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

Hustle, bustle, surf & turf

What can I say about Morocco that hasn’t been said already?  ‘Discovered’ in the 1960s by the beautiful and the damned, it now forms part of most modern travellers’ repertoires, keen to soak up some north African sun and immerse themselves in an exotic culture.
Fishing boat in Essaouira
Having spent the summer in Cornwall and with five months in the Swiss Alps ahead of us, we wanted a holiday with plenty of sunshine, bright blue skies, enough waves for surfing and a different way of life – but without the expense or jet lag of a long-haul flight.  Choosing to go to Morocco on the hunt for sunshine in November was always a gamble, but thankfully the weather gods were smiling on us (for all but 2 days of our trip) and we did indeed come back bronzed and refreshed, content to be back in Verbier and ready to start the winter season.
Just three of Morocco’s many, many waifs and strays

We started our trip in Essaouira, which lies about three hours’ drive west of Marrakech on the Atlantic coast.  A city by the sea, it is made up of the Medina (old walled town) by the harbour, with the new town stretching (and growing at quite a rate) away from it.  We stayed in a small riad in the Medina, an extremely lucky find, where we were looked after beautifully whilst being given many fascinating insights into the local scene, customs, mentality and way of life by the English/Moroccan couple who run the place.  They were very relaxed and more than happy for us to use the kitchen… but with only five days and hundreds of places to eat out, I was happy to hang up my chef’s whites and be indulged and titillated by what Essaouira’s food scene had to offer.  With only a couple of duds (one being the over-priced fish stalls on the harbour, hell-bent on fleecing tourists), we ate like kings – but at paupers’  prices – during our stay.  Having got into our stride on the Cornish coast, we continued our seafood love affair and ate fish for almost every lunch and dinner – bream, sardines, mackerel, red mullet and other species that I couldn’t even recognise.  The local style is to butterfly the fish, grill over a hot fire and serve with local bread and a salad of tomatoes, herbs, green peppers & red onions – simple, delicious and the kind of thing we long for whilst living in the mountains.  But we deviated from fish one lunchtime, following a hot tip from our host: the ‘couscous lady’ in the little side street of Berber cafés, who only opens on Friday lunchtime – we were warned that she usually runs out early, such is her popularity with the locals, so we were excited to find that she had some left when we arrived: a bowl of perfectly-cooked couscous with chicken and vegetables, all for 20MAD (less than 2€) each.

Side street where we at lunch from the couscous lady of Essaouira 

The rain came the day before we left Essaouira and followed us as we headed down the coast to Imssouane, a tiny fishing village beloved by surfers for its long, rolling waves and laid-back vibe.  Our arrival was inauspicious: torrential rain making its way through every nook and cranny in our auberge, which made Fawlty Towers look like a slick, professional operation.  The morning after our first night, woken by the sounds of screaming drills and hollering builders, we headed out in search of improved (and completed) accommodation – spying some rather smart houses on the hill, we met Saïd, who seemed to be Imssouane’s local fixer: the man with a plan, everybody’s friend and our saviour.  He led us to a simple but spacious and clean one-bedroom apartment on the second floor with a huge terrace and panoramic views of the bay.  And, to make things even better, the rain had gone (for good) and the sun was out in force.  We settled in and things were looking up – after a storm out at sea, the waves were settling down into something quite surfable, I had a big (and, quite importantly, private) space for sunbathing and we had found our way around the village (it took us all of 10 minutes).  We didn’t need a big selection of restaurants – we found our favourite café and, besides, I had some cooking to get down to… with two fresh bream bought from the fishermen that morning, we picked up olive oil, spices, vegetables and herbs and headed home to cook and eat our first ever fish tagine.  Following the suggested method of the young chef at Imssouane Café, we put our faith in impeccably fresh fish and a tried and tested Moroccan classic.  We weren’t disappointed – it was delicious, thanks partly to our efforts and largely down to the quality of what was at hand.  Luckily, we’d been warned that Imssouane doesn’t have any alcohol shops, so we had bought a bottle of Domaine de Sahari gris (like a light rosé) with us from Essaouira – the perfect match for the delicate fish, spices and veg.

Swell lines coming into the bay, Imssouane

High street, Imssouane

Fish tagine in the making…

… and the end result

My favourite stray pup outside Momo’s surf shack, Imssouane

We were sad to leave Imssouane, but felt excited about our visit to Marrakech, tinged with a sensation that we were about to get a rude awakening – after 10 days of laid-back living surrounded by the ocean, we were heading into the lion’s den.  Gorgeous, dirty, manic, exotic, relentless… Marrakech is a lot to take in, but what a feast for the senses it is.  We weren’t there to shop, yet within 24 hours we were on a mission to find the ideal Moroccan teapot (having already purchased a wonderful backgammon and chess set made from tuya wood and lemon tree in Essouira), which we continued until we fell up “the one” on our penultimate day.  But even if you don’t intend to buy, the Marrakchi stall holders will find a way to draw you in – with mind games and cunning ploys that should earn them high-ranking positions in politics, the young men of Marrakech were playing a game that everyone was involved in, but only they knew the rules.  Our song for the Marrakech leg of our trip became “I’m a hustler, baby” – and with good reason.  But it’s all part of the rich experience… isn’t it?  The mopeds, however, we could really do without – no matter how tiny (or seemingly pedestrianised) the street (even inside the souks), we were constantly jumping out of the way of two-wheeled vehicles bearing anything up to five people, weaving and tooting their way around the pedestrians and each other.  Amazingly, we didn’t see one crash or accident the whole time we were there.

Our Moroccan teapot at sunset on our riad’s roof terrace, Marrakech
Patisserie stall, Marrakech souk

Marrakech is famed for its diversity of restaurants – there seem to be a vast amount of places serving European and south-east Asian cuisine, but if you spend long enough in Morocco, you’d be forgiven for hankering after something other than tagine, couscous, harira and brochettes… wouldn’t you?  Ah, but you’d be (partly) wrong as there are so many other Moroccan delicacies to seek out, such as briouates (parcels of vegetables, meat or seafood wrapped in filo pastry), pastillas (with a variety of fillings, but arguably the best is pigeon and almonds) and wonderful patisseries filled with almond paste (like marzipan) or peanut butter (much coarser and darker than what you find at home) and scented with orange blossom, rosewater and spices.  There are some restaurants, usually to be found in riads, that combine European touches, techniques and standards with a Moroccan team and style, resulting in a seriously special evening – we were recommended a French riad near Place Djaama el Fna (the epicentre of Marrakchi nightlife and craziness) that really blew us away – four elegant, delicious courses served to us by a friendly, charming team in the most beautiful poolside setting.

Place Djaama el Fna, Marrakech

Spices and stuff, Marrakech

But, inspired by our wonderful bargain couscous lunch in Essaouira, when we walked past a tiny opening in a small side-street with a row of tagines bubbling away on the pavement and enticing smells beckoning us, we were instantly curious – we were seated at a long, narrow table and, within minutes, were joined by a bunch of locals in their blue workman’s overalls.  Language instantly became redundant as we all got stuck into delicious lamb or chicken tagine – our smiles were saying it all, with occasional tears & laughter when one of us (Moroccans included, I was comforted to see) got a mouthful with a particularly hot chilli.  Utterly inspired, now we just have to figure out how we’re going to introduce tagines and couscous to the slopes of Verbier…

Tagines cooking for lunch, Marrakech

Koutoubia Mosque and the Atlas Mountains
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