli and café in Great Titchfield Street.

I’ve been a keen photographer since I was a child and have learned a fair bit over the decades since then; I’ve attended a few courses but mostly self-taught.

I’ve also delivered training myself (IT Training is what I do for a living) on “Understanding & Processing RAW Files In Adobe Camera Raw & Photoshop”. As well as covering topics such as white balance, exposure, histograms and contrast my courses have sometimes also covered general photography skills too such as selecting aperture, shutter speed and ISO, using the camera histogram display to improve exposure and so on. I have also sold prints and stock images, though on a very limited basis.


The first set of photos I took, out by the window


So, as I mentioned to Helen before signing up, I wasn’t sure whether the session would be that useful to me. It would depend on what Chris was intending to cover.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t mean that there’s nothing to improve in my photography – there is so much I could do a great deal better. I look at the photography in some of my favourite food publications and blogs and sigh with a mixture of admiration and envy!


My next images, also taken by the window

The main areas I’d like help with are food styling, which I find quite tricky and also a practical session on making better use of both natural and artificial light, particularly the latter. The other problem area for me is down to laziness rather than lack of knowledge – I seldom bother to make a proper effort to set the scene and arrange better lighting when I’m hungry to eat whatever’s just been cooked! Of course, I know no-one else can help me on that front and I just have to apply will-power!

In the end, I decided that, regardless of the content of the session, it would be fun to meet Chris and the other food bloggers attending, to visit the Scandinavian Kitchen, and to photograph and eat delicious goodies provided by them.


I took the next dish outside, hoping for a little more light


Arriving early gave me the chance to meet Chris and Helen before the session started as well as to explore the goodies on sale in the shop and start thinking about what I’d buy to take home later.

Chris introduced himself and showed us his reportage style of photography. His latest projects include providing the photography for books written by his wife, food-writer Jenny Linford, including a new edition of her book, Food Lover’s London, which he had brought along to show us. Although he has, in his long career as a professional, worked on all kinds of shoots, including studio work with lighting, food stylists and props, he does much less of this work these days focusing on some wonderful abstracts as well as more candid portraiture.

With two point and shoot users and two DSLR users, I quickly realised that the class would need to be pitched at a far more basic level than would be useful to me but didn’t mind simply enjoying the company.


This one was taken deep inside the coffeeshop, not much available light but used a little fill-in flash and reduced noise in post-processing.

Chris covered everything from available light and white balance to ISO to dialling down the intensity of one’s flash, all of which seemed really useful to my classmates.

My favourite bit of the session was the practical during the last 40 minutes. We distributed a couple of dishes of beautiful open sandwiches provided by our hosts, each took a plate or two to a quiet corner and started photographing away. In the main, I just did my normal thing but enjoyed a very brief session at the end trying out some home-made reflector boards that Chris set up using mini clamps.


This one was also taken in the darker area of the coffeeshop using Chris’ reflectors and a high ISO. I had to apply a lot of noise reduction when processing. For composition, I stuck with same as I’d used previously for the same dish.

It was also very nice to meet and chat to Swedish owner Jonas who set up the café shop with his Danish wife, Bronte. Together they have created a stylish and welcoming shop selling food from Sweden, Denmark, Norway and even Finland.

As well as eating the open sandwiches we’d just photographed Jonas kindly treated us to a true childhood favourite of mine – punschrulle, also known colloquially as vacuum cleaners. These rum-flavoured, green-marzipan coated, chocolate-dipped cakes take me straight back to regular childhood trips to Sweden and I’ve loved them ever since. These are also available from Ikea so I do indulge now and again though Scandinavian Kitchen does have a far bigger range of quality food items than Ikea!

Before leaving, I treated myself to some Swedish blood pudding and some cute gummy car-shaped sweets. The blood pudding made a great hangover-cure lunch on Sunday. We went for a protein blow out of fried blood pudding, fried eggs and grilled streaky bacon. Delicious and very reasonably priced too so I’ll certainly be popping back down to Scandinavian Kitchen for further supplies!


