Bare Food is born

I first heard about supper clubs and pop-ups emerging all over the London dining scene in 2009, which was unfortunate timing as I’d just moved from Brixton to take up the position of chef at a boutique hotel in deeply rural southwest France. I read with pangs of longing about chefs and their collaborators throwing together exciting plates of funky food in fabulous little venues all over town for one-off events… and I thought, as someone who has never felt the lure of my name hanging over the door of a permanent establishment: “That could be fun”.

 Bare Food outside Bare Food Duncan serving

Back in London, I discovered that supper clubs are still going strong and the pop-up scene is thriving, especially during the summer months. I toyed with the idea of using my garden flat as an entertaining space for a reeeeeally intimate little supper club every week or so, but I soon realised that a) It probably wouldn’t be a good move if I don’t want my landlord to evict me, b) If it rains, my guests would need to come inside and squeeze around a table that barely seats six and c) I don’t particularly like anyone else in my bathroom… let alone strangers. So I decided I needed to find a space to use in my new neighbourhood… and then practically fell through the doors of CCs cake shop on Londsdale Road, newly redecorated, two minutes walk from my flat – and about to relaunch as Nineteen: café, bakery, gift shop and venue for hire!

Bare Food Nineteen sign Bare Food table and shelves Bare Food chair

I usually work alone when I cook for clients, which can be a little lonely, and I knew that this was a project I wanted to do as a team. I already had my partner-in-crime: Monique, a fellow classically-trained chef with an equally strong passion for Mediterranean food, a simple, modern approach to cooking – and a no-nonsense approach to getting on with things. My kind of girl. Luckily her boundless enthusiasm was piqued by my idea and, along with the very gorgeous Claire, Rich and Jacob in place as our Front of House, a team was born…

Bare Food plating up canapés 2 Bare Food Claire Bare Food MoniqueBare Food family sitting outside 1 Bare Food griddled veg plattes

So, with a venue and a mission in place, we now needed a name… Last summer I had toyed with the idea of doing a pop-up restaurant at Treverra (a most idyllic spot, set in a gorgeous garden with stunning views across the Camel estuary, all washed down with lungfuls of Cornish sea air), which I wanted to call the “Bare Foot supper club” in honour of the house’s beautiful pale wood floors and no shoes policy. We liked the name, but it was no good for London, whose streets would probably offer up some serious cuts, a touch of gangrene and possibly a dose of tetanus if you wandered them without shoes. But that name brought us to Bare Food, which summed up our food ethos of choosing the freshest, tastiest produce and cooking it skilfully, yet simply, so that every single individual ingredient can shine through.

Bare Food smashed peas & broad beans Bare Food cucumber ginBare Food pork and salad Bare Food drinks prep Bare Food: Pop-Up Dining

So, with a close eye on what locally-sourced meat, fish, fruit and veg were in season, Monique and I created a menu that read like a love song to the ingredients, flavours and dishes we’d tasted and cooked at home and around the world. Recipes and ideas from friends and family were woven in, from Rich’s cucumber gin to Kari’s crispbreads, as meals we’d eaten on our travels were longingly recalled and recreated for our menu. We shopped at farmers’ markets around London and from a wonderful butcher and fishmonger nearby, and the end result was, we hoped, the perfect expression of British summer produce, cooked by two chefs inspired by the Mediterranean. The next day, although we felt “like we’d run a marathon and drunk 15 beers”, we were content. We’d produced a meal of which we were proud, our Front of House team had worked like a dream (and like troopers) and our guest had left smiling, happy and full.

Click here for more about Bare Food Pop-Up Dining and follow us on Instagram @barefooduk.

All photos in this blog post were kindly donated by Sophia Shorr-Kon.

Bare Food outside at night Bare Food main course on plate Bare Food cornmeal shortcakes with peaches 1

The London Project… this time it’s for real

Working from home

Working from home

Back in May I wrote a post about my visit to London, which pretty much involved me eating my way around the city, aided and abetted by some food-loving friends. It was this short trip that really cemented the idea in my head to move back to London to experience its vibrant, cosmopolitan buzz once more… I had missed its hustle and bustle and was longing to take advantage of the opportunities it held.

