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Chef Conference – Hail to the chefs

07 October 2009
Chef Conference – Hail to the chefs

Some of the biggest names in UK and European cooking came together in London last week for the 2009 Caterer and Hotelkeeper Chef Conference.

Caterer and Hotelkeeper‘s 27th Chef Conference took place at the Jumeirah Carlton Tower hotel in London last week and featured a stellar culinary line-up of some of the industry's most celebrated chefs.

The Chef Conference was punchier than ever this year, thanks to a new format, and included a one-on-one stage interview with internationally feted chef Heston Blumenthal, chef-proprietor of the three-Michelin-starred Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire, followed by a panel discussion featuring some of the industry's most respected chefs, and masterclasses from our group of one-, two-, and three-Michelin-starred chefs Angela Hartnett, Michael Caines, Martin Burge and Spanish culinary icon Elena Arzak.

The day culminated in three different Chef Eats Out events at some of London's most celebrated restaurants which opened their doors and kitchens to the delegates. They were the two-Michelin-starred Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester; the Square; and Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley.

View slide shows of Chef Conference 2009 at Table Talk >>

Caterer and Hotelkeeper's 27th Chef Conference took place at the Jumeirah Carlton Tower hotel in London last week and featured a stellar culinary line-up of some of the industry's most celebrated chefs.
HESTON BLUMENTHAL The Chef Conference kicked off with culinary alchemist Blumenthal, who treated the audience to an in-depth discussion of two of his most recent recipes featured on the Fat Duck tasting menu: Mock Turtle Soup and Flaming Sorbet. Accompanied by video demonstrations of the recipes, Blumenthal allowed the delegates a glimpse into his creative genius and talked about some of the sources of inspiration to his multi-sensory dining ideas. "I've had a fascination with historical British recipes for a number of years and discovered a treasure trove of recipes going back 200-300 years which we'd forgotten about," he said. He added that the inspiration for his Mock Turtle Soup came from a Victorian recipe mentioned in Lewis Carroll's *Alice in Wonderland* (one of his favourite books), while his Flaming Sorbet was inspired by his pipe-smoking uncle. *Caterer* editor Mark Lewis then conducted a wide-ranging one-on-one interview with Blumenthal, covering topics from the food poisoning outbreak at the Fat Duck, his various development kitchens at the restaurant, and his views on the industry and his own career. Blumenthal criticised the Health Protection Agency (HPA) for the handling of its report into the norovirus outbreak at the Fat Duck, which affected more than 500 diners and forced Blumenthal to close the restaurant for two weeks in February. He lamented the way the HPA released the report, arguing he and his team of insurers and legal experts were given a mere three hours to analyse its findings before it was released to the public. He added that there was a "real lack of support" for restaurants when it comes to handling crises like a norovirus outbreak. "It is only because of the status of the Fat Duck that we survived this," he said. "If we were a small, independent restaurant, we would have been forced to close as a result. Our industry is so fragile and there is so little support." Blumenthal went on to talk about the changed menu at the Fat Duck: he has done away with the à la carte and is now offering a tasting menu only. "I'd been thinking about this for a while but didn't have the guts to do it until now. On average 92% of our diners opt for the tasting menu so it made sense to do it." He said the greatest achievement of his career has been the Fat Duck: "It's why I get out of bed every morning." Looking forward, he discussed his forthcoming restaurant at London's Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, which, due to open in November 2010, will be a 140-seat "upmarket brasserie". "It won't be another Fat Duck. I will never open another Fat Duck," he said.
PANEL DISCUSSION