The beautiful Swedish blood pudding before and after cooking

Going forward, I think the classes would benefit from being split between complete beginners and intermediate users, possibly also between DLSR and point and shoot users too. For those looking for something more specific or advanced, whether it be a session on lighting or understanding their camera settings, it may be best to book a one-to-one session directly with Chris. Contact him via his website.

 

Phew! What a day we had hosting a stall at the Covent Garden Real Food Market! The culmination of several days of work dotted over preceding months, it was more successful than I’d dared anticipate and more exhausting than I’d feared!

 

Getting Ready

Having decided to brand my stall as both Mamta’s Kitchen and Kavey Eats I started thinking quite far in advance about what to make and how to package and present it. Pete, mum and I (and various friends) had many discussions on just what to make. We were working blind as we had absolutely no idea what kind of products would be popular and what volumes we might expect to sell.

With a loose list forming, I went ahead and ordered 126 hexagonal 8 ounce jam jars, 126 mini 1.5 ounce jam jars, a couple of hundred white paper bags, 100 clear cellophane bags and some sticky address labels.

I created an ever-changing and growing To Do list with tasks as diverse as sorting out business cards for Kavey Eats (we already had some for Mamta’s Kitchen), finding suitable and yet inexpensive table clothes, working out pricing, choosing bowls, plates and tasting dishes… and of course, making the produce.

The jam, marmalade, chutney, pickle, ketchup making sessions (two full days in Luton) went very well. My mum and I, together with visiting cousin Adi, worked really well as a team and filled almost all the jars I’d bought!




Jar labels were designed, redesigned and designed again. And then I spent over a day printing and sticking labels onto the jars, cutting (very approximate!) squares out of the inexpensive but stunning amber organza I’d purchased (at great discounted price) and attaching the squares to all the large jars with wayward elastic bands. Much swearing and groaning went on that day!

We had lots of successes with the jarred goods and one failure – the apple jelly (a recipe my mum’s made many, many times over several decades without any such problems) just wouldn’t set. Reboiling took it too far in the opposite direction and we ended up with a tasty but much too thick and caramelised jelly. Far too delicious to throw away, a colleague of mine came up with genius idea to use the thick mix as a filling for jam tarts. We trialled the jam tarts a month ahead of time and found the jelly made a really perfect filling and worked really well with the orange zest pastry we used. We opted for significantly deeper tarts with much more space for filling on the final run.

Photo reproduced courtesy of Helen @ worldfoodieguide

Another failure was my first attempt to make tablet fudge – that didn’t set either. Luckily, subsequent attempts, under the guidance of a tablet-making friend (thanks, Snow) came out much better and I made another few of batches (of different flavours) in the days before the stall.

We also had some spice roasted peanuts and sweet pastry pieces that my mum and aunt had prepared to traditional Indian recipes.

Pete and I made all the fresh goods (jam tarts, orange zest shortbread biscuits, mini meringues and treacle scones) the day before. That same night, we assembled an alarming pile of items to take with us – not just the produce but laminated signs, price lists, serving plates and bowls, taster dishes and spoons, tablecloths to cover the large and unattractive trestle tables (we eventually purchased inexpensive black weed membrane from a garden centre as all the suitable fabrics I’d found were far too expensive), a cash float, our extremely gorgeous MK branded professional catering aprons, a coolbox of cold drinks for ourselves…

Setting Up

Although the official hours of operation were noon to 8pm we had to set off much earlier in order to be able drive into the piazza to unload before the 10 am cutoff after which no vehicles are permitted into the piazza.



Two friends, Dave and Jamie, met us there and helped us with both the unloading and setting out all the goods. Attaching tablecloths and signs sufficiently well to withstand the winds was a challenge, even with super-sticky duct tape but eventually we were ready to go and open for business by about 10 am!

