Thank you to everyone who nominated their favourite pubs, bars, restaurants, cafes, community stores, independent grocers and virtual and live events – there’s clearly a lot of love out there for those in the hospitality industry who’ve worked so hard to get through the past year even when they haven’t been able to open.
We asked you to share with us those who deserve recognition and thanks and have truly brought ‘good cheer’ to us as we’ve come together. And the winners are…
Here at Gilbertson & Page our team lives and breathes dogs. Not only do we specialise in the manufacture of life stage, working and sensitive diets like hypoallergenic and grain-free recipes, but dogs run our office, well unfortunately, not quite! but there’s always one or two running about or napping by the desk.
Whilst we’re a small independent Hertfordshire-based company, we have a distinguished history. We were founded in 1873 and we’re proud to say that we have held the royal warrant ever since. Our first complete dog food was launched in 1975, the original Gilpa Valu Mix and we haven’t stopped since. Today we have a range of eighteen top sellers, all based on our core values of quality, value and taste.
Our foods are delicious. High-quality British produce is blended and cooked with British meats and fish in nutritious combinations to ensure dogs find our foods irresistible every day whether they prefer chicken, beef or lamb – we have options for them all.
Our foods are nutritious. We formulate to ensure dogs get all the nutrients they need in their food to help keep them fit and healthy. We have foods for puppies, juniors, adults and seniors so you can feed our foods throughout your dog’s life and the nutritional levels are balanced for each stage to support your dog with whatever he does, from performance, working, higher activity to the more sedentary life styles.
Our foods are made with care. Every batch we cook is carefully scrutinised to make sure it matches our high standards and we don’t comprise on quality anywhere – from our packaging, ingredients to the final crispy biscuit in the bag, we care about every aspect.
Why not give our foods a try? We’re here to help if you need help choosing the best food for your dog and we have an efficient online ordering system through our website that delivers our foods straight to your door in just a few days.
50% discount offer! We are pleased to offer a 50% discount code across our entire range. The discount is valid from 23 April to 28 May, with one use per customer and a £100 limit. Simply use the following coupon at our online checkout ROUND50
Liz Nicholls chats to survival expert, dad & TV star Ed Stafford, 45, about life, lockdown & the summer family wilderness camps he has helped devise in the South East.
Q. Hello Ed! As an adventurer, has being in lockdown been especially hard for you? “Actually I was in a good position to face lockdown. I’m used to being dropped into the middle of nowhere and left to fend for myself, and good with a curveball! Don’t get me wrong: I love travelling and I think everyone is chomping at the bit to travel. But it’s been OK. Working on different stuff has been fun. As you can see, I’m in my man cave!”
Q. How beneficial is it to get children outdoors? “Getting outdoors is an easy hack to cut through the crap of lockdown. It helps mental health for adults and children. When Ran my little boy is outside he’s his best self; more engaged, polite, more eye contact. If you take screens away, especially Netflix which is that bingewatch mentality, it’s like getting an addict off truly nasty stuff. Having said that, we’re not monks about screens. We’re all busy. Laura & I have loved a bit of science fiction escapism in the evening!”
Q. Your camps sound fun – how tough are they? “There are different levels. For some camping is outside their comfort zone so listening to the sound of the deer, the owls hooting at night, will be quite novel, quite spooky. But then those with more outdoor experience can go a bit more advanced. Children on the five-day camp can learn to blow a fire into life with their hands… I used to think that stuff was geeky but it’s cool. We might parnass a fish.”
Q. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve eaten? “I’ve eaten an electric eel, a tapir, the tail of a woolly monkey. When we were in the Amazon I was aware I couldn’t come along with my western attitudes and tell them what to kill or what not to kill. The jungle was their larder. On the logging camps, you might come across a baby monkey tied to a post & its mother boiling in the pot.”
Q. Are the Scouting movement & the Army a good place to nurture a love of the outdoors? “I love the Scouts. I learned to navigate, pack a bag, sleep out thanks to the Scouts. Camp Wilderness is different because you can be there with your parents. I remember being miserable at Sandhurst, in the wet and cold, in the woods. If you want to take the joy out of the outdoors, join the military! The flip side is the Army offers the most intense training. I think it costs £80k to put an officer through training and that’s leadership, management outdoor skills. It’s world-leading.”
