Major breakthrough for Scotland's new cocktail oyster

©2019 Cate Devine.

I’m very pleased to learn that a new style of oyster grown by a crofter off the remote Outer Hebrides and aimed at the female market is set for stardom after being put on the menu of one of the UK’s top seafood restaurants.

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Roy Brett, chef-patron of Ondine in Edinburgh, is selling northwards of 300 Isle of Barra cocktail oysters each week alongside specimens from the rest of the UK, Isle of Man, Ireland and France. He put them on his menu immediately upon first tasting them, and described them as “unique and something brand new that is going to go far”.

The Hebridean mollusc is small and chalk-white with a deep cup, and has just gone to market after a four-year gestation. Slow-grown in the deep, cold Atlantic waters off the Isle of Barra - the most westerly inhabited island off Scotland’s west coast – chef Brett enthuses that they are “delicate and feminine with a wonderful flavour”.

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“These little Isle of Barra oysters are so small and clean and pretty, yet full of flavour. It’s quite unusual to get that firm texture and salty creaminess all in one little shell. I like that they challenge your perceptions,” said the chef, right, who worked with Rick Stein in Cornwall and Mark Hix at Le Caprice and the Savoy Grill in London before opening Ondine ten years ago. Among other awards, Ondine was recently named Scotland’s best restaurant at the National Restaurant Awards.

The restaurant names the provenance of the new oysters on its menu - another first. (Continues…)

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The move marks a major breakthrough for the Outer Hebridean enterprise Traigh Mhor Oysters, founded in 2012 by Barra-born crofter Gerard Macdonald who studied Zoology at Glasgow University, has a Masters in Agri-business management and is a former farm manager at Marine Harvest. He has been patiently growing the Pacific molluscs in the ice-cold Atlantic waters for several years, and attracted significant support of almost £500,000 in funding from AP Jess of Paisley in 2016. I've had the privilege of following progress for much of that time.

Uniquely, Macdonald uses a FLUPSY upweller nursery system, which allows the tiny baby seed oysters from Guernsey room to grow and to feed freely off naturally occurring Hebridean plankton. They are then transferred to a bespoke vertical growing system similar to that used for growing mussels. The seawater never goes above 14degC, so the oysters are slower-growing which helps enhance their flavour.

The unusual “cocktail” shape has been achieved by tumbling the juvenile oysters to help train them to grow a deeper cup and a smaller lip. This makes them are easier to handle than many other varieties, and their white shells are extremely visually appealing.

With industry research from the US indicating that the oyster market is moving towards a smaller shell, Macdonald is thrilled to be ahead of the curve. “I’m ecstatic about Ondine taking our cocktail oysters,” he said. “There’s a bit of an obsession in the UK with size, with the view that bigger is better and a resistance to the idea that small is beautiful. With just a small percentage of shellfish consumers eating oysters, we hope that a whole new generation will want to try ours at Ondine.”

Chef Brett added: “I’m always happy to champion quality Scottish produce and I will be shouting about Isle of Barra cocktail oysters to all my chef pals in London and beyond."

So I guess you could say the world is now Isle of Barra's oyster.

The tiny Pacific seed oysters look like grit when they first arrive, and grow slowly in the cold Atlantic waters off Barra, the most westerly inhabited island of the Outer Hebrides.

The tiny Pacific seed oysters look like grit when they first arrive, and grow slowly in the cold Atlantic waters off Barra, the most westerly inhabited island of the Outer Hebrides.

They grow very slowly in the deep, cold Atlantic waters off Barra, the most westerly inhabited island of the Outer Hebrides, and the most remote in the UK.

They grow very slowly in the deep, cold Atlantic waters off Barra, the most westerly inhabited island of the Outer Hebrides, and the most remote in the UK.

©2019 Cate Devine. Copyright of the text on this website belongs to Cate Devine unless otherwise stated. Please contact me for any commissions, or to comment on current issues.

Ayrshire Earlies finally join Jersey Royals in gaining EU protected status ... in the nick of time

Just over two years ago, I visited the Girvan Early Growers with the legendary chefs Albert Roux OBE (pictured below), the late Andrew Fairle (at foot of page), who were in the West of Scotland to lend their support to the campaign to have Ayrshire Early Potatoes granted PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) status by the EU. Hopes were high that this would happen by the end of June 2017, as final tweaks to the submission had been made on June 13 that year.

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Anticipation was understandably keen, for if they were to gain PGI status Ayrshire Earlies would be on an equal footing with rival brand (earlier-harvested) Jersey Royals, and join 70 other UK food and drink products with PGI status, including 14 in Scotland - such as the Arbroath Smokie and Stornoway Black Pudding.