And, if that wasn’t enough, Dave and Jamie returned at the end of the day, when we were exhausted, and helped us pack everything away again and get it back into the car. Guys, a huge thank you indeed!

Samples & Sales

Of the products on sale I had plenty of samples available for the peanuts, sweet pastry squares, nectarine and amaretto jam and tamarind ketchup. I also put out a sample dish of spicy tomato ketchup which I hadn’t intended to – this was because an early visitor grabbed one of the small jars and opened it to smell it before I could stop him, thereby breaking the sterilised seal. I quickly stopped him opening any others, and, unwilling to sell the one that he’d opened (and didn’t want to buy), I emptied it into a taster dish instead. I also had limited samples of the various flavours of tablet and the shortbread biscuits. I didn’t want to break into the packaged bags to put more out, so I had the samples for these perched behind the display and only offered them to those who seemed interested.

Photos reproduced courtesy of Helen @ worldfoodieguide

I had been worried that not offering samples of all our goods would make it hard to sell them. What I found though, was that people really appreciated being able to taste a few items. Finding these to their taste gave them the confidence to trust that they would also enjoy the other products. So all the jars did sell well, especially the minis but also a gratifying number of the larger ones. The spicy tomato ketchup, of which I had the least volume available, sold out completely. The tamarind ketchup also sold really well, though I’d made about 3 times as much of it as anything else so didn’t sell out. The rest sold reasonably evenly though the lemon pickle and apple and sultana chutney were less popular against the 2 ketchups, the 2 chilli pickles, jam and the marmalade.


Photos courtesy of Niamh @ eatlikeagirl

The tablet didn’t sell well and in retrospect perhaps having more samples out would have helped. Then again, most samples were eaten by visitors who clearly had absolutely zero intention of buying – many didn’t even glance at the stall, passing by with eyes averted and hands reaching out as they went!

The sweet pastry squares sold out and the peanuts nearly did, though it’s fair to say that a large volume of both of these went as samples. These two had sample dishes we refilled almost continuously but they were both relatively inexpensive give-aways that did a great job in attracting people to the stall.

The meringues hardly sold at all which really surprised me given that they were juste £1 a bag and looked (and tasted) scrumptious. I didn’t have tasters out but figured most people would know what meringues taste like!

I wasn’t sure about the treacle scones (and the recipe I’d found made significantly less than I’d expected). They smelled great but were quite small so I priced them at just 50 pence each. To my surprise, they sold out too, with one lady coming back for another having eaten the first.

The jam tarts were popular too. They were, if I say so myself, rather beautiful and I think their vibrant orange colour and home-made look really helped draw people to us. They sold pretty well and we only took a few home with us at the end of the day – we were quite happy about those few as we knew from our trials that they’d happily last really well in a sealed box, allowing us to enjoy them over the next few days.

Behaviour of customers

I know it sounds crazy but, before things took off, I had a real fear that we wouldn’t sell anything. Or that we’d only sell a hanful of items to those charitable friends who had promised to come and lend their support and took pity on us. Up and running by 10 am, when traders around us were still setting up, all was quiet. I popped over to a fellow early bird trader’s stall and bought some lovely croissants for breakfast and Pete and I settled into our foldable chairs to wait for visitors to stop by. (Mum arrived around lunch time).

Just as I was eating my croissant, visitors began to trickle over. And sometime during the first half hour, to my surprise and delight, we made our first sale. That intrepid customer was a young girl, there with a little gang of her friends, and she picked out a bag of orange zest shortbread biscuits for £1.50. As she carefully pulled her little shiny pink purse from her matching shiny pink backpack some of her friends scorned her for wasting her money but she ignored them. And so, I thanked her for being our first customer of the day and offered her a complimentary jam tart. She walked away as pleased as punch, her scornful friend muttering under her breath about how it wasn’t fair that she’d bagged the freebie! Karma in action!