Q. What’s on your bucket list? “I’m out of the early-20s need to conquer things. I’m filming a series of First Man Out in Kenya and a C4 show 60 Days with the Gypsies. I don’t want to sound boring but with a young family I love to come home after a trip. No ego-driven expeditions any more!”
Q. Who are your dream dinner party guests? “Dinner parties are my worst nightmare, so can I choose a camp meal round a fire? As well as the people I love, I admire sportspeople. So, Martin Johnson, Dean Richards & Rory Underwood.”
Camp Wilderness for children & families take place over summer in four locations. Please call 03332 004 469 or visit campwilderness.co.uk
• Two balls of burrata
• One pineapple
• 200g strawberries, chopped into 0.5cm dice
• 3cm ginger, minced
• Four cloves of garlic, minced
• 4 red chillies, finely chopped
• 80g caster sugar
• Pulp of two passionfruit
• One lime, juiced
• 1 tsp white miso
• 1 tbsp fresh coriander, finely chopped
• 200g watercress
Fruity cashew confetti:
• 50g cashews, roasted for 15 minutes at 160C
• 10g freeze-dried strawberries
• 20g dried pineapple (from pineapple above)
PREP: 30 minutes & four hours drying
May heralds the start of the UK watercress season when the lush, peppery, vitamin-filled green leaf is available in abundance on supermarket shelves, freshly harvested from farms in Hampshire and Dorset, where watercress has flourished for over 150 years.
Watercress is a uniquely grown crop with its roots clinging to the gravel base of the beds, while the plants sway in the nutrient-rich spring water that flows past. The water is pure and clean, forced up from deep underground aquifers and filtered through the chalk of the South Downs.
1. Begin with the pineapple crisps. Set the oven to the lowest it can go and slice half the pineapple as finely as you can (if you have a mandolin, use this)
2. Lay the slices on baking paper and dry for four hours, or until crisp throughout. Set aside to cool.
3. Take 20g of this pineapple and blitz to a ‘confetti’ with the freeze dried strawberries and cashews. Set aside in an airtight container.
4. Chop the remaining pineapple into chunks
and grill in a griddle pan until lightly charred, soft and sweet.
5. For the sambal, combine the strawberries, ginger, garlic, chilies, sugar, passionfruit, miso and coriander in a bowl. Taste, it should be tangy, sweet, spicy and lightly salted. Adjust with more lime, sugar or salt if needed.
6. When ready, divide each burrata in two. Divide the watercress and sambal between four bowls and top with the burrata and grilled pineapple.
7. Sprinkle with the confetti and serve.
Masala fried red mullet with potato & watercress salad
• Four red mullet fillets (or mackerel, salmon, sardines etc)
• One onion, finely sliced
• 800g baby potatoes, skin on
• 4 tbsp oil
• Pinch of salt
• 2 tsp nigella seeds
• 200g watercress
• 20g basmati rice
• Lemon to serve
Masala spice blend:
• 1 tsp turmeric
• 2tsp chilli powder
• 1 tsp cracked black pepper
• 1 tsp salt
• 300g full-fat Greek yoghurt
• ½ cucumber, seeds removed, julienned
• One clove of garlic, minced
• ½ tsp cumin seeds
• ½ tsp nigella seeds
• 1 tsp oil
• Pinch salt
PREP: 60 minutes
COOKING: 35 minutes
Begin with the roasted rice. Add the rice to a dry frying pan, heat to the highest heat & toast, shaking the pan until it turns golden brown and smells nutty. Remove, allow to cool then grind to a coarse crumb in a blender. Set aside in a jar (this keeps for ages and adds great crunch to salads)
2. For the raita, mix the yogurt, cucumber, garlic and salt in a bowl. Heat the oil in a pan and add the cumin and nigella. Fry until beginning to pop then pour the whole lot into the yogurt bowl. Stir in and allow to rest.
3. Add the potatoes to a pan, cover with cold water and cook until just tender. Remove, drain and allow to steam until dry. If you have time transfer to the fridge on a wire rack to dry more.
4. Rub the spice mix over your fish fillets. Set aside.
5. Heat oil in a large frying pan and fry the onion until crisp & golden. Drain on kitchen paper, sprinkle with salt and set aside.
6. Add the potatoes to the hot oniony oil and lightly crush with a fork You want to retain some shape but give crumbly edges to go super crispy. Fry for 2-3 minutes, sprinkle with the salt & nigella and flip. Cook until all the edges are crisp (you may need to fry in batches). Set aside.
