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

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…

Upmarket / downmarket

Friday in Carmaux is market day, to which local growers bring the freshest seasonal fruit and vegetables (including wild asparagus foraged from the hedgerows) and where regional traders sell tangy cheeses, spicy cured meats and fragrant spices.
What’s more, you can see some spectacularly tacky clothing.  You can forget Parisien chic – down here, the women like their coffee strong, their men silent, their hair garish and their clothes to be made of the most synthetic fibres known to mankind…  Any brides-to-be should book in a special appointment at “Au Royaume de la Mariée” for that inimitable “My Fair Lady” meets “Debbie Does Dallas” look.  And for “visionairy” hair fashion, look no further than “Styling – coiffeur visagiste”.  Quite terrifying.  I think I may forgo getting my hair cut while I’m here for fear of what might happen…  There’s also a “Monsieur Store”, but on further inspection, they don’t have men for sale – not to worry, however, as Orlando has already decided to marry me off to the butcher’s son…
Once beyond the bustle of the market, there are some lovely, quiet streets and squares, with the quintessential Hotel de Ville and church.  I found an elegant, pale pink townhouse with roses growing in front – but Orlando tells me that it’s to be demolished to make way for the extended DIY store.  It’s sad to think that progress could take away the most charming aspects of this market town, but the people round here certainly seems far from ready to abandon a way of life that has been enjoyed for generations, focusing on good food, farming and family.

The kitchen garden

As a non-gardener (you can’t imagine the shame I feel in writing those words – I’m an embarrassment to myself, not to mention my green-fingered family), I am lost in the midst of a horticultural conversation.  As my mother will tell anyone, a frequently uttered comment as a teenager was “bloody clematis” (or something along those lines) when she and my aunt were in raptures about the latest cutting or new discovery.  However, I must be growing up…  Although I wouldn’t be much use to any gardener yet, I am getting interested.  What does this have to do with me being the chef here at Le Manoir de Raynaudes?  Well, the hotel has an idyllic garden, not to mention the swimming pool – and, of particular interest to me, we use many of the garden’s herbs, vegetables and plants in our food, including 16 varieties of tomato, row upon row of salad leaves, lemons, beetroot, berries – as well as all the herbs you could wish for.  None of that supermarket, packeted rubbish here.  This is the mother ship of living larders.  Of course, to be a true local, I’m going to have to get my hands bloodied sooner or later – the birds and animals are starting to look at me suspiciously – they must know that I’m already wondering what herbs they’ll taste best with…