PGI status is given to regional food products across the EU that have a specific quality, reputation or other characteristic attributable to the area they’re grown or made in, and ensures they are legally protected from imitation throughout the EU. It can also help promote the product and the area they are grown in, thus encouraging food tourism. A PGI product can command premium price and it’s estimated that a PGI product sells more than twice the rate as a non-PGI product.

However, even back then there were fears their plans could be scuppered by Brexit because the PGI scheme is operated and controlled by the EU. There is - as yet - no equivalent protection scheme in the UK, raising fears that as part of the Brexit negotiations Brussels could drop its scheme for non-EU products currently being processed.

More than two years on from that memorable visit, Ayrshire Earlies - small, oval, thin-skinned Epicures - have finally been grantated PGI status. And, from Sunday (July 21), they will be available for the fist time in supermarkets across England as well as Scotland as specialist supplier Scotty Brand has secured a nationwide listing with 200 Asda stores for the deliciously short season, which runs from June until early September. 

They are sent to Asda and other stockists in Scotland, such as Co-op, Lidl, Spar, Tesco and Waitrose, within as few as 24 hours from being lifting out of the Scottish soil. Scotty Brand expects to sell well over 1000 tonnes this season.

The original bid was supported by chef Albert Roux OBE, pictured above, who founded the double Michelin starred Le Gavroche in London’s Mayfair and has six restaurants in Scotland. On a visit to the Girvan Early Growers, where he tasted Scotty Brand’s Epicure and Casablanca new potatoes, he said: “I fully support PGI for Ayrshire Early potatoes. They are quite delicious and their provenance is unique. They should have equal status with Jersey Royals.”

And the late, great Andrew Fairlie added then: “We should be celebrating Scotland’s first potatoes when they come into season. I can remember as a child that Ayrshire Earlies coming into the shops was something to look forward to. Yet now they hardly get any attention compared to Jersey Royals.”

Ayrshire Earlies are the very first potatoes of the Scottish season, and are naturally small with a delicate skin. They are sold with the soil still on them in order to protect them. They are grown in four varieties - Epicure, Isle of Jura, Maris Peer and a new Casablanca variety for Scotty Brand – for Albert Bartlett and Scotty Brand. Their unique growing conditions include sandy soil close to the seashore, which together with the Gulf Stream ensure a warm, frost-free, environment. They have been growing here for over 100 years.

UK food products with PGI status are worth £1bn, of which the largest element is Scotch Beef and Scotch Lamb.

Great news, then. But the big unanswered question is, of course: how much longer will Scottish - and English and Welsh - products enjoy EU protection if the scheme is withdrawn after Brexit? There are hopes that products that already have PGI status will continue to be protected. Let’s hope it’s not too late for Ayrshire Earlies to reap the benefits of their brand new status.

* See my original 2017 story on my website catedevinewriter.com (under Published Work).

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At last! The Scottish launch of Women in the Food Industry

Over many years of covering the food scene in Scotland I’ve seen huge advances in the feminisation of the industry in this country: more female chefs (yay), restaurateurs, sommeliers (sommelieres?), front of house/general managers, farmers, producers and entrepreneurs - to name a few. So while I was thrilled to be asked onto the panel of speakers for the launch of Women in the Food Industry (WIFI) Scotland in the week of International Women’s Day 2019 - a gig I sadly can’t do as I’m travelling - I can’t help but wonder why it’s taken so long to get this going! Nevertheless I’m delighted to see that the gender pay gap, sexism in the workplace and other barriers to career progression will be explored along with the success stories by an interesting (all-women) panel of speakers ….

The free event, which takes place from 4pm-6pm on Monday March 4, 2019, at the Edinburgh School of Food and Wine, is organised by Sound Bite PR in collaboration with London-based Women in the Food Industry.

Jessica Sneddon (below right), Director of Sound Bite PR, said: “We are delighted to be launching Scottish Women in the Food Industry to celebrate the fantastic female talent working in the industry in Scotland. While we have plenty of examples of major success stories, there is still some way to go to overcome the challenges and barriers that women continue to face in their careers.

“Scottish Women in the Food Industry aims to provide a platform for women to come together, share their thoughts, discuss pertinent industry issues and celebrate their successes as we work towards an even brighter future for women working in Scotland’s vibrant and fast-evolving food industry.”

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Chaired by Fiona Richmond (above, centre), Head of Regional Food at Scotland Food & Drink, the panel will include Fiona Burrell, Principal (top right), The Edinburgh New Town Cookery School; Sumayya Usmani (far left), food educator; Jack Mitchell, Director, TRUEfoods Ltd; Julie Macleod, Chef Patron, Julie's Kopitiam; and Dale MacPhee, General Manager, Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh – The Caledonian.