7. Heat a splash more oil in the pan and add the fish fillets skin side down. Have the heat on medium high to prevent the edges from curling up. If they do, the heat is too high, and the skin may scorch. Cook for 2 minutes, flip and cook 1 minute more. Remove from the heat and rest.
8. Lay the watercress on a platter and tumble over the potatoes. Spoon over the raita, top with the fish and finally the crispy onions and 2 tbsp roasted rice. Serve with lemon wedges for squeezing.
Love your kitty? Adore your doggy? We always knew that we Brits loved our pets passionately. But the last year has deepened our appreciation for our animal companions!
April is National Pet Month, and National Pet Day is on 11th April. To celebrate, we’ve teamed up with Surrey artist & pet-lover Bri to offer you the chance to win a portrait of your pet…
Artist Bri had planned to launch her drawing and painting workshops for beginners in March 2020… until the world put a stop to that! She jokes: “Timing has never been my speciality but this takes the mick!”
Bri decided to offer free pet portraits to local people… “This was an exercise to get some practice and to bring a smile to people’s faces,” she tells us. “I know how important a pet’s company is: I live alone with my dog. She’s my best mate, haha! And I couldn’t have been more grateful for the distraction she gave me. Also, she was a legal reason to leave the house! I thought pet portraits would be nice to keep me motivated as I was unable to tutor. I’d never done a pet portrait before but after I put up a couple of posters I was inundated.”
Hundreds of responses
Bri completed almost 50 portraits, 31 alone last April. “When I first thought about the type of work I could offer free to encourage people to commission me, pets were the subject I thought would attract most interest,” she says. “But hundreds of responses and the copious positive feedback was on a scale I didn’t imagine! It proves we’re a nation of animal-lovers. From dogs to cats, and the odd gecko thrown in, we love our pets. It’s particularly worthwhile to hear how someone got genuine happiness from seeing a pet who perhaps isn’t with them any more celebrated in paint.”
Rebranded as The Isolating Artist, Bri evolved to virtual workshops. “Online teaching is a fantastic way to communicate in what otherwise would be an impossible situation, but classroom tutoring is the best way to learn to draw and paint,” says Bri. “I hope soon to bring together a beginners’ art group. I want to introduce students to the fun of art and give people a chance to be creative, to look at the world differently. If there’s anything we need after all this it’s to leave the house so what better reason than an art class?”
As for influences, Bri says: “As a kid, art was the only thing I was any good at, so that was a natural inspiration. I remember coming across a book about Francis Bacon at school. It changed my opinion on how I should draw and paint; something I’ll never forget seeing for the first time”. Bacon remains one of Bri’s favourite artists, alongside Frida Kahlo, Vincent Van Gogh, Egon Schiele, Edward Hopper and many more.”
We want you to share your love for the pet in your life. Share a picture, poem or photo of your beloved animal companion on our social media channels. Tag Round & About (our links below) and #petportrait in your post and Bri will select the winner who will be immortalised in portrait form! Deadline: Tues 4th May.
Pinch punch first of the month… it’s April’s Fools Day! This is a tradition that some say dates back to Chaucer here in the UK. It is celebrated in various guises across the world, including in Poland, where it is called Prima Aprils and parts of French and Dutch-speaking Europe where there is fish-themed fun for Poisson d’avril or Pesce d’aprile.
Tradition dictates that practical jokes or hoaxes are played upon the unwitting, before noon, ideally, before the prankster shouts “April Fool!”… However, we’ve all lived through such surreal & challenging times over last year that we’ve decided we don’t have the energy for pranks today!
So, instead, to celebrate the Horrible Histories live on stage this month with Car Park Party, we’re bringing you some Horrible Historical Facts courtesy of Horrible Histories, the world’s bestselling children’s history book series.
Which of the following historical facts is an April Fool??
Take our quiz, inspired by genius author Terry Deary and comment below
• The Georgian era was when toilets first started to come indoors. They were usually put into cupboards though some were placed into dining rooms
• Georgian women favoured the very pale face look and would achieve this with a concoction that included vinegar and horse manure!
• The wealthy Georgians loved sweet foods, so it’s no surprise their teeth often fell out. However, they were able to replace them with real teeth purchased from a donor – sometimes one that was not even still alive!