As is the norm for such markets, we had many people profess interest and tell us they’d come back later. Most of them didn’t, and that was fine – some people find it easier to say they’ll come back than a simple ‘no thanks’. But we did have some customers who, sometimes as much as an hour after their first visit, found their way back to buy some of our goodies. We had a family with two kids who politely asked if they could try the samples for the pastry squares before grinning and asking their parents if they could buy some. I took their parents’ response of “later” as an easy way to move them onwards, so was really pleased when they did come back for one bag of pastry squares and one of peanuts. They were even happier when I suggested that I’d be happy to do the 3 for 2 that I had on the pastry squares and the peanuts and give them a third bag of their choice for free.

Of course, we also had some amusing encounters. Whilst we certainly knew some visitors would not like our goods, some of the faces of sheer disgust pulled by some who tasted the samples were enough to make me giggle. And although we expected some freeloaders to do the rounds of the sample dishes, by the time all three of us had clocked one individual visiting us on at least 3 occasions, but more likely 4, and grabbing not just a peanut or two but most of the contents of the sample dish, I saw her swing up again and stopped her in her tracks. I said politely but loudly and firmly that, although they were free samples, they were there for all the visitors to the market and not a free lunch provided just for her. She stammered about it only being her second visit, to which I said that actually I’d personally seen her twice, and so had both mum and Pete. She didn’t come back again!

Visiting Friends

One of the best things about the day was the number of friends who made the effort to come by and offer support. The vast majority were generous enough to buy something too, which really helped keep momentum going. We had both what I call real life friends (though I count many of my newer online food community friends real life friends too, now) and online friends including fellow food bloggers, twitter folk and readers of Mamta’s Kitchen.

Photos courtesy of Niamh @ eatlikeagirl

The two visits that stand out the most were from Elizabeth and Winton, both long-time visitors to Mamta’s Kitchen. Elizabeth came by with a beautiful bunch of flowers for mum. It was lovely to hear about her successes with our recipes and which ones the various members of her family most love. Winton also had a gift for mum – a jar of nectarine chutney that he’d made following one of mum’s recipes. Having interacted so much on the site’s discussion forum, it was so lovely to meet him at last.

To all of you who were able to visit and were so kind about our stall, thank you. Niamh and Helen, thank you both for taking photos and blogging about our efforts.

Our Fellow Traders

Next to us on one side we had the Neal’s Yard Dairy stall selling one of my very favourite blue cheeses, Stichelton. Another cheese man from Mons was one further up. On our other side we had a stall selling Italian food such as lasagne. One thing I first discovered on buying the croissants was that the traders routinely give discounts to each other as a matter of course. This was the case for the few items we bought, and I did the maths to be ready to offer the same in return. As it happens, chutneys, jams and sweet nibbles were not in demand and I didn’t make any trader sales. But I did give jam tarts to the cheese men, who seemed to enjoy them.

I didn’t have much time to chat to traders during the day but did quiz the guys on either side of me towards the end of the evening. Interestingly, both said visitor numbers and sales had been much lower than previous weeks. And I’d thought it was quite busy!

Particularly nice was the welcome from Niamh, who was herself hosting a stall for the third time and popped round a couple of times, once with prosecco, thanks Niamh!

Oh My Poor Feet!

I knew it would be hard doing such a long day; I’m not someone with a lot of stamina at the best of times. The good news was how quickly the time flew by. With the exception of the last hour, when it was really quiet (though still a handful of sales), I was gobsmacked every time I glanced at my watch, thinking an hour had gone only to find 2 or 3 had passed!

It was incredibly hard on the feet though. I found I really couldn’t sit down very much or for more than a few moments and even in my extremely comfortable flat, rubber-soled pumps the cobbled ground had an impact. I even went barefoot now and then! The next day, I just couldn’t put any weight on my feet. Even the day after, my feet still felt like raw meat and they were still aching on the Monday, 4 days later!