Oxford Street at dusk

Oxford Street at dusk

Five months later I was moving my belongings into a flat in Queen’s Park, a stop-gap very kindly provided by an old friend, and found myself caught, like a rabbit in the headlights, in the glaring bright lights of the big city. My calculated risk to move back here in order work on the recipe apps I’ve been developing, whilst funding myself with private cheffing work for clients I’d previously cooked for in Cornwall, has been paying off – in spades. My work diary has been full to bursting, while some confused friends have contacted me to ask if it’s really true I’m back in town… or just an urban myth. But, though my social life hasn’t been given a chance to thrive and I have visited woefully few new restaurants, I keep reminding myself that at least I’ve been busy – far better to be drowning in work than to be twiddling my thumbs… It’s not yet been seven weeks since my return, so it’s still early days, but I’m starting to settle in little by little. Friends have been wonderful, reassuring me when it all seems to much and cheering for me when it’s all going well. The new year will bring more changes as I look for a more permanent home and create a new recipe app, but hopefully there will be consolidation, too.

Breakfast at the local farmers' market

Breakfast at the local farmers’ market

In the meantime, there is my first Christmas at home in four years to look forward to: the family, the fun, the food, the dogs, the blissful peace and quiet of the countryside… In just 10 days, I will be driving down to Dorset with a contented smile on my face and no work booked in for over a week. Well, except for the 20 or so new recipes I need to come up with by January for the next app…

Happy Christmas to you all and have a wonderful 2014! x

We’re jammin’

Some of the best recipes, I reckon, are the ones with the least ingredients. Granted, the ingredients therefore stand out more, so the result is highly reliant on how good these are in the first place… you’re not going to make an omelette delicious if you use eggs from battery hens, no matter how good your method, or a scrummy salad using limp lettuce from a sweaty plastic bag and hard, tasteless tomatoes out of season. But a few corking ingredients can make the best meal ever – one of my favourite dishes uses fresh white crab meat, creamy avocados, plump cherry tomatoes and zingy pink grapefruit. Add a few herbs, seasoning and top-notch olive oil and you’ve got an absolute winner on your hands (which is why I made it recipe of the month in July).

Crab, avocado, tomato & pink grapefruit salad

Crab, avocado, tomato & pink grapefruit salad

Jam and preserves are perfect examples of simple, top notch ingredients yielding fantastic results. At Treverra Farm, we have had some gorgeous fruit already this year: strawberries, raspberries, rhubarb, currants of all colours… The charms of strawberry jam are utterly obvious, but not any less appealing, all the more so when you’re eating the jam just metres from where the fruit was picked. Early in the summer, before our own strawberries had arrived, I made a batch using bought (yet still Cornish) strawberries. It’s good… but the batch I made a few weeks later using our own fruit was worlds apart – dark, oozy, juicy strawberries that hadn’t been subjected to polytunnels, packing or travel, their flavour and plumpness was out-of-this-world.

IMG_0442

Next up, the garden rhubarb. I decided to pair this tart treat with vanilla, which turned out to be a lovely combination and worked very deliciously spread on toast, but also with natural yoghurt, cheese and – as Charlie observed – by the spoonful from the jar (the gluten-free option, he proffered).

The heatwave rolled on through July and, come August, the currants were ready for action. Red and white currant jelly is a brilliant condiment to have on hand for roast lamb and other meats and also for using as a glaze on slow-roast pork and in sauces to give piquancy and sweetness. My blackcurrant sorbet was almost too intense (almost), the blackcurrant jelly is syrupy, dark and divine (jelly as in smooth jam, not the wobbly kind, but that’s given me an idea for next summer…) The blackcurrant vinegar is my personal favourite – I use it as I would a syrupy balsamic (find out how to make it in the August recipe of the month).

Even if you don’t have a garden of fruit to pick, I would heartily recommend getting stuck into a bit of jamming, bottling and preserving right now with seasonal, local fruit. The long, hot summer has given the fruits a lovely flavour and ripeness and there’s loads to choose from: blackberries, plums, apricots, bilberries, blueberries, figs, greengages, loganberries, raspberries, redcurrants, strawberries… Take advantage of what’s plentiful and in season now, get jamming and you’ll be thankful for every summery spoonful and delightful drizzle throughout the colder months ahead.

The raw truth

So my mission to find a better way of eating has continued throughout the summer… my initial forays into free-from cooking weren’t great, from my disastrous xylitol meringues to the rather disappointing dairy- and sugar-free wholewheat & courgette muffins. I did manage to make some delicious sorbets with lemon juice and a syrup made with xylitol and infused with herbs, but after 48 hours in the freezer they had all taken on the consistency of a glacier. An ice pick is not a good look when you’re trying to serve dessert.