Brian Turner president, Academy of Culinary Arts (chair) Simon Hulstone chef-proprietor, Elephant Restaurant, Devon Michael Caines executive chef, Gidleigh Park and operational partner and director, Abode Hotels David Cavalier food director, Charlton House Catering John Williams executive chef, the Ritz, and executive chairman of the Academy of Culinary Arts Shaun Hill chef-proprietor, The Walnut Tree, Abergavenny
Chefs need to embrace social media as well as guidebooks if they want to maintain their profile among customers, according to the panellists at the Chef Conference. In a *Question Time*-style panel discussion, chaired by Brian Turner, Michael Caines argued that while Michelin continued to be a language everybody spoke around the world, websites such as Tripadvisor were also really good for the industry. "If you're put online it can be good and bad for business - the reality is it's something that's with us." Shaun Hill agreed, saying Tripadvisor was "not as bad for the industry as we might think". "Of course, none of us like to get a kicking, but there are websites out there like eGullet which give their opinion anyway," he said. David Cavalier added: "The best critics are the people who come to your restaurant, but Michelin is the benchmark." The panellists were united in their thoughts on the passing of Keith Floyd. "I was on his second series," said Hill. "I had been at Gidleigh Park for three weeks and he wasn't what anybody would have expected. He had a couple of large scotches at 8am and as the day wore on I got drunker as well. He was all good news - he was exciting and interesting - and there's always room for that." John Williams added: "Keith Floyd was superb first and foremost. It wasn't about his cooking alone, it was his personality and the enjoyment he had. He had a way of bringing everything to life." When asked if Floyd could actually cook, Hill responded: "He did cook me breakfast once. He wasn't a superb craftsman, but he had a love of cooking and eating and he was a tremendous enthusiast - all that was very genuine." Caines added that Floyd had a huge passion for food and a huge knowledge of where it was from. "He was the first person to give the industry a bit of a rock and roll feel, he made it very entertaining." Taking the theme of TV cookery programmes further, Caines said that food programmes needed to be a mix of entertainment and education. "We as chefs have a duty to educate people and pass on our knowledge, but the power is with the people who commission the programmes and it's not always in our hands." Hill agreed. "TV is immensely powerful if you do well. However, in my current incarnation, the Walnut Tree, its downfall was going on *Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmare*. It was the first series, and the chap who ran it knew Gordon and thought it was a kitchen makeover show. You have to realise that TV companies are not there to promote your restaurant - they are there to make an entertaining show." !The Panel - David Cavalier, Shaun Hill, Simon Hulstone, John Williams, Michael Caines](https://cdn.filestackcontent.com/2pnR6rHXRTKjAlhC5MMj) Finally, the panel turned to the issue of funding for British competitors at international competitions. "Adam Smith won a gold medal at the WorldSkills and our waitress also got a bronze medal, but why do we struggle to get sponsorship and does it help the industry to train young people for competitions?" asked Turner. Williams said that competitions develop creative young people and stretch their ability and the rest of the kitchen benefits from that. "On the issue of money, last year we had £14,000 for Bocuse d'Or to get us there. What this country needs is not just money but some of the greatest brains who can give time to people like Simon \[Hulstone, who represented Britain last year\]. The Americans had £100,000 for Bocuse d'Or and they came fifth. The French had five MOFs (Meilleur Ouvrier de France) doing their training." Hulstone, who was the first British chef to win a gold medal at WorldSkills, in 1995, and finished 10th in the last Bocuse d'Or competition, said that during his training for Bocuse d'Or he was hampered by the fact that some chefs were reluctant to support him. "People think we go out to competitions like Bocuse d'Or to fill the numbers - we're not there to fill numbers, we've got the chefs, we know we can get further. It's not about me taking the credit, it would be Britain taking the credit." Hill agreed, saying that competition don't do the industry any harm. "We need to get a TV company behind it. They need