Leftovers

As expected, we did have quite a bit of stock left. I’m Indian; genetically speaking it’s simply not possible for me to undercater. Ask anyone who’se been to one of my picnics!

I’d gone in expecting to have quite a lot of the jars left, as I had made extra with the express intention of keeping some for Christmas gifts. I’d also had friends who wouldn’t be able to come tell me they’d be interested in buying some afterwards, which has proved to be the case.

We gave much of the perishables to local friends and to family and kept a little for ourselves too. The tablet fudge I froze – my friend, Snow, had proven that freezing it doesn’t have a negative impact on the texture or taste.

In Conclusion

Whilst it’s been gratifying to be told that our efforts were quite professional and be asked whether I’ll be making this a regular thing, I knew from the moment I signed up that this was a one off. For me, it was all about experiencing something new and different, challenging and stretching myself to do something I’d not done before and simply finding out what it’s like on the other side of the kind of food stalls I love visiting as a customer.

From that perspective, it was certainly a successful day and, despite the amount of work, extremely enjoyable.

Photo courtesy of Niamh @ eatlikeagirl

As for the big question on some lips – we did manage to make a profit though not a viable living wage! As well as the costs of the food and packaging, I’d never really thought about all the extra costs such as table cloths, disposable spoons for tasting samples, materials to make signs and decorate the stall and products and what about petrol, NCP charges and the congestion charge? And we didn’t even have to pay for the stall! With all these in mind, I have a renewed and even bigger respect for those who do this for a living as well as a better understanding of prices that are sometimes a little higher than one might expect.

Thank you to Julia at the UKFBA and Nick, Ghislaine and Ben at the market for providing this opportunity.

Photo reproduced courtesy of Helen @ worldfoodieguide

And the biggest thank you to Pete and mum for getting stuck in and making it possible.

 

 

Despite the inconsistency of the judging, the clearly unrepresentative editing (even before I read accounts from contestants), the nauseating sexualisation of desserts by one of the judges and the bizaare nature of some of the tests, I rather enjoyed Masterchef 2009. There’s much I’d love to change about the format, mind, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

And for once, I picked and supported the winner early on. The discussion and debates about the entrants (not to mention the judges decisions) raged across food discussion boards (such as the BBC Food Chat board) but both Pete and I were firm followers of Mat Follas aka Ming The Merciless and his appealing, heartwarming personality and unique brand of comforting food, well cooked and simply presented. There was much screaming at the telly during the final stages and much elation when his triump was announced.

Keen to keep up with what Mat was doing following his win, I quickly came across his blog and became a regular follower, leaving a comment now and again. We touched base on the UKFBA website and became twitter friends too. (Mat’s a gregarious chap and very much a part of the foodie twitter community).

I followed with interest his posts about finding a suitable venue, cleaning and decorating it, choosing the right furniture, taking on staff and working on the menu.

The Wild Garlic, Beaminster

And shortly before it was due to open back in June, my brain finally made the connection between The Wild Garlic’s Beaminster location and our annual holiday with big gang of friends. Once I realised that our Charmouth location was a mere half an hour’s drive from Mat’s new place, I immediately got in touch to arrange a group booking.

Mat is – as anyone who watched him on Masterchef could no doubt guess – a helpful, friendly and gracious person to deal with and we pinned down a booking for 15 adults + 6 kids.

Ming The Masterchef aka Mat Follas

Of course, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to interview Mat for the blog so Pete and I made our way to the restaurant two days ahead of the booking. Pete got far more sympathy than he deserved for his truly atrocious hangover and I very much enjoyed grilling Mat, though I’m afraid I’m really not much of an interviewer – what played out was more of a (very enjoyable) two-way conversation than a professional “I-ask he-answers” affair!