• The Georgians considered crime scenes as entertainment and would enjoy visiting to gawp at a dead body in the room where it was discovered.
• George III was thought to be mad though he actually suffered from a condition called porphyria. One of the symptoms of this is doing a blue wee!
• The Victorians thought that arsenic would make their skin look younger and be a tonic for good health. It’s actually a deadly poison.
• Victorian women had a reputation for fainting. It wasn’t because they were sensitive souls, it was because their corsets were tied so tightly they couldn’t breathe properly. If it was extra tight, it also could displace their organs!
• Charles Darwin was a famous Victorian who travelled the world to study exotic animals. He also liked to eat them and was known to have consumed iguanas, armadillos, giant tortoises and a puma.
• Victorians wore black clothes a lot of time. This was not because it made them look slim but rather because the air was so dirty it would not show!
• It was not uncommon in Victorian times for photos to be taken of relatives after they had died. Sometimes other family members would pose with the corpse to make it look alive.
Car Park Party Horrible Histories: Barmy Britain and Gorgeous Georgians and Vile Victorians shows are at various Covid-safe locations between Monday 12th & Monday 3rd May, including Newbury Racecourse, Crawley Lingfield Racecourse and Windsor Racecourse. Tickets on sale at www.carparkparty.com starting from £39.50 (+ £2.50 booking fee)
We’ve cooked up a sneaky slice of The National Trust Book of Baking by Sybil Kapoor, which is out on 15th April, with these heart-warming spring recipes.
Easy leek tart
• 225g/8oz puff pastry (see below if making fresh)
• 680g/11⁄2 lb untrimmed leeks
• 1⁄2 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
• salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 225g/8oz taleggio cheese
For the puff pastry
• 225g/8oz plain flour pinch of salt
• 225g/8oz cold butter about 120ml/4fl oz cold water
PREP: 15 minutes & 30 minutes rest time
COOKING: 25 minutes
1 On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry into a large rectangle about 3mm/1⁄8 in thick. Using a 20 x 30cm/8 x 12in Swiss roll tin as a giant pastry cutter, cut out a rectangle of that size. If you are using homemade puff pastry there will be quite
a lot of leftover pastry, so carefully fold up the trimmings and freeze. Take a sharp knife and lightly run it about 1cm/1⁄2 in inside the pastry edge, so that you score a line to create a rim for the tart. Prick the internal rectangle with a fork. Place on a non-stick baking sheet and chill for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to fan 200°C/gas 7.
2 Trim the leeks of their roots and darker green leaves. Remove the tough outer leaves then slice lengthways through the green- coloured section of leaves. Wash thoroughly in a sink of cold water. Bring a pan of water to the boil. Add the leeks, return to the boil and cook briskly for 5 minutes or until just tender. Drain and cool under the cold tap. Squeeze out the excess water and pat dry on kitchen paper.
3 Slice the leeks and spread them over the pastry, taking care not to cover the rim. Scatter with the chopped tarragon and lightly season. Remove the rind from the cheese and slice or break into pieces. Dot over the filling.
4 Bake for 20 minutes or until the pastry is crisp and the cheese is bubbling and flecked gold.
The pastry itself doesn’t take long to make, but it needs to be rested regularly in between rollings. The chilling times are the minimum period of time you should leave the dough, but you can leave it several hours if you like.
1 Mix together the flour and salt in a food processor. Cut 30g/1oz of the cold butter into small dice, add to the flour and whiz until it forms fine crumbs. Tip into a bowl and mix in enough cold water to form a rough dough. Lightly knead into a ball, wrap and chill for 30 minutes. Return the remaining butter to the fridge.
2 Fifteen minutes before you are ready to roll, take the remaining 200g/7oz butter out of the fridge and let it soften slightly. Place the butter between two sheets of greaseproof paper or baking parchment and use a rolling pin to flatten it into a 2.5cm/1in thick rectangle.
3 On a floured work surface, roll out the dough into a rectangle that is three times the length of the butter and about 2.5cm/1in wider than the butter. Place the butter in the centre of the dough and then fold over the top and bottom flaps of dough, so that the butter is completely covered. Using the rolling pin, lightly press down on each edge so that the butter is sealed in. Give the dough a half-turn clockwise.