With a focus on the theme for International Women's Day 2019, #Balanceforbetter, a call-to-action for driving gender balance across the world, issues such as the gender pay gap, opportunities and challenges in the workplace and barriers to career progression will be explored.

Sumayya Usmani said: “Coming from a country where women find is hard to make their way in many careers; it is amazing to see that many women struggle with the same problems in the West. The food world particularly, is a tough one to be a woman - especially as a chef.

“However, it is really encouraging to see that with hard work, resilience and commitment, women chefs are slowly working to find their way to the top. But the struggle isn’t over, and together we make a stronger force to be reckoned with. As a food writer, I find many more women taking this food career path, one that I find a supportive space. This is an evidence of the fact that women’s creativity and power is best harnessed by working together with passion and dedication.”

Julie Macleod, Chef Patron, Julie's Kopitiam in Glasgow, added: “Cooking is something that has been extremely close to my heart from a young age. This passion has brought me to open a restaurant and allowed me to work with some of the most inspirational women in the food industry. We work every day in order to combat machoism within kitchens and squash the acceptance of daily sexism in the industry.”

  • Women in the Food Industry Scotland is open to anyone working in the food, drink and hospitality industry or anyone with an interest in the subject. Register for free at https://bit.ly/2tv7q3y 

The Grahamston: Shining a light on Glasgow's once-excellent reputation for growing - and eating! - fresh produce

I enjoyed reading Norrie Gilliland’s excellent history of Grahamston, the “lost” 17th century village underneath Glasgow’s Central Station and its surrounding areas. It had me wondering again about the reasons for contemporary Glasgow’s perplexingly poor diet-related health stats, especially on learning how lush and fruitful – literally – the city was in its early days.

A map of Glasgow from 1783, courtesy    Britton Images   , showing Grahamston to the far west of the emerging city. You can see how unpopulated it was then, and so close to both the River Clyde and the eventual site of Glasgow Central.

A map of Glasgow from 1783, courtesy Britton Images, showing Grahamston to the far west of the emerging city. You can see how unpopulated it was then, and so close to both the River Clyde and the eventual site of Glasgow Central.

There were, of course, many breweries in old Glasgow, and at least two in the village itself around 1743, alongside several granaries and a bakery. A large sugar refinery existed in Grahamston in the early 1800s, joining the four that operated throughout the city from the late 1600s onwards. Imported from the West Indies, sugar – for better or for worse – made the city’s first fortunes alongside, of course, tobacco.

So far, so well known. But what I hadn’t fully appreciated was how widely Grahamston was recognised for its market gardens. Glasgow had an excellent reputation for growing local, seasonal fresh produce, thanks to the many orchards in what are now Hope Street and Union Street, where Grahamston stood. In addition, Grahamston had at least six productive market gardens, growing cabbages, kale and the like, listed in 1789. And “on the western side of the village, now Hope Street, was a marshy area used for growing willow whauns for making and repairing baskets used by local market gardeners”, writes the author. Fascinating stuff! Add to that the lobster, crab, oyster and other shellfish from the clean, yet-to-be-dredged, River Clyde, and you get the picture that the Glasgow diet was once pretty ok, and available to all.

Industrialisation and the inevitable advent of the railways in the 19th century changed all that: Grahamston was demolished in the 1870s to make way for Central Station.

“Grahamston, which was first noted on maps of Glasgow around 1680, sadly vanished beneath the foundations of Glasgow Central over a century ago,” said Gilliland, whose book, Glasgow’s Forgotten Village, is the only written account of the history of Grahamston. “Over 200 years it grew from a row of thatched cottages to a commercial and industrial hub right at the heart of Victorian Glasgow and it was undoubtedly a microcosm of Glasgow’s growth into a diverse, multi-cultural and internationally renowned city of the 21st century. Yet no record of it exists in the city archives.”

I came across the book on a visit to Radisson Blu hotel, which is situated at the crossroads of Argyle Street and Hope Street where Grahamston once flourished, and just across from the station that sealed the village’s demise. The hotel has just opened a new restaurant and bar after a £1.2m transformation - and has rather cleverly named it The Grahamston.  

Its massive floor-to-ceiling glass windows may be a world apart from the tiny croft-house versions that once looked out onto the village, but the interior design has many respectful nods to the area’s bucolic – as well as industrial – past.  