to see the people behind an event like that, the nerves, the task at hand. If you're looking for sponsorship and support, you need to look at TV." But Williams said that he had already tried this approach. "I've tried five times. I'm sure the British would love to see something like the Bocuse d'Or on TV - it's a circus like you haven't seen before." ANGELA HARTNETT AND ELENA ARZAK MASTERCLASS The UK's Angela Hartnett - current holder of the Catey Chef Award, and the chef-patron of London's Michelin-starred Murano restaurant and the York & Albany hotel - took to the stage with one of Europe's most renowned chef-patrons, who also happens to be a woman. Elena Arzak is the fourth generation of one of Europe's most famous culinary families - and the fourth generation of it to cook behind the stove at Arzak, the three-Michelin-starred family restaurant in San Sebastian, northern Spain, where she works in tandem with her father, Juan Mari Arzak. Using photos of her restaurant, Arzak gave delegates a glimpse of the food she and her father create - and the wonderful facilities they have at their fingertips at the restaurant, including a "flavour bank" room with more than 1,500 ingredients to help them come up with new dishes. Hartnett kicked off the demo by cooking roast sweetbreads with pickled peaches, liquorice and fennel, a particular favourite with her customers at Murano. (Although the dish uses more than the three or four flavours she generally likes to put on a plate, it admirably showed off the direct style of cooking she is famous for.) Next up Arzak, together with her head chef Igor Zalakain, created a fish dish: tuna in a bonfire of scales and onions. "We like fish a lot in San Sebastian as we're on the coast. The tuna we use is the kind caught off the north coast of Spain, bonito tuna, which is caught in August and September." Arzak coated the fillet of tuna, which had been lightly smoked for four minutes, in a purée called mojo which is made of its skin, onions, almonds, tomato and bread. "This accentuates the flavour of the fish," she said. The dish is normally served with a sauce of pickled gherkins. Next up the two female chefs each created a dish using the very seasonal ingredient of walnuts, proving great minds really do think alike. Hartnett's dish was a walnut tagliatelle with butter emulsion, brioche crumbs and pancetta and she admitted that she got the eggs for her pasta directly from Italy. "The hens there are fed on corn and parsley and produce very, very rich yellow yolks that are better than any eggs I've had in the UK." Arzak's second dish was intxaursaltsa de lombarda mutante (walnut cream, with reinvented red cabbage). The traditional intxaursaltsa is a Christmas dish based on walnuts, milk, sugar and cinnamon, but Arzak's dish is a much lighter version. "Some ideas for our dishes are taken indirectly from Basque cuisine, which has a very strong identity. But we use modern techniques because food has to always be evolving. What people like today, is not the same as 20 years ago," she explained. ELENA ARZAK'S INTXAURSALTSA DE LOMBARDA MUTANTE![](https://cdn.filestackcontent.com/CThKMfARFmS35Mb2puL1) INGREDIENTS (Serves four) For the broth - 250ml water - 10g sugar - 65g red cabbage, sliced For the liquidised red cabbage - 100g red cabbage, sliced - Water For the walnut cream - 500ml of whipping cream - 1tsp ground cinnamon - 250g walnuts, shelled - 150g icing sugar For the walnut cream bath - 40ml water - 100ml port - 25g vegetable gel - 2g cochinile For the fried chestnuts - 60g chestnuts - Oil for frying - Salt - Nutmeg - Ground star anise To finish - 40g demerara sugar - Pinch of ground ginger - 8 walnut halves - Lemon juice METHOD For the red cabbage broth, boil the water and sugar together. Add the sliced cabbage and boil for a further two minutes. Strain the cabbage and set aside and keep the water. To prepare the liquidised cabbage, blanch the cabbage in boiling water. Drain and blend in a liquidiser. Reserve 90ml of liquidised juice. To make the walnut sauce, stew all the ingredients for 18 minutes in a saucepan over a gentle heat. Blend. Pour the mixture into rectangular moulds and freeze. When frozen, cut into small triangles. Keep in the freezer until needed. For the walnut bath, boil all the ingredients for two minutes. Take off the heat and fill a water syringe with the liquid then coat the frozen walnut triangles until the