The big buzz words on the restaurant scene in the UK at the moment are traceability and sourcing local produce. In any dining room worth its salt you'll see menu references to where in the British Isles a piece of beef, a carrot or a humble potato have originated from.
To view photos of all the dishes please scroll down
The Caterer and Hotelkeeper Chef Conference this year will reflect this preoccupation throughout the day's events. From the keynote speech of Arthur Potts Dawson, whose London restaurant Acorn House is an exemplar not only of careful produce sourcing but also of all things green in business terms, to the conference lunch.
Designed to be eaten "on the hoof", the lunch will be served in contemporary fashion as bowl food and will feature modern takes on traditional British dishes made with produce sourced from all over the British Isles. Chickens from Essex, fish from the West Country, beef from Yorkshire, lamb from Wales, pork from Sussex and goats' cheese from Sussex will all get a spin in the spotlight. The produce will star in rustic Brit dishes like braised oxtail with Anya potatoes and watercress, poached breast of chicken with baby carrots and lemon posset. "Proper chefs' food with great flavours," says Rob Kirby, chef-director at contract caterer Lexington Catering, who is jointly overseeing the lunch with conference host chef Robert Prendergast from the InterContinental Park Lane.
The involvement of a contract caterer to help cook the lunch is a first for the Chef Conference, and Kirby has hand-picked a team of seven of his most skilled chefs to work on the project with him. Anxious not to leave things to chance, the team met up with Prendergast last week for a menu run-through. The venue: the company restaurant of Rio Tinto, one of Lexington's blue-chip clients, whose bright, contemporary, clean-lined dining room overlooks Paddington Station.
However, Prendergast and the Lexington team were not the only chefs assembled for a menu trialling. In their midst were four young catering students, two each from London's premier catering colleges, Westminster Kingsway and Thames Valley University, who have been recruited to help cook the lunch. "I'm a patron of Thames Valley and I think it's great to get the young guys from TVU and Westminster involved and let them see how an important function lunch is put together - it's a great eye-opener on the real world," says Kirby.
The four young chefs, who will be joined by another four of their fellow students on the day of the conference to augment the Lexington brigade, were each teamed up with a specific chef mentor from Kirby's team and prepping and plating - or should that be "bowling" - proceeded apace. And I'm happy to report that conference delegates will be in for a treat come "C-Day" on 12 May.
Not only does the food look great - clean, contemporary, unfussy - but it has real depth of flavour. More importantly, it's easy to eat standing up and although there is slurp potential in several of the dishes, in the form of integral consommés and sauces, clever portioning ensures this doesn't translate into fully fledged eating faux pas.
"You have to be practical and, anyway, we didn't want to produce poncy food," says Kirby. "We just wanted to get great produce, like Label Anglais chicken, for instance, the best you can get, and let that speak for itself with simple, direct flavours." It certainly does that. If you don't believe me, come along to the conference and find out for yourself.
• The 2008 Caterer and Hotelkeeper Chef Conference takes place on 12 May at London's InterContinental Park Lane hotel. It includes culinary masterclasses, on-stage interviews, interactive demonstrations and a stellar line-up of chefs cooking a gala dinner. The confirmed line-up includes René Redzepi, Marco Pierre White, David Everitt-Matthias, Angela Hartnett, Claire Clark, Nathan Outlaw, Glynn Purnell, Anthony Demetre, Ollie Couillaud and Damian Allsop.
For further information and to reserve your place, go to www.chefconference.co.uk.
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Photos © Lisa Barber (www.lisabarber.co.uk)
- Braised oxtail, Anya potatoes, Hampshire watercress, crispy onion rings (Beef from Ridings Reserve, East Yorkshire)
- Chicken bowl: free-range poached breast of chicken in smoked chicken consommé, organic Scottish Chantenay carrots (Label Anglais chicken from Temple Farm, Essex)
- Sustainable fish bowl: Cornish gurnard and Scottish pollack and razor clams in mussel broth
- Poached cannon of spring lamb, pea consommé, Sharpham Farm spelt (Lamb from Alltanog Farm)
- Braised pork belly, breaded pork cheek, mustard- and honey-glazed pork fillet, mash, butternut squash, gravy (Pork from Plantation Pigs, Surrey)
- Wealdsway goats' cheese, roasted beetroot, watercress salad
- Kent asparagus, Isle of Mull Cheddar scone rarebit
- Lemon posset, lemonade foam, Scottish shortbread
- Yorkshire rhubarb, Chapel Down Champagne jelly, clotted cream custard
- Organic carrot cake with carrot juice tuile
Caterer and Hotelkeeper would like to thank specialist suppliers Chef's Connection for sourcing vegetables and fruit, including asparagus, rhubarb, beetroot and carrots, Daily Fish for sourcing razor clams, gurnard and pollack, Pigdens for sourcing oxtail, lamb and pork, and Secretts Farm for salad leaves and pea shoots.
- Rob Kirby, chef-director
- Carl Williams, head chef, Knight Frank
- Sam Potter, chef-manager, Rio Tinto
- Mark Parfait, development chef
- Danny Leung, head chef, Kaupthing Bank
- Tony O'Brien, group chef based at Cancer Research UK
- Murray Tapiki, development chef
- Oliver Jordan, chef de partie, Rio Tinto
- Jomar Siador and Marcin Mazurkiewicz, Thames Valley University
- Ben Murphy and James Bevan, Westminster Kingsway