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Laughs at lunch with Little Water

Setting out to launch my first pop up was always going to be a daunting task.

There were so many questions running through my mind. What do I serve? Will people like my food? Most importantly, would people who enjoyed watching me on MasterChef pay to eat my food?

I decided to have my first outing serve as a bridge between the show and the present, giving guests something they were familiar with. Any future efforts would give me greater freedom to experiment.

I have had great feedback from so many people who all said that they really wanted to try the food they had seen me cooking on television so that is what I decided I would serve  Also, Little Water is not only a great burger restaurant, it is also known for its vodkas, so I paired each course with a different infused vodka.

The starter was beetroot, dill and vodka-cured salmon with pickled cucumber, horseradish mayonnaise and homemade rye crisp bread. This dish took me back to the beginning of the MasterChef process and beyond. I have been serving salmon three ways as a starter at dinner parties for a few years and the cured salmon formed part of my audition dish. I paired this with a garlic and dill vodka. The aroma is stong, but it goes well with the other strong flavours on the plate.

This salmon dish has become quite personal, so I was quite nervous looking at all the plates lined up, waiting to be taken out to diners. However, once a few plates had left the kitchen and the unmistakable sounds of laughter were bouncing back into the kitchen, I relaxed, knowing that people were enjoying themselves.

The main was based on the dish for which John Torode gave me ‘dish of the day’ in my heat. I served a chicken ballotine, stuffed with mushrooms and spinach and wrapped in Parma ham. This was served with a potato mille feuille, braised leeks and butter-roasted heritage carrots. This was paired with with tarragon vodka.

The vegetarian option was potato mille feuille, cauliflower purée, roasted cauliflower, roasted walnuts, samphire and a caper and sultana dressing. This was paired with a lemon vodka.

I stressed over this course.  I didn’t want anyone choosing this option to feel that it was a lesser choice.  This dish went through about ten different versions before I settled on the one I served. By the time I published the menu,  I felt that I would be happy to choose this dish.

There was no such stress at all over what to choose for dessert.

Chocolate fondants aplentyI cannot remember a time in over 15 years when I have had people over to eat and not been asked if I am making a chocolate fondant. Sometimes, I will even make a dessert that I think goes well with the rest of the menu and also prepare fondants so people can choose a dessert. Or have both. When I have guests, the most important things are that they are at ease and are well-fed.

Food service ran like clockwork. Working with Alex and Chris in the kitchen was so easy. I had done some prep ahead of time, but we motored through what was left and were ready in good time for 12:30.

 

It would not have been a success without all the people who were willing to make the leap from viewer to paying customer. I am particularly proud of my vegetarian dish which had neighbouring meat eaters envious. That, to me, is success.

 

Bring on the next pop up event!

 

Mother and son The whole team Little Water kitchen team Diners having fun

Food demo at Wimbledon Village Fair

When Wimbledon Guild asks you if you could deliver a food demo as part of its annual Wimbledon Village Fair, you don’t say no.

The guild does great community work in Wimbledon and elsewhere in the local borough and Surrey tackling poverty, supporting ageing and encouraging mental well-being.

When you learn that the fair attracted around 30,000 people in 2014, and that Wimbledon Guild’s marquee is the big red thing in the middle of all that is going on (and right next to the magnet that is the Champagne tent), you think that perhaps you said yes a little too hastily.

All I had to do was keep reminding myself that I loved the dish I was about to showcase. I also could not come up with a dish that better marked my first public outing since MasterChef.

The last that viewers saw of me was the Swedish odyssey and my final salmon dish in the kitchen, inspired by that trip.

Fast forward and here we are, during what is Swedish midsummer. I have decided to demo a dish I have been serving variously as a starter or a canapé for a few years and which always goes down well: beetroot, dill and vodka-cured salmon with pickled cucumbers, horseradish mayonnaise and rye crispbread.


I love this dish because it looks great, doesn’t require a huge amount of skill and can be done days in advance. If you are having people over and already have a million and one things to think about, a dish you can prepare in advance and forget is a godsend.

It really is as simple as taking a basic cure mixture of one and a half parts salt to one part sugar. To this you add grated beetroot, chopped dill and lemon zest.

Line a dish generously with clingfilm and spread half the mix in the dish. Place your salmon on top, then cover the fish with the remaining cure. Pour over a couple of tablespoons of vodka, wrap completely in clingfilm and put in the fridge for a couple of days with a weight on top.

How long you leave it is up to you. I usually leave it to cure for two days. At this point, the texture is beautifully tender, there is a striking contrast between the purple colouring of the beetroot and the bright coral pink of the salmon. It also has a great sheen that just looks great when presented.

Leaving it longer with intensify the flavour and remove more moisture. It still tastes great but you get to choose how you like your fish. If you have the patience.

My demo also showed how to make horseradish mayonnaise, rye crispbread and pickled cucumbers using ättika, a Swedish vinegar.

The great weather put everyone in a good mood. The crowd was great and everyone seemed to love the food. Not bad for my first time out.

 

Wimbledon Village Fair food demo