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I was interested to learn that, despite being part of a large hotel group, exec chef Stephen MacNiven (pictured below) has free reign to create a series of menus and drinks list that reflect the historic significance of this specific area. A new The Grahamston Ale, by Caledonian Breweries, is one example.

The hyper-local producers have long gone from this busy city centre site, replaced predominantly by fast-food takeaways and restaurant chains, but MacNiven has made it his mission to source as locally and seasonally as he can “to reflect Scotland’s world-class natural larder and Glasgow’s thriving artisan food and drink scene”. So far Rodgers butchers for Ayrshire beef, Campbell’s Prime Meat for seafood and Braehead Foods are on board and he’s searching for local dairy, fruit and vegetable suppliers. Breads are baked daily in-house, just like the old days.

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“I’ve already had whole deer and pigs in the kitchen to demonstrate to my brigade and apprentices the traditional butchery skills that would have been practised in Grahamston in the 18th century,” says MacNiven, who has named his steak menu after John Wallace, the butchers shop that used to operate in the village. Highland lamb features three ways in his signature dish, which he says is already “flying out the door” within just a few days of opening. He’s also created Glasgow Makar Gin cured Scottish salmon, St Mungo beer batter cod fillet, Scottish monkfish with truffle pomme Anna, a hand-picked white crab starter, and a twice-cooked Lowlands corn-fed chicken dish for a menu that is pleasingly restrained and sophisticated, yet which he describes as “fun-dining” rather than “fine-dining”. He aims to add the likes of high-end turbot and John Dory and Tomahawk steaks to his menu if and when the time is right.

Grahamston exec chef Stephen MacNIven and, above left, his dish of Highland lamb three ways, and above right, twice-cooked Lowlands chicken.

Grahamston exec chef Stephen MacNIven and, above left, his dish of Highland lamb three ways, and above right, twice-cooked Lowlands chicken.

“A lot of hard work goes into what we do here,” says chef, above, who acknowledges that Glasgow’s eating-out scene has undergone a “massive change” in years since he left and to which he has recently returned. The confluence of centralised chains in the city centre, together with hugely popular independents especially in the Merchant City and Finnieston, makes his task, as he puts it, “tricky”.

I wish him and his team the very best. They, and Grahamston, deserve it.

 

 

 

 

Roberta Hall joins a growing brigade of female head chefs

Her mentor Tom Kitchin once said in an interview that "she's got more balls than the rest of them put together". Now his former protegee Roberta Hall, who for three years worked as chef de partie at The Kitchin before becoming head chef at Castle Terrace under Dominic Jack, is to open her own 18-cover restaurant in Leith to be named The Little Chartroom. She will run the kitchen, while Shaun McCarron, formerly restaurant manager at Castle Terrace, will do front-of-house. 

Food will be simple and seasonal, served at lunch and dinner from Wednesday to Sunday, with brunch at the weekend. Chef Hall's classical French training at the Kitchin Group and elsewhere promises to take it to a level above standard bistro fare.

Let's wish them both well. And here's to more women having the guts - and the goodwill - to go it alone.

 

Chef's the one on the right ....

Chef's the one on the right ....

No improvement in the Scottish diet - but there's appetite for change

Disappointed - but from the evidence all around us, hardly surprised - to learn that Scotland’s notoriously poor diet hasn’t improved in the last 17 years, while adult and child obesity and diet-related illnesses have reached record levels.

High-fat, salt and sugar-based foods are responsible for two-thirds of adults being either overweight or obese, leading to increased levels of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and many forms of cancer, while one in three children living in Scotland remain overweight or obese despite the Scottish government’s dietary goals aimed at encouraging healthier eating. Poor diet was a contributory factor in 6697 Scottish deaths from coronary heart disease in 2016, and 2181 deaths from stroke.

Over 30% of Primary One schoolchildren had obvious dental decay in 2016, and 29% of the adult population have high blood pressure.

Absence from work due to diet-related ill-health means that the obesity crisis is now an economic, as well as a national health, issue.

At the launch in Glasgow today [Monday February 26] of its Situation Report entitled The Scottish Diet: It Needs to Change, Food Standards Scotland (FSS) declared that the Scottish diet has to change and has called on all stakeholders, including food manufacturers, retailers, politicians and the media, to work together to tackle the problem.

FSS chief executive Geoff Ogle said: “Poor diet is having a serious impact on individuals and on society. Obesity has the capacity to cripple our health services and is a threat to the economy through absence from work through diet-related illness. It is no longer solely a health issue, it is also increasingly an economic one.”

NHS Health Scotland estimates that obesity currently costs the economy, both directly and indirectly, up to £4.6 billion per year, with Scotland now showing the highest incidences of obesity for both men and women among OECD countries.