But, nevertheless, fuelled by some excellent writing by cancer survivors and scientists, juicing enthusiasts and raw food cooks – and even a Michelin-starred chef turned vegan convert – I’m learning more about how and why foods affect our bodies in certain ways, and how to go about cooking and eating to make life not only healthier, but also tastier. The right diet and lifestyle may not be able to eliminate all chances of getting diseases like cancer, but I’ve realised that it is undoubtedly possible to significantly lower the odds.

Despite all my jibes about soy chai lattes, mung bean pancakes and tree hugging… I am steadily cutting out cow-derived dairy from my diet – and even the Big Swede (from a nation of dairy devotees) has followed suit. Instead of cow’s milk, we now buy either almond, soya or coconut milk (rice milk is fine if you like skimmed milk, but we both find it too watery) and, though I still have been using a bit of butter when cooking and on toast (out of habit more than anything), I am increasingly ignoring it in favour of olive, coconut and vegetable oils.

A big incentive to eating far better is the juicer we bought – it’s got a chute big enough to fit whole apples (so there’s not the faff of peeling, chopping or coring – we just chuck ’em straight on in there) and it’s a doddle to clean, which means that we actually use it at least once a day, instead of it gathering dust. Well, I say “we”… Big Swede has taken to juicing with a fervour bordering on the religious. His latest creation was called “Swamp Juice”, which was ridiculously healthy and a deep, rather lurid shade of green, but he’s a sucker for berries, so each morning I’m often handed something akin to an all-natural, virgin cocktail. It’s only a matter of time until there’s a cherry and umbrella on top…

Today is the start of another week cooking for the clients who set into motion my quest for a healthier diet. In anticipation of their arrival, my head is full of ideas, while the fridge is bursting with fruit, veggies and herbs, the larder is stocked with my Norwegian crisp breads, buckwheat noodles and cookies I’ve made without resorting to sugar, butter or white flour, and the freezer has about five different flavours of totally sugar- and dairy-free ice creams, including Brazil Nut & Vanilla, Rasbperry and Coconut. I really, really hope they’re hungry…

Plus ça change…

Our studio on Treverra Farm

I woke up to the sound of a small creature clamouring for attention outside my window, followed by a chorus of buzzing: flies. The inquisitive small child has now gone, but the cows are back in the field next door, which means they bring their little friends with them. Joy. Still, one look at my view of rolling green fields, perfect lawn, summer flowers and blue, endless sky is enough to soothe my fly-angst (not to mention a frenzied attack with a fly swat that killed about 10 of the buggers).

Near Lundy Bay

Sound familiar? There are indeed echoes of my time spent in the Tarn, my busy life working as a chef in a beautiful, tranquil corner of France with many creatures of all sizes to entertain and infuriate me. But Le Manoir de Raynaudes is long gone and I have moved onto new pastures (and cows, and flies…) My life is still nomadic, but I’m getting a sort of rhythm going, which feels like progress – I’ve found places I keep wanting to return to. And someone to return with: the Big Swede. Well, actually he’s a French-Swedish hybrid, but the name suits him and it’s stuck. We met in the Swiss Alps and are set to return there for our third winter together. For the summers, we live in Cornwall, with me working as a private chef and him mostly working on his surfing. Together, we look after the guests staying in a beautiful house and cottage in an idyllic site on the north Cornwall coast, set up away from the swarming crowds of tourists, with an uninterrupted view of fields and the estuary. Life doesn’t get much better than this.

Treverra Farm House
Before I get lost in smug ramblings, I must remember the point of reigniting the blog: food. It turns out that my comments and photos on Twitter or Facebook about something I’ve just cooked are prompting responses along the lines of “Enough with the chat and give us the recipe, woman!!” When I post recipes, I’ll do my best to be accurate with the quantities and be clear in my methods, but feel free to ask me if something just doesn’t add up. First up: slow roast pork.
Although I’ve always been a fan of cured or smoked pork – Spanish jamón Iberico and chorizo, Prosciutto, Salami, etc – and it’s true that I view sausages as a sacred food group in their own right, I was never a fan of roast pork. Dry, uninspiring, bland… and I never got the point of crackling. But then I tasted slow-roast pork belly in Spain and things shifted – pork that was juicy, super-tender and almost caramelised. So I experimented over and over again, changing recipes, methods, timings, temperatures, suppliers – everything in the quest to recreate the mouth-watering dish I’d eaten all that time ago. Results varied and, despite a few moderate successes, I was far from satisfied. But then I received a golden piece of advice: forget perfect meat AND perfect crackling – you can’t get both at the same time. So I divided and conquered:
SLOW ROAST PORK
Slow roast pork, salads and roast potatoes & red onions

