Food changes with trends; in the same way that clothing changes. Both are heavily influenced by the media – TV cookery shows tell us what is in season, the trends and can also influence demand. If Jamie Oliver has a roast pork shoulder on his programme, then the high street butcher will run out of pork shoulder. We have the same influences and our customers are far more educated than years gone by due to the vast amount of cookery programmes and cook books available.
For these reasons, I have tried to showcase some of our forgotten English products and use them in a modern manor in our new menus. You will see the word ‘heritage’ feature on many different dishes. For example, carrots come in all different shapes, sizes and colours – all having different complexities of taste. Some are sweeter than others, some have a deeper flavour, some a lot less flavour but are more aesthetically pleasing.
I like to draw on my own experiences when planning menus. If you were to have an 8oz best end of lamb perfectly cooked with 6 oz of potato mash and some kind of vegetable, you would get very bored of the same flavours and textures. I have an expression ‘we don’t take the fillet off the cow and turn the rest into hamburgers,’ I like to show that there is more to an animal than its prime cuts. We can use them in a finer way, drawing on traditional English cooking methods such as braising and slow roasting. I would never put a Shepherd’s pie on a plate for a plated meal, but with a bit of thought we can make an upmarket version of the dish and marry it with some other ingredients to give the customer subtle differences in flavours and textures.
Two weeks ago, we served a lunch of: ‘Pressed shoulder of lamb, pea mashed potato, mint roasted rump Cornish lamb, carrot puree caramelised shallot, sherry jus.’
The pressed shoulder of lamb was an interpretation of a Shepherd’s pie, with a slice of perfectly cooked medium rare lamb rump cooked at a low temperature for a long time. The vegetable was not just carrot purée but three types of carrot with pea shoots on the top – pea was used in the mash so it was relevant to use. Sherry jus is really just a chef’s way of saying ‘sherry flavoured gravy’.
I have worked very hard with our suppliers to find provenance on nearly all of the products that we use, because we, and increasingly our clients, want to know where they come from. I know that the chickens we use are free roaming and from Devon; our beef is from Gloucestershire and our lamb is Cornish. Because we have this knowledge I have chosen to share it on our menus – much the same as many shops and retailers. We have a company in Sussex who make a variety of cheese, so we are sending one of the event managers and a chef to the cheese farm for the day to understand where our products comes from. They will make a Camembert, visit the farm, milk the cows and then the farmer will take them to the local pub to sample the local beers with his cheese. I have arranged this because I think we lose touch with were our food comes from. The Camembert that is made will only be sold to QEII Centre and therefore becomes The QEII Sussex Camembert.
Food doesn’t stand still and inspiration comes from everywhere. This year we will have seasonal menus. I decided that it may be too complicated to have a four different seasons – trying to decide where spring ends and summer starts may start a debate. So instead we have chosen a spring/summer collection and an autumn/ winter collection. Each will showcase English seasonal products, because we can’t grow strawberries in the winter and when they are English and picked in season they taste amazing. I remember when I was young getting excited that we could go to pick our own and get strawberries and English summer fruits.
Our entire food brochure has changed. We are in the heart of England so the concept was to showcase British food as much as possible, with a few exceptions. Obviously we can’t use English melons and citrus fruits; although as a nation we have pretty much adopted a lemon as English otherwise we would not be able to serve the old classic of lemon tart!