The second report published by Food Standards Scotland - which advises the Scottish Government on its dietary goals - monitors purchases and price promotions in supermarkets and shops. This is particularly revealing, for it shows the continuing influence of the supermarkets on our buying habits.  While there is a welcome decline in sugar from soft drinks - in the run-up to the sugar levy coming into force in April - this has been offset by increases in sugar purchase from other foods like ice-cream, biscuits and desserts.

Retail price promotions continue to be skewed towards less healthy categories. We are still buying 36% of our overall calories on price promotion, and this can be over 40% of purchases in some Scottish retailers. The report indicates that we are encouraged to buy up to three-quarters (74%) of confectionery on a price promotion.

“The Scottish diet is stuck,” said Heather Peace, head of public health nutrition at FSS. “It remains too high in calories, fats, sugar and salt, and too low in fibre, fruit and veg, and other healthy foods like oil-rich fish. Poor diet exists across all socio-economic groups, but the most deprived tend to have the poorest diets.

“Discretionary foods and drinks, including alcohol, are high in calories, low in nutritional value and are not necessary for our health,” she said, adding that a decline in purchases of sugar drinks had been offset by “disappointing” increases of sugar-laden foods.

Food and drink consumed out of home accounts for some of the worst nutritional value. Interestingly - or, to be more accurate, disturbingly - it was found that when eating away from home, children aged up to 12 tend to eat more unhealthy foods such as burgers, cola, chips, fizzy drinks, cakes and biscuits, fried chicken, and ice cream.

However, there was good news in that public opinion was changing for the better. Nine out of ten people agree that obesity is a serious problem in Scotland, two-thirds think that cafes and restaurants should display calories on their menus, and almost half of Scots support a ban on unhealthy products.

Rather than introduce legislation, calorie indicators or warning labels on food similar to those on cigarette packets, the FSS preferred to encourage behavioural change. “We need to shift consumer behaviour and change the food environment, and are encouraged by the responses from the public, for they demonstrate that there's appetite for change,” said chief executive Geoff Ogle. “Now we need a cross-party effort in achieving this, and the food manufacturers and retailers have to help.”

FSS’s report will feed into the Scottish Government’s updated Obesity Strategy, due to be launched this summer.

Watch this space ...

 

We get nose to tail. Now for 'beak to feet'...

Robert Morris of the acclaimed St Bride’s poultrynear Strathaven is looking to expand his business – thanks to a surge in demand for his high-welfare, slow-reared, free-range chickens, guinea fowl, ducks and turkey.

“Demand has been fantastic and I’m lucky enough to be supplying some top chefs including Andrew Fairlie, Tom Kitchin and in London Claude Bosi at Hibiscus, Bibendum, John Williams at the Ritz, Brett Graham at the Ledbury, and the Fat Duck,” he says.

But now, to ensure consistency, he want to raise around £30,000 to erect his own on-farm bird slaughterhouse and to improve the accommodation for the birds while young.

Morris buys chicks at one day old and pampers them with a warm, dry home until they’re six to eight weeks old before they go outside. The challenge for him, compared to other poultry farmers south of the Border, is (of course) the Scottish weather.

Very few in the UK, and even fewer in Scotland, are producing this type of poultry. St Brides birds are slow-grown for a minimum of 15 to 20 weeks, compared to other farms, which slaughter their birds at around five weeks old. They are also fed less protein, so they get to forage for bugs, grass, plants, and wild flowers. Their 100% grain feed consists of local wheat, barley and oats.

In addition, St Brides birds are dry-plucked by hand in the traditional way, similar to the prized Poulet de Bresse. Then they’re game hung (that is, with their innards in) for a minimum of 24 hours or four days.

This high welfare process intensifies the flavour and texture of the meat, and makes it pretty unique. That’s why some chefs buy the birds whole, in line with the “beak to feet” ethos.

St Brides only produce around 100 birds a week – compared to the hundreds of thousands that are intensively produced in sheds by the large commercial brands.

All of which costs time and money. I wish him luck. Meantime, here’s some recommended viewing: https://vimeo.com/206027460?ref=em-share

Big Feed: Glasgow hosts street food market with a social conscience

 

The Big Feed is a new venture by Glasgow's street food vendors, organised by Ben Dantzic (Burger Meets Bun co-founder, ex Peat Inn) with the aim of helping children and young people in crisis though Glasgow The Caring City charity.

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Here's the info:

Glasgow foodies will be in for a treat when an indoor street food market featuring some of the finest traders and food trucks Scotland has to offer pops-up this spring, bringing a unique culinary experience to the city.