 

This recipe and method have worked for me with both pork belly and a shoulder of pork – the former is better for smaller numbers, whereas a whole shoulder of pork (bone in) is a great way to feed about 20 people. The paste recipe is adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Aromatic shoulder of pork ‘Donnie Brasco’ and the method is thanks to Jamie Oliver and his brilliant advice, which he based on much experience and many conversations with “meat geeks”…
For the paste to rub on the meat
In a pestle & mortar or a coffee grinder, pulverise:
2 star anise
2 tsp fennel seeds
4 cinnamon sticks
4 cloves
1 tsp black peppercorns

Add 1 tblspn of this powder (you can keep the rest in an airtight jar for future use) to the following (if you’ve got a stick blender with a mini chopper accessory, this is ideal – if not, you can grate the garlic and ginger and mash everything in the pestle & mortar):
5 large garlic cloves, peeled
5cm piece of fresh ginger root, peeled
2 tspns dried chilli flakes
2 tspns ground ginger
1 tblspn brown sugar
4 tblspns flaky salt
1 tblspn sunflower or groundnut oil
1 tblspn soy sauce

Meat

Pork belly (it’s tricky to give weight – best to ask your butcher based on how many of you there are and use your eyes to gauge how much you want to eat – and remember that the meat will shrink by about a quarter during cooking), OR
Whole shoulder of pork, which weighs between 5kg and 8kg

Cooking – bearing in mind cooking times, you will need to get things going up to a day in advance
Turn your oven to 110°C.
Take the skin off the meat, using a small, sharp knife, causing as little damage as possible to the meat, the skin and your fingers. Score the skin with a sharp knife (a stanley knife works best if you have one), chop into strips or squares and put it in the fridge.
Line a roasting tin big enough to hold the piece of meat with two layers of tin foil that are big enough to wrap around the whole piece. Put the meat in the roasting tin and rub the paste all over it, then wrap the meat up and seal up the foil around it.
Put the meat in the oven for about 6 hours for a piece of pork belly or up to 24 hours for a big, whole shoulder of pork. That’s very approximate, by the way – it should be wet at all times and you cook it under the meat is falling apart – check it a couple of times during cooking and turn it over once or twice.
When it’s finished cooking, remove the pork from the oven and turn it to 160°C, transfer the meat from the foil into a roasting tin and strain the juices into a saucepan. You can smother the meat in a jelly of some kind at this point (I used a homemade red- and white-currant jelly) and put it in the oven for about 20 mins (belly) to 45 mins (shoulder) to dry out a bit.
Heat the juices in the pan and reduce to a nice saucy consistency – add a teaspoon of jelly if you want to sweeten it a bit and a squeeze of lemon often doesn’t hurt if it needs a zesty kick.
Meanwhile, for the crackling, sprinkle salt on the skin and lay it in one layer in a roasting tin in a searingly hot oven (250°C-ish) for about 20-30 mins until it is crunchy, but don’t let it burn. Sprinkle with more salt if you fancy before serving.
To serve the meat, pull out any bones and discard them then, using two forks, tear the meat apart and put onto a warmed platter. Put the sauce in a jug to serve on the side.
What you serve it with depends on you and your guests – my favourite accompaniments have been sticky coconut rice, chargrilled broccoli with chilli & garlic and Jamie’s free-styled salad of finely diced carrots, cucumber, apple & coconut with tarragon & parsley and a dressing made by tempering oil with mustard seeds, ginger & cumin, finished off with a good squeeze of lemon – a bit off-the-wall on its own but AMAZING with the pork and coconut rice. Last night I was feeding 16 guests, some of whom had more conservative tastes, so I did balsamic-roasted new potatoes & red onions, a marinated green bean salad with a Dijon & shallot dressing, a crunchy salad of carrots, fennel, cucumber & courgette and a simple green leaf salad.
We ate leftovers at about 10.30pm last night and I am still rather full, so have managed no more than a cup of detox tea so far this morning (pathetic, really). The Big Swede, however, got up at 5.30am to go surfing (the buzz on the Twittersphere tells me it’s the best swell of the season so far, so there is method to his madness) so he will probably return soon, absolutely famished, and I can attempt to assuage his hunger with a sandwich of torn, slow-roast pork, some garden lettuce and a bit of English mustard and mayo. Ooh, is that my appetite I can feel returning?