4 Using short sharp strokes, roll out the dough so that it returns to its original length (three times that of the butter) but retains the same thickness. Then fold in the top and bottom ends, press the edges with the rolling pin and give a further half-turn clockwise. If the butter is breaking through the pastry or the pastry is becoming warm, stop, wrap and chill for 30 minutes. If not, you can repeat the rolling process one more time before resting the dough. Make a note of which way the dough is facing before chilling, as you will need to continue with the clockwise half-turns.
5 After 30 minutes’ chilling, replace the pastry on the floured surface in the position that you left off and continue with a further two rolls and half-turns. Chill for another 30 minutes and then make two more rolls and half-turns. Wrap and chill until needed or cut in half and freeze.
Strawberry cream cake
• 85g/3oz caster sugar, plus extra for dusting
• 85g/3oz plain flour, sifted, plus extra for dusting
• pinch of salt
• 3 medium eggs
This cake is the picture of summer if you place a freshly opened rose on its sugary top. Perfect for June birthdays. As it is a whisked sponge, and contains no fat, it is best eaten on the day it’s baked. The sponge freezes well and makes a wonderful trifle.
1 Preheat the oven to fan 170°C/gas 4. Lightly oil two 18cm/7in cake tins. Line the base of each with baking parchment and lightly oil. Dust the sides of each tin with caster sugar and then with flour.
2 Sift the flour and salt together and set aside. Place the eggs and sugar in a large bowl. If you have an electric whisk, beat until the mixture is pale and thick and leaves a trail when you lift the whisk. If you’re whisking by hand, place the bowl over a pan of just-boiled water (off the heat); whisk until it is pale and thick, then remove from the pan and continue to whisk until cool.
3 Tip the flour over the surface of the whisked egg mixture and, using a flat metal spoon, gently fold the flour into the mixture. Divide between the two tins and bake for 20 minutes or until golden. Test by lightly pressing the cake with your fingertip: it will spring back if cooked.
4 Leave the cakes in their tins on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Turn out the cakes and peel off the baking paper. Dust the top of one cake (baked-side up) with caster sugar. Leave until cold.
5 Meanwhile, hull, halve and slice the strawberries. Toss with the kirsch and 2 tablespoons caster sugar.
6 Once the cakes are cold, whip the cream until it forms soft peaks. Fold in the strawberry mixture. Spread over the bottom sponge, leaving a clear edge for the cream to squeeze into when you
add the top. Gently squash on the sugared top and add a further dusting of caster sugar.
Author & dad David Walliams, 49, talks about life & the arts ahead of the adaptation of his novel Billionaire Boy as a Covid-safe Car Park Party
Q. We’re excited about this show – are you on a mission to save Easter for families? “It’s the most brilliant thing, seeing a book you’ve written come to life. You feel like a magician because what was in your head is somehow now all real. I think people are craving entertainment, especially live, because although the TV has still been on, you haven’t been able to be part of an audience, so this is a great and safe way to enjoy a show.”
Q. Are you passionate about the arts during these difficult times? “Well, it is important. I have friends who are actors, directors, designers and so on who have been all out of work. They are all raring to go. I feel like the audience wants it too. It’s hard to put a value on the arts… they enhance your life, but you can’t put a figure on it. When you read something or see something though, it moves you. It changes the way you think, how you feel about the world and about life. We have always had a very very vibrant arts culture here and it’s something we really need to protect.”
Q. Billionaire Boy tells the story of Joe & his friendship with Bob. Do you think connection is especially important for children now? “It’s very important they can keep in touch with their friends at the moment. Luckily, technology exists, though not everyone has access to it, but at least with phones and computers you can see people and speak to them. Just checking in with people making sure they are okay is crucial at the moment, because a lot of people are struggling.”
Q. How would Joe’s toilet paper baron dad have reacted to last year’s stockpiling? “He would’ve been one of the few that benefited… him and Jeff Bezos! That whole thing was extraordinary wasn’t it? I almost forgot about it. Jack would’ve liked it. His BumFresh toilet paper was actually a good invention, dry on one side and wet on the other.”
Q. In 2016, you played Mrs Trafe the dinner lady in the TV version…. can audiences look forward to seeing you on stage? “I haven’t been asked to perform, but I want to come and see it and if I do, I’ll come on the stage and say hello.”
Q. Have you been busy over the last year? “Fortunately writing is something you can do in your own at home. Last year I brought out four books, two or three of which were written during lockdown and I’m writing my new one. So in that department I feel very lucky indeed.”