Big Feed is a brand new venture set up by a number of Glasgow’s street food vendors, and the first event will take place on Saturday 4th March 2017.

Based in Govan in the south side of Glasgow, Big Feed’s industrial indoor venue will play host to some of the best street food concepts and local brewers, set against a backdrop of live music.

On the menu at the market will be a diverse selection of high quality street food. From authentic Asian and Mexican inspired cuisine and fresh Scottish seafood to delicious burgers, wood fired pizzas and vegan fare there will be something for everyone to choose from.

Vendors will include Chompsky, Street Food Putter Club, Firedog, Charlie Mills Coffee, Shrimp Wreck, Nomad Pizza, The Cheesy Toast Shack, Freddy and Hicks, Moo Pie Gelato and more.

Edinburgh’s Campervan Brewery will also be making an appearance, serving up a range of distinct hand crafted beers, whilst mobile Prosecco bar Fizz Buz will provide the bubbly for the occasion.

The warehouse location at 249 Govan Road is run by Glasgow the Caring City – a charity which supports children and young people in crisis at home and overseas in a number of ways, including providing skills to help them gain employment.  Big Feed will be supporting the cause through making use of the venue, as well as by commissioning some of the young apprentices in the programme to prepare the venue for the event.

Ben Dantzic, one of the organisers behind Big Feed, said: “There’s such a great choice of street food markets in European cities and with the scene now gathering pace in the UK, we thought it was the ideal time to join forces and provide a platform to showcase the high quality and diverse range of street food on offer in Glasgow.

“Govan is the ideal location for our first event and we’re proud to be able to bring this exciting new experience, while supporting an extremely worthwhile cause at the same time.”

The event will run from 12noon until 10pm on Saturday 4th March 2017. There is a £1 entry fee on the door and free entry for kids under 10 years old.  Free parking is also available.

 

Date:  Saturday 4th March 2017

Time: 12noon to 10pm

Location: 249 Govan Road, Glasgow, G51 5HJ

 

For further information, visit www.facebook.com/bigfeedgla

 

An Italian restaurant without pizza?

It was a bold move by Victor and Carina Contini to dispense with cliched Italian fare on the new menu of their restaurant in Edinburgh's George Street. Dispensing with pizza and pasta, they have come up with a range of delicious, fresh and imaginative sharing plates that point to a new direction in modern Scots-Italian eating, and also serve as a serious signifier of how the millennial demographic is changing the way we all eat.

Calabrian salami with roasted aubergine, mint creme fraiche, pomegranate and pistachio crumb; DOP (protected designation of origin) buffalo mozzarella with figs and Italian honey and sourdough toast; venison haunch with cavolo nero; and Scottish cod poached in cold-pressed olive oil and served with fennel, samphire and chilli (see below) certainly made me and my tastebuds sit up and take notice. My personal fave is a dish of on-trend raw cauliflower with porcini and lemon oil and dotted with Venetian spiced walnuts.  (Continues after photos .../)

The restaurant itself has undergone an interior revamp, whose most significant changes include a lowering of the central bar to open up the entire space, and a stunning statement wall of heavenly cherubs that greet diners are they arrive. It certainly locates us in southern Italy, while the food itself is sourced both there and in Scotland.

This makes sense when many high street chains continue to serve individual bowls of carb- and calorie-heavy pasta, and pizzas with an increasingly outlandish range of toppings, while at the other end of the scale the artisan pizza movement is also making inroads.

I want to give a shout-out to Contini executive chef Suzanne O'Connor, who is also in charge of the couple's two other Edinburgh restaurants - at the Scottish National Gallery and at Cannonball in the High Street - for her efforts in shaking up our perceptions of modern Italian cuisine. Suzanne is a member of the Slow Food Chefs' Alliance (@slowfoodHQ) (#chefsalliance).

Is this the first hipster Burns Supper?

As the annual round of Burns’ Suppers snaps into action this week, and restaurant menus direct their own nod towards the national Bard, many will be looking forward to the traditional meal of neeps and tatties served with haggis. After all, it was Robert Burns who, with his 1786 Address To A Haggis, ensured the humble international dish endures in modern Scottish culture.

There have been many attempts at contemporising the ancient dish of sheep liver, heart and lung mixed with onion, oatmeal, suet and spices. Some of the most successful contain venison, wild boar, beef and game birds. Haggis itself has been presented outside the usual sheep’s stomach as deep-fried bon-bons, samosas, pakora, lasagne. I’ve even seen a recipe for deep-fried sugar-coated haggis balls.