Light, modern, clean and quirky interior

Unlike many restaurants serving food of such a high calibre, Mat has deliberately created a casual and welcoming interior. The Marnie Moyle tables are a great style anchor.

Tiny kitchen space

I’m amazed at how Mat and his team cope with such a tiny kitchen. After enjoying the evening meal on our second visit, my amazement verges on complete astonishment!

Pretty salad, delivered moments before, on wooden plates

Mat’s ethos is to use natural, locally sourced ingredients, (many foraged or provided by local amateurs) and to bring out the best in each. Both flavours and presentation are beautiful.

The Interview
Fast Rider & Restaurant Style

Mat’s philosophy about motorbikes gives quite an insight into his feelings about restaurants – he says, “The scruffy bike in the square is mine. My philosopy on motorbikes is that they’re ridden not cleaned. If the day’s good enough to clean it then I’ll get on it and use it.”

And that’s kind of how Mat is about restaurants – Mat’s restaurant is all about the food and the company. As those who read his posts on the Guardian WoM blog will know, he certainly put a lot of thought and effort into décor. And I can tell you that he succeeded in creating a a warm, welcoming interior with a kind of Scandi-Dorset casual chic! But what he’s most focused on is ensuring that the food and drinks served are exceptional and that his customers are encouraged to relax, settle in and enjoy their visit.

We talk a little about a restaurant local to me – it sadly closed some months ago – which excelled at providing consistent good quality meals coupled with a genuinely warm welcome. Unsurprisingly, they had a large base of loyal and very regular customers! Mat nods in recognition and says how keen he is to ensure that he gets it right for the locals. This seems to be going well so far – it’s locals who’ve encouraged him to open for morning coffee/ brunch and he already has regulars, including a Tuesday Lunch Club of OAPS.

Happily for our group (of 15 adults and 6 littles ones), Mat says he really likes having children in.

I respond that “a lot of places can be quite funny about it. I understand there are some types of restaurants and occasions where taking kids doesn’t make sense. But there are some people who think kids should go everywhere and some that think they shouldn’t go anywhere.”

Mat answers: “I think kids should be out with you as part of their growing up. But we do struggle with it… we do dishes like a whole spider crab on the table and smooth rocks off Chesil beach [to crack it with] – a lot of customers love it and a small percentage absolutely hate it just because it’s a bit noisy…

I’ve had a few people come in and be determined not to like it.”

K: “I imagine it will get to the point where those who don’t like it will find a restaurant that suits what they’re looking for better…”

M: “There’s a very good restaurant down the road there that does linen on the tables…”

Mat’s approach to table setting is suitably relaxed. He uses paper napkins instead of cloth serviettes, places cutlery on the napkins instead of laying a formal place and sets out drinking glasses and jugs of tap water rather than a selection of wine glasses, many of which must simply be cleared away again when customers order other drinks.

This seems to be working. Mat tells me, “I’ve had people coming for anniversaries and they absolutely loved the atmosphere and that they don’t have to dress up. We have more and more locals coming, they can see what we do, they come with the right expectations…”

The Family, Changing One’s Life and Sourcing Food

K: “What do your family think of your new restaurant venture?”

M: “The family are enjoying it. Jasper, my oldest, loves it. He comes and works Saturday and leaves with a good amount in tips, about £10. At 11 that’s pretty good pocket money. And they all love coming to the restaurant. And they see me…I don’t know if they see more of me, but it’s quite nice that they can actually see what I do… When you have a corporatey job and it’s not relevant to their lives, the kids have no interest… whereas here there’s a direct relationship.”

K: And I assume you can bring them with you and involve them in finding the ingredients and supplies?

M: “Yeah, they came along to the water buffalo supplier this morning to get the meat and they loved it! They point at the animals and say yummy!”

I tell Mat about my sister-in-law. A few years ago, when her kids were younger, she not only grew lots of fruit and vegetables in the back garden, but also raised rabbits and chickens for meat. The children had a healthy understanding of where meat comes from. They knew that the animals they enjoyed playing with would end up on the table. I have a huge respect for the lesson she gave them.

