Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Cookshops and Bookshops

I'll be attending a lecture this week on Jellies.  It's the inaugural talk by The Experimental Food Society featuring Bompas and Parr and it will be at The Cookbook Café in Hyde Park Corner.

"...the event celebrates the launch of their eagerly anticipated book ‘Jelly’ published by Anova.
 Operating in the space between food and architecture, Bompas & Parr’s works include Jelly Banquet for the London Festival of Architecture, Barajas Airport for Lord Richard Rogers and Funeral Jellies for San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to name a few. Exploring how the taste of food is altered through synaesthesia, performance and setting, they have made jelly de rigueur again. Find out what makes these incredible culinary creatives tick at the Experimental Food Society Talk, as Bompas & Parr take you through the history of jelly from BC to today, demonstrating how to make some of the world’s best loved jellies such as the Jelly Hippocras, a favourite of Henry V111. Covering topics such as jelly and seduction, Bompas & Parr will show you how to touch someone’s most sensitive organ, their belly, whilst offering a tasting of a variety of jellies whose recipes have been taken from their book."

All this talk of cookbooks and shops twirled up with preparations for the Salt Tasting dinner next week have lit me into a fervor of finding interesting London shops that I haven't yet tried.  In my internet travels I've now come across Gill Winn shops in Islington, who seem to carry not only items that the chef in all of us would moon over but a healthy display of shoes, jewelery and gifts in other storefronts and they also have a 140 acre organic farm just south of Tunbridge Wells.  They'll likely stay on my radar for a while!

Another vendor I have had on my list for quite some time and need to research in person is Divertimenti. In addition to the usual selling-things-people-like-to-buy, they also offer a score of cooking classes catering to the novice as well as the expert.  An impressive list of CVs on these instructors as well!

And finally, tomorrow I shall track down to Notting Hill to check out The Spice Shop and see what exotic salts and other things they have to offer.  I know one thing I'll be investing in is "American French Fry Salt".  And I'm intrigue by the Rose Vanilla Chilli Salt, although it may end up making my palate feel like it's on a trip on a busy roundabout with no exits!

Time permitting I'll also visit a few other Notting Hill spots:
Books for Cooks
The Hummingbird Bakery (still never been!)
The Grocer on Elgin

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Organ meats in East Dulwich, Afternoon Tea in The City...

I've finally made it out to East Dulwich and Franklins and I have to say that it was well worth the trek.  I had my first ever rolled spleen (sounds awful I know, couldn't they have come up with a cuter name like "sweetbreads" gets?) and enjoyed some perfectly prepared wood pigeon. I'm not sure how often I'll want to walk to bus to tube to bus to walk there, but I imagine it will be once in a while.

I've been researching places for afternoon tea for my sister and her daughters when they come to visit in August.  My nieces are 7 and 10, so they will enjoy much of the food and atmosphere at most places, but I'm hoping that they will want to attend somewhere a bit more interesting and unique than Harrod's.  I may have to go on a fact finding mission to Sketch, though.  I've read very nice things about their interiors and the things that come on the tiered plates, but I also read a little tidbit about a sculpture of two dogs copulating in the corner of the room.  Not exactly age appropriate for the girls...

Perhaps it will have to be Fortnum and Mason for tea.  Or Liberty...

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


I've been very excited about a couple of different ventures for Runaway Kitchen- but the most exciting is that we'll be having a monthly underground restaurant at our flat and other venues.  Thanks to good friends and good vendors, we had a very successful run in San Francisco and when I wax sentimental about my good old days spanning two decades as a chef, these are the stand out memories. (That and hanging out with Joe Strummer back in my private chef days in Los Angeles).

Our first underground restaurant will be June 24th at 7 pm and we're hoping for a full and lively table.  There are 12 seats (some already reserved, so email for a spot!) at our communal table, elbow to elbow, so it's a first email, first served thing.  We'll be serving a 5 course meal and asking for contributions of £40 per person.  It will be bring your own beverage, see attached the menu for pairings.

Future events will be 5 course Hot and Spicy!, 4 course Tea Pairing Luncheon, Dinner and a Movie Night and the list goes on...

The first event will be a 5 course Salt Tasting:

A long row of various salts will be placed down the center of the table.
Amuse Bouche:


         little toasts of "bread" made with chickpea flour and olive oil.  great salted!

Butternut squash soup

         Drizzled with Nettle Sauce and Truffle Oil

 Dorade with a Kosher Salt and fresh Rosemary crust

         Served with a little salad of greens tossed in oil, ready to be sprinkled with salt at the table.

 Gardener's Delight Tomatoes

         Topped with melons, avocados and quail eggs.  A perfect way to sample the row of salts.