But I’m willing to bet you’ll never previously have encountered the most modern take on a Burns Supper that is set to be served to Glaswegians on Friday. The Fallachan Dining pop-up menu, entitled After Burns and organised by freelance chef Craig Grozier (pictured), features the most humble Scottish ingredients treated in sophisticated ways using state-of-the-art techniques, and is a collaboration between some of London and Scotland’s most internationally recognised and fiercely talented young freelance chefs. Tantalisingly, haggis as we know it makes only a small appearance. (Continues after photo.)

Grozier engaged NURonTOUR, a team of top young chefs lead by Nurdin Topham (formerly of Michelin-starred NUR Hong Kong, who worked as personal chef to Raymond Blanc and ran the cookery school at Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons). His colleagues James Murray and Richard Philips also worked with Raymond Blanc, Gordon Ramsay and at Michel Guerard’s three-star Les Pres d’Eugenie in the south of France. They will be joined by Glasgow-born Ian Scaramuzza, formerly head chef of Claude Bosi’s two-Michelin starred Hibiscus in London and the 2015 winner of a Roux Scholarship to Benu in San Francisco.  

They’ve been working for months on their one-off menu, with a remit to “showcase how it’s possible to have a modern, lighter, approach to humble Scottish food and take it in a new direction”. For the cock-a-leekie course Topham has been collaborating with St Bride’s Poultry of Strathaven to have cock hens aged by hanging for two weeks to create the old-fashioned buttery, gamey flavour lost to so many versions.

Fallachan Barley Miso, Grozier’s own creation fermented in his Glasgow tenement kitchen, will be used across the dishes. Murray’s Humble Neep course uses fermented turnip prepared several ways with barley and seaweed, baked in a haggis crust, while Scaramuzza’s Kedgeree will consist of a set curried custard with blow-torched fish and glazed quail’s egg; and Philips’ Like a Rose dessert is composed of some well-known and some not to well-known members of the rose family, served with crowdie and laminated caramelised pastry.

Grozier himself will recreate a blood porridge, a refined version of black pudding influenced by the historic Scots Drovers’ Porridge, served with foraged preserved pickles.  

Rather than dispense altogether with tradition, the aim is to encourage diners to take a new look at our national dish.

Ticket for the After Burns pop-up, at £100 a head, sold out within two hours of going on sale via social media. Wonder what Robert Burns would have say about that.

(Sorry trhere are no photos but as After Burns is a pop-up, the chefs are still wroking on it ...)

Flora Sheddon: from Bake-off to book to bakery

How refreshing to meet Flora Shedden, the youngest contestant on, and runner-up of, GBBO in 2015. AT only 21, she's already achieved more than many her age could dream of.  We met at Waterstone's when I introduced her inaugural event and signing for Gatherings, her first cookbook (Octopus, £25). (Continues after photo .../)

The big surprise is how little baking is in there and how many seriously savoury recipes she has created (check out her Meikle Logie Lamb, pearl barley risotto and speedy spicy tacos). But it's nothing to do with cutting down on sugar. Flora declared she would never dictate an eating regime like clean eating. Rather, she reckons - quite rightly - that a little bit of everything in moderation means you get a healthy balanced diet.

She's planning to open a bakery in Dunkeld, in her native Perthshire, and though she doesn't yet have a name for it it's likely to be Flora's. Oh, and she's also a presenter on BBC Scotland's Kitchen Cafe.

Here's to a new generation of young women cooks.

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MasterChef winner Maclean wants to be Scotland's first National Chef

It was great fun, if a little hectic, to be in MasterChef: The Professionals winner Gary Maclean's kitchen at home, watching him cook a version of his winning dish. Unfazed by my presence and that of Herald Magazine photographer Kirsty Anderson, he said that compared to cooking all the meals at home for his five children and wife Sharon, while holding down a full-time job as Senior Chef Lecturer on City of Glasgow College's HND in Profesional Cookery, competing in MasterChef was "a breeze". Not only that but when I asked if he'd be up for the new role of Scotland's first National Chef, he said he'd love to be considered. Here's the news story published in The Herald (the main interview with Gary is too long for a blog spot so it is available tt read in the Published Work section of my website).

Masterchef Gary Maclean wants to become Scotland's National Chef

*Exclusive* January 14, 2017

Gary Maclean, the UK's newest MasterChef, has said he would like to be considered for the role of Scotland's first National Chef. The post, the first of its type in the world, was revealed exclusively by The Herald as a key pledge in the SNP Government’s manifesto last May and it is seeking to appoint someone within the current parliament.