Q. If we gave you £1billion to spend today, what would you buy? “There’s one thing that Joe Spud has in the book which is a water slide going down from his bedroom to a swimming pool. He just gets out of bed and goes straight down a water slide. That is something I don’t have and it really pains me. So I’d get that water slide because water slides are so much fun. I love them!”
Billionaire Boy tours the UK, including Windsor Racecourse on 11th April & Newbury on 12th April. Book at carparkparty.com
OPTION 1 – COCONUT OIL
Coconut Oil gives a creamier texture and tends to melt more easily in warmer weather if left at room temp. Cheapest option and easy to prepare.
• 100 g coconut oil
• 25 g raw cacao powder
• 1.5 TBSP xylitol – powdered xylitol sugar alternative ground to a powder in a coffee grinder (available as Total Sweet)
• 2 tsp orange zest
• 1 pinch chilli powder
OPTION 2 – 100% DARK CHOCOLATE 100% dark chocolate is becoming more widely available in supermarkets and shops. This recipe is mid-price, of the three options, is easy to prepare and gives a nice, hard consistency for finished chocolates.
• 100 g 100% dark chocolate
• 1.5 TBSP xylitol – powdered xylitol ground to a powder in a coffee grinder
• 2 tsp orange zest
• 1 pinch chilli powder
OPTION 3 – CACAO BUTTER
Cacao Butter is more expensive and harder to source (health shop or buy online) but can be kept in the freezer and melted down as needed. Best bought in button-sized pieces for ease of using the quantity needed. Gives a harder consistency than coconut oil for the chocolates once prepared.
• 100 g cacao butter
• 25 g dark cocoa powder
• 1.5 TBSP xylitol – powdered xylitol ground to a powder in a coffee grinder
• 2 tsp orange zest
• 1 pinch chilli powder
1. For all options, begin by melting the Coconut Oil / Dark Chocolate / Cacao Butter in a bain-marie (place a bowl over the top of a pan which has two inches of water in it. Heat the water over a medium heat until the ingredients have melted, stirring continuously. Do not allow the bowl to touch the water.
2. Once the coconut oil / dark chocolate / cacao butter has melted, remove the bowl from the pan and turn off the heat. Place the bowl on a heat proof surface and stir in the raw cacao or dark cocoa powder (NB: you do not need to add chocolate to the 100% dark chocolate option).
3. Next, add the powdered xylitol and a pinch of chilli powder and stir until combined.
4. Place the chocolate silicon mould on to a moveable flat surface (a baking tray or chopping board works well).
5. Sprinkle a small amount of orange zest into each mould.
6. Now spoon the chocolate mixture on top until each mould is full.
7. Leave to set in the fridge for a few hours before removing each chocolate from its mould and storing in a suitable airtight container.
8. It is best to eat these within 4 days of making them (not that they will last that long) as the chocolate can start to crystallise after then.
These little chocolate nuggets are supercharged with chlorella to energise the body. A perfect healthy treat for this Mother’s Day.
• 115g cashew nut butter or tahini
• 60g maple syrup
• 2tbsp cacao powder
• 60g melted dark chocolate
• 60g dried cranberries or cherries
• Pinch of sea salt
• 1tsp vanilla extract
• 1tsp Sun Chlorella powder
• 30g shelled hemp seeds
1. Place the cashew nut butter, maple syrup, cacao powder and melted chocolate in a food processor and combine. Add the remaining ingredients and process to form a dough. Chill in the fridge for several hours until firm enough to roll into balls.
2. When the mixture is firm use a spoon to scoop out walnut size balls. Roll into balls and place on a sheet of baking parchment. Roll the truffles in a little shredded coconut or dust with cacao powder.
Every Mum is sure to love these treats for Mother’s Day – and there’s nothing quite like a homemade gift (especially an edible one!)
Liz Nicholls asks star chef Raymond Blanc about feeding the soul in isolation, finding your calling & his surprising favourite foodstuff…
Q. Many of us parents have been home schooling, or stressing about home schooling over the last few months… Being self-taught, do you have any encouraging words about how youngsters can find their calling, school or no school? “The key is to find your passion and follow it. I am self-taught in the sense that I didn’t ‘study’ my craft but I did ‘learn’ my craft from the best. This includes my maman who taught me so much as a child about taking the best local, seasonal ingredients and turning them into wonderful, hearty, family dishes. I learnt from great chefs who I worked under – I paid attention, I practised, I pushed forward and made my own way into a world that inspired me so much.”