 Salt roasted chicken

     A marvelous chinese process.  Rock Salt is heated in a wok and the chicken is buried in it,  searing the skin and trapping all of the bird's juices inside.  The chicken ends up tasting like duck.  Served with hoisin sauce and chinese greens.



Caramels with fleur de sel

         French candy's delicious answer to the super sweet aftertaste of caramel.  Salt!

Pears Roasted in Salt

         served with Balsamic vinegar reduction.  Tastes like chocolate.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Dining out and way out

When we first relocated here in London, I was equipped with a long list of places I wanted to visit, well a list of food places and then other lists for other interests.  But since we've settled in and become "locals" the list continues to grow.  I've managed to make it out to many, but there's still the nagging list.

Back in January I discovered Le Café Anglais.  Wow!  That was a great meal, I can't wait to return.  The meal started with cocktails in the bar while we waited for our table (we arrived early, they were punctual).  I had my first and definitely far from my last sip of the White Lady.  Promptly ordering a second.  Highlights of the meal were the Pike Boudin, made in-house with fines herbes and served with the most delicate bearnaise I've had in years; the fois gras terrine with PX jelly; a gorgeous cheese course for dessert paired with a lovely Stichelton.

With posh art deco interiors, generous booth seating and an impressive view into the kitchen (a chef's dream complete with gorgeous cast iron rotisseries and well sized stations for everyone from garde manger to plongeur) it was a great place for a beautiful meal with friends or as a date.  Although I feel the dining with friends experience would facilitate more dishes on the table to try and perhaps some help with that generous portion of fois gras.  Wow. That was a great meal. Can't wait to return...

But before I do that, I should try out some more places on the list:
River Cafe- Embarrassingly, I have had to cancel two reservations due to other commitments... I'll get there yet. 
Albion Caff
- We've peered in from the bakery, too full from a generous meal at Shoreditch House.  Admired the interiors (thank you Mister Conran!) and plan to come out on a casual breezy weekend morn.
Le Bel Canto- I admit, opera during a meal might get a bit annoying, but I'm constantly searching for that dinner show I've seen countless times in Thin Man films.
Franklin's Restaurant
And one day when I am old and gray and have loads of cash falling out of my pockets:
Travel for the Arts

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Bread from the Start: Part 1

Several weeks back, my friend Florence and I got to talking about baking our own bread at home.  Not the soft textured, easy to eat hot out of the oven breads that you can turn out in under 4 hours, but the toothsome, slightly nutty and perhaps a touch sour breads you can make when you birth and nurse a starter.  Florence and I consulted different cookbooks (she chose Moro, I chose La Brea Bakery) but started out nearly the same- with a bag of flour, a clean container, some cheesecloth and 500 g of black grapes.

Since the first day of the experiment, I've had a roving eye.  I see starter recipes everywhere now and am making a list which I plan on writing about in this series.  I will explore a recipe sent to me by a friend which is copied from Fergus Henderson, another from Seattle chef Leslie Mackie who owns and operates Macrina Bakery, another from Clothilde of the ubiquitous Chocolate and Zucchini blog...

Before this whole process of testing starters began I was a full fledged, no questions asked devotee of Nancy Silverton.  In the mid 90s, I spent countless days veering off of my path from work to home or home to work to stock up on loaves of her spectacular bread, tossing other wonderful delights into the grocery bag as well- smoked paprika I could find nowhere else, lovely cheeses, divine sweet pastries.  I was truly delighted when I left LA and was able to find her bread in San Francisco later in the 90s.  And then in 2009 when I relocated to London, I was astonished to find her bread (now being made by an Irish concern who bought her out years ago, but still honor her recipes and use her branding) in my local Tesco Express.  I am still a huge fan of her work, but with withholding some of my former blind enthusiasm.  And I have to blame starter for my mixed feelings...

The process was very straightforward, crushing grapes, adding flour and water, letting it sit for several days while it matured and then beginning a series of feedings over the course of 15 days.  Once I started baking I found the starter to be very resilient and alive, and began making gorgeous loaves of bread!  The only drawback is the amount of flour sent down the drain in the process of keeping the starter alive and the reviving it back from sleep.  To get to that first batch of bread I used up 20 pounds of flour.  At the start of every day, around 2 cups of starter were retained while nearly 2 quarts were poured off.  As a sentimental former pet owner, I became very attached to my yeasty friends, but unless I open a small bakery in my home and buy a couple of full sized fridges, this process will always require a fair amount of waste.  So onwards and forwards to other recipes that require a bit less waste.  To be continued.

Oh! And if you're in the London area, ping me and I will shoot some starter your way.