Vegetarian Cooking

Mat immediately identifies: “To me, that’s what we are, we eat meat, that’s what we do!

You’ve probably seen some of my innocent [online] exchanges with the veggies – I do understand their point of view but I don’t agree with it, frankly.

I do make a point of having vegetarian dishes on the menu. It’s interesting actually because on the blogging sides it tends to be very London focused and I’ve had discussions with people [who have said] “you should have two or three selections for vegetarians on the menu” – actually, last night I had just one vegetarian in so I’m just not going to do it. I’m not going to do a whole big menu for vegetarians. I need to do a veggie option that I would eat. I’m now doing that. What we have on today is a fennel thyme gratin, it’s really really nice, it’s really – meaty is probably the wrong description – it’s got a lot of umami flavour – that’s meaty by another name!”

I remember that there were some great veggie ideas in the comments to Mat’s Guardian blog entries on this topic.

M: “And I’ve gone and bought some of the books that were recommended on that and that’s where we’re getting some of the dishes from. I’m doing a thing for the Dorset County Show in a couple of weeks and their whole marketing angle is about loving your veg and the thing is that parents who don’t like certain vegetables put their kids off those vegetables so the whole point of this is to make dishes that the parents will start eating – rather than trying to convert the children to eating more veg we need to convert the parents first. So I’m doing a sprout dish, a celery dish and a broadbean dish. I need to come up with dishes…”

At this point we interrupt our chat as a bag of salad arrives. It’s collected by a local lady and includes a mix of salad leaves and edible flowers. And it’s stunningly beautiful!

Mat jokes : “It’s really hard dressing a plate with a salad this good isn’t it?”

Where did it all start?

Salad admired, I change tack and ask when Mat first realised he was interested in food, because clearly, it’s not a career path he chose until recently.

M: “Not so long ago; probably only 3-4 years ago. I was doing a lot of scuba diving, getting lots of crabs and scallops and things that you can eat and I was just conscious I wasn’t making the best of it. And My wife just bought me a day’s course at Rick Stein’s which I loved.

I mean I’ve always cooked but it’s always been the lasagne, the chillis and fairly standard kind of things. So then I started cooking with that [fresh seafood] … and I’m a bit of an obsessive so it just became an obsession and now we eat really well and the cooking’s gone pretty well…”

Childhood Memories

I want to go further back and ask Mat, “what are your favourite dishes that your mum used to make? Or childhood food memories?”

M: “Childhood? My mum used to make mince that was boiled and deep fried potatoes and that’s what I grew up on. I lived on grey mince and potatoes.”

K: ” I’m seeing why the foodie stuff came later! What about school dinners?”

M: “I went to boarding school when I was 10. I can remember being told I was going to boarding school. The best thing about it was I didn’t have to eat my mother’s cooking any more. I genuinely grew up with just a complete desert of any cooking talent.”

K: “No grannies that cooked great stuff?”

M: “No, my gran brought me up. From the age of 10 on I lived with my grandparents. And she did mince as well and she made curries which meant she got a teaspoon of curry powder and put it in the mince.”

In a voice that’s both fascinated and horrified, I ask “In the boiled mince?”

M: “Yep. So that was my childhood diet! Never any other cultures, nothing.”

K: “But I thought NZ was a pretty good place for food?”

M: “It’s fantastic. It’s one of the best places in the world – Now! When I was growing up it really wasn’t. It was kind of like old England.

K: “Guess that makes sense in terms of the shared culture…”

M: “And I went to boarding school and that was like a public school here I guess. I know how to cook liver and I appreciate people who enjoy liver slightly pink and soft and tender and lovely but my liver has to be shoe leather. I love it but I grew up on it!”

Loving Food

K: “So what food makes you happiest when you eat it these days?”