Q. Your childhood sounds idyllic. What’s one thing parents can do to nurture their children’s love of food? “There is nothing that will inspire children more or make them want to try new tastes and textures than to have been part of the creative process of preparing and cooking the dishes. To this day certain dishes like a simple and delicious apple tart evoke such strong and joyous childhood memories of being in the French country kitchen, cooking with my mother.”
Q. Is there anything you don’t eat or drink? “I do all I can to avoid processed food. I once bought a processed loaf and could not believe that after two weeks there was no mould on it! In France, every little village has a boulangerie and the French buy fresh bread sometimes three times a day. Today there are a wealth of wonderful artisan food producers in the UK and they must be supported.”
Q. What’s the one food or drink that you just couldn’t do without? “Not a food I can’t do without but one I have only recently discovered – brown sauce! Yes, who would imagine a Frenchman loving the humble brown sauce. I had been Living in England for almost 40 years when one day a friend offered me a bacon butty with brown sauce. I can tell you now, it was a revelation. I cannot believe I waited so long!
Q. What’s the most useful kitchen gadget or kit no kitchen should be without? “I think most chefs would agree when I say a great set of kitchen knives. Having the correct sharp knife for each and every task in the kitchen will make everything so much easier and so much more enjoyable. Good knives are easy to handle, they are well balanced and, looked after properly, can last you a lifetime.. Another piece of kit I love is my Kenwood Chef kitchen mixer. I’ve used these machines for over 30 years, in my kitchens and cookery school, and the precision and durability is fantastic.”
Q. We’re supporting our hospitality heroes – how important it is this industry? And do you have any words of solidarity for your fellow hospitality heroes? “The UK hospitality industry employs over 3 million people, many of them just starting out on the career ladder – young, eager and full of high hopes and expectation. For them, and for the whole of the hospitality sector I say try and stay strong. It has been such a hard year but we are all in this together and we know that once this if over our restaurants, pubs, hotels will be the first places people will want to visit to reclaim some normality and joy. We live to deliver those special moments of magic and will be back to doing what we do best very soon.”
Q. What one piece of advice would you give to anyone wanting to start out as a chef? “One route is via apprenticeships. There are very many excellent apprenticeships that will give you a superb introduction to commercial kitchens. We run them at both Le Manoir and at Brasserie Blanc and can take someone with basic skills, give them the best training they could hope for and set them up for a successful career with no limits. Some of the best known chefs in the UK started this way, including Michael Caines and Ollie Dabbous who were both apprentices at my Le Manor!”
Q. How have you coped throughout the last year & what have been your go-to sanity savers? “I was at home, and isolated from most of my family – as well as my team of chefs at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons and Brasserie Blanc. My way of keeping sane was to cook and cook! I chose simple dishes that evoked happy memories and provided the connection to those who I missed so much. I used ingredients that were easily-available and needed only basic kitchen equipment and out of this came the inspiration for my new television series and book Simply Raymond.”
Q. Who would be your five dream dinner party guests, living or dead, real or fictional? “Other than friends or family, of course, what could be better, I think it would be amazing to have one big table with all the great chefs I have been lucky enough to train over the years. What great things they could teach me now.”
Q. Like me, you eat regularly at Brasserie Blanc… What are your favourite dishes on the menu? “Yes, I live very close to our Brasserie Blanc in Oxford so I am in there at least once a week. I help to create the seasonally changing menu with our Executive Chef Clive Fretwell who learned his craft under me at Le Manoir – we have worked together for over 30 years now – amazing! I know all of the dishes very well, every season I have a new favourite but some dishes are classics and stay on the menu throughout, including our very special cheese soufflé. I enjoy this as a starter but also on its own for a light lunch – it is so incredibly light in texture that you can almost imagine it is calorie-free!”
Q. What other exciting plans do you have on the horizon? “I currently have the new television series Simply Raymond Blanc running on ITV on Saturdays mornings. This will be repeated over the summer on weekday evenings so if you have missed any of them don’t worry! My new recipe book is also coming out any day now – Simply Raymond. Like the television series the book is a collection of my favourite, simple home-cooked recipes – nothing fussy or over-complicated. These dishes are the ones that mean the most to me; the ones that connect me to my dearest family and friends.”