If appointed Maclean, 45, a senior chef lecturer at the City of Glasgow College and a father of five, would act as ambassador, championing good food across Scotland and encouraging higher consumption of fresh local produce. The role chimes with the SNP’s pledge to introduce a Good Food Nation bill, a new £5 million fund to promote island and regional food and drink brands, a renewed drive to increase demand for the supply and demand of organic food in Scotland and to encourage local authorities to procure more Scottish produce.

In a wide-ranging exclusive interview published in The Herald Magazine today, Mr Maclean, who teaches on the college’s acclaimed HND Professional Cookery course and who notably promoted Scottish produce in every dish he cooked for the high-profile BBC Two cookery competition, said: “I’d love to be Scotland’s national chef. I’m passionate about Scottish produce and I don’t think there’s enough education about it generally.

“There’s a massive gap between what we grow and what we actually eat. We somehow have to bridge that gap. The general public don’t get how good our produce is. I ask my new students, which country produces the best salmon in the world? They never get the answer right. They say Spain, France, Norway, but never, ever Scotland.

“I think this lack of knowledge comes from the parents. We can blame the supermarkets, because they only sell what we want to buy. There’s a lot of work to be done.”

At City of Glasgow College Mr Maclean teaches student chefs the essential skills of butchering, bakery and fishmongery, as well as how to run a professional kitchen. He has taught many of the best chefs working across the UK, including Herald Magazine columnist Graeme Cheevers of the Michelin-starred Martin Wishart at Loch Lomond and Calum Montgomery of the Michelin-starred Kinloch Lodge on Skye. The upmarket chocolatier William Curley of Harrods is also a former student.

But he added: “Too many mid-range restaurants buy in food pre-prepared, which means chefs are losing their skills.

And he said that cheap meal deals undermine the value of restaurant food. “Customers need to understand the work that goes in to putting food on the plate.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “We are currently consdiering options to deliver the commitment ot appoint a National Chef in consultation with stakeholders.”

 

 

 

 

In Glasgow, dessert no longer means DFMB*

A dessert-only menu sounds like a sugar-addict’s dream. And when I heard the concept - more common in Europe than the UK - was making its Scottish debut in Glasgow, alarm bells rang. After all, the city surely has the sweetest tooth of the entire nation, not to mention diet-related health issues like obesity and Type 2 Diabetes. Was someone having a laugh?

Pastry chef Helen Vass’s first-ever pop-up, sweetly entitled Dulce, curbed my qualms. Her three-course afternoon menu, with an amuse bouche and macarons to top and tail it, was presented to 30 guests around the kitchen table of the stunning Studio93 in the city's West End.. It contained olive oil, sea salt, mascarpone, sourdough, seasonal fruits and 67.4% cacao by Caillebaut. Sweetness was checked with saltiness; fat content reduced with whipping, rather than double, cream. Helen's mastery of technique was evident. All dishes were her own creations.

A mango sphere, made in front of us and served on a spoon, kicked off proceedings. There followed her signature, pretty-as-a-picture raspberry, marscarpone and pistachio entremet complete with pipette of Chambord (created for the GBBOcreme final), then a chocolate cremeux quenelle paired with an olive oil ice-cream and sourdough toast; and to finish an individual oblong of olive oil cake with white choc cremeux, caramelised muesli, mandarin foam and mandarin granita.

Helen Vass's raspberry, marcapone and pistachio entremet, with Chambord pipette

Helen Vass's raspberry, marcapone and pistachio entremet, with Chambord pipette

Is Glasgow ready for me? Helen Vass at Kember & Jones, Glasgow - with sample entremet!

Is Glasgow ready for me? Helen Vass at Kember & Jones, Glasgow - with sample entremet!

None of us felt bloated or sugared-out; rather, we were exhilarated. And rather proud that the citizens of Glasgow had willingly supported Helen's bold move: at £45 a head it had sold out within days of going online.

raspberry entremet detail

The Milngavie-born freelance pastry chef at Number 16 restaurant in Glasgow - who trained at City of Glagow College, worked in Barcelona for seven years, has done stages with some of the most highly respected pastry chefs there and in France, and still pays her own way to attend training courses at high-end pastry schools in Barcelona - tells me she too had reservations about mounting such a venture in Glasgow. Though for a different reason than mine.

She was worried that people wouldn't pay that much, and that there wasn't a market in Glasgow for high-end (Michelin star?) patisserie like hers.

I'm pleased she took the plunge, and thrilled to have been in at the beginning of what I believe will be a massive success both for Helen for Glasgow - and beyond.

* Deep Fried Mars Bar - a wilful slur if ever I heard one. Scots don't eat them; tourists do.