M: “Well cooked comfort foods. I’m doing a bread and butter pudding for lunch. Things like that. I never used to cook them and I’ve started cooking them and I cook them a bit here. And it’s nice with the locals – especially on the Tuesday for the Tuesday Lunch Club – it’s nice to do them a bit of comfort food and they really enjoy it… and that’s quite nice. Apricot jam, nectarines and all sorts through it and it will be really nice.”

K: “And what about savoury? I’m guessing seafood rather than meat or both?”

M: “No both. I was always a really big big meat eater, a really good steak I love. Sunday roast, chicken roast all of that. I love my food. Seafood, good seafood I really love but it’s hard to get good seafood.”

The conversation moves on to London prices for seafood and how much more Mat can offer for the money down in Dorset. I mutter that “I’ve not eaten very much fish and I would like to start eating more but the trouble is when I see something really gorgeously beefy on the menu I just can’t resist it, or lamb. I always think I must eat more fish because I do enjoy it when I have it but it’s just so hard choosing it over some of the lovely meat dishes.”

Mat agrees, “Yeah I tend to order meat when I’m out for a restaurant meal. Especially when I know the fish isn’t going to be as good as what I’ve done, which is a bit arrogant… but I tend to go for the meat too.”

Travelling & Working

I ask Mat if he has travelled much and about his international food experiences and he tells me he travelled a lot in South East Asia.

K: “So what’s your favourite food things that you came across?”

M: “Thai! I lived on an island in Thailand for a year, worked as a diver and it was just heaven – food and drink and diving every day!

From there, Mat went back to university in his mid-twenties and by his third year, he was setting up a computer company with a bunch of guys from Hong Kong and Taiwan. There was lots of travel during this period of his life. From that, Mat continued in the world of IT, most recently working for IBM before giving it up to switch to a career in the restaurant industry.

Ming The Merciless

We stop for a coffee break and I meet Mat’s charming little girl, Meadow, before we turn back to the questions.

Having followed Mat’s progress throughout Masterchef, and quickly become used to referring to him as Ming, based on his resemblance to Ming the Merciless, I ask him what he thought of the nickname?

M: “Yeah, yeah I was cool with that… I wanted it in the programme… I said “I really hope News Of the World does the look alike”, coz they do that every week, and they did!”

Masterchef

I wonder if Mat is still in touch with his Masterchef fellow finalists?

M: “Yeah, Andy was down here a couple of weeks ago… and I offered Chris the second chef job here… which would have been ideal for him…”

I tell Mat that, as far as we could tell according to what the producers/ editors chose to show, it seemed that Mat and Andy were the stronger contenders, with Chris not quite up to the same standard.

M: “For us it was obvious it was a two horse race, and Andy was very much ahead way into the finals… “

K: “You could see the skill Andy had with certain types of food, unbelievably precise…”

M: “Andy is more skilled still – his technical skills are well above mine and probably always will be… but we do different things.

We got on really well – production hated it, production wanted us at each other’s throats but no we got on well. But there was definitely competitiveness, proper competitiveness, that was the fun of it. What I didn’t want to do was win or lose to someone who was mediocre. Andy understands why he didn’t win – he doesn’t have his own style yet…”

K: “Watching, it seemed that you developed during the series?”

M: “Oh definitely, my cooking is completely different to when I started…”

K: “Did you expect to get so emotional through it?”

M: “No, god no! I mean, well you know what it’s like in corporate life – you never show emotion at all ever. So it was kind of weird but it did mean a lot – it’s about putting a piece of yourself out there and it’s not something I normally do.

The final, I know I was emotional at the end of that, but that was the culmination of three weeks of just… not sleeping… I didn’t know I could do it so it wasn’t until the final… that I actually managed to cook the three dishes in the time allowed, I had no idea going into the final if it was going to be a success or a complete disaster!”

Part 2 – a review of our group’s evening meal at The Wild Garlic…

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