liquid forms a jellified red skin on their surface. To prepare the fried chestnuts, peel and slice the chestnuts finely. Fry them in oil like potato crisps. Season lightly with spices. For service, prepare the "soup" - combine 125ml broth, 50g liquidised red cabbage and 1tbs of demerara sugar. Arrange the "intxaursaltsa" triangles on the plate with chestnut crisps and sliced walnuts. Pour on the red cabbage soup. Adjust the soup's colour with a squeeze of lemon juice. ANGELA HARTNETT'S ROASTED SWEETBREADS WITH PICKLED PEACHES, LIQUORICE AND FENNEL ![](https://cdn.filestackcontent.com/ZLm8X49vRH2Hytn3Jegy) INGREDIENTS (Serves three)For the pickled peaches - 100ml sherry vinegar - 50ml Chardonnay vinegar - 50g maple syrup - 10 coriander seeds - 10 juniper berries - Salt - 4 or 5 ripe peaches For the fennel purée - 4 fennel - Olive oil - Butter - Cream - Fresh thyme - Fennel seeds For the vinaigrette - 50ml pickling juices from melon - 200ml rosemary oil (made by infusing rosemary and olive oil overnight) - 2tbs shallot confit - Fresh rosemary, chopped - Salt and pepper, to taste - 2 whole veal sweetbreads - Curry salt - Olive oil - Butter METHOD For pickled peaches: Mix all ingredients, bar the peaches, in a pan and bring to the boil, then cool. Peel the peaches and cut them into wedges. Pour pickling liquor over the peaches, cover and let marinate for at least two hours. For the fennel purée: Chop the fennel into equal sizes. Sweat down in olive oil and butter. Add the herbs and keep on cooking until soft. Blitz the mixture in blender, add 1tbs of cold butter and a little bit of cream. Check seasoning and pass through fine chinoise. For the vinaigrette: Mix all ingredients together - and season to taste. To finish and serve: Sprinkle the sweetbread with curry salt (equal parts of salt and curry powder). Cook them in a pan with hot olive oil, making sure you colour on both sides and then add butter and finish cooking. Heat up the fennel purée. Fish out some of the peaches and arrange all on a plate. Grate some fresh liquorice on the peaches and finish dish with rosemary vinaigrette. MICHAEL CAINES AND MARTIN BURGE MASTERCLASS The conference concluded with another culinary masterclass, courtesy of two of the UK's most accomplished chefs, Michael Caines and Martin Burge, who have more in common than their respective two Michelin stars. Both are West Country boys: Caines is executive chef at Gidleigh Park in Devon, having grown up in Exeter; and Burge is head chef at Whatley Manor in Wiltshire and was born in Bristol. The duo also both trained with Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, though not at the same time - "He's older," Burge said, pointing at Caines. Caines got the ball rolling with his first dish of wild salmon with Oscietra caviar, salmon jelly and cucumber, honey soy and wasabi and Greek yogurt vinaigrette. Inspired by Norway and China, the dish was essentially gravadlax with Chinese nuances surfacing in spices and seasoning as well as in a vinaigrette used to dress wafer-thin strips of cucumber and in a salmon jelly. Micro leaves provided the final touch to the dish: mini pockets of flavour were injected through tiny leaves of purple basil, chosen to add another depth to the aniseed flavour already an integral part of the dish through five spice powder, dill, fennel and star anise. It was a lesson in how a simple cured salmon salad could be lifted out of the ordinary to Michelin level by a skilled and imaginative chef. Burge, who said he was "dead nervous" but didn't really show it, then demonstrated what has become one of his signature dishes at Whatley Manor, his mango cannelloni with mint ice-cream and pink grapefruit. As with Caines, it was the imagination to create a dish coupled with attention to detail that demonstrated why he is the UK's most recent two-Michelin-starred chef, an accolade that has seen business at his restaurant up by around 50%, Burge said. Caines then returned to the stove with his second dish of pan-fried duck foie gras with braised chicory with orange and raisins. Caines, whose restaurant at the Abode hotel in Exeter came under fire from animal rights' activists for serving foie gras, said he avoided upsetting protesters by translating the controversial delicacy to "duck liver" on his menus. He added that while he tried to cook foie gras in many different ways, he returned to the classic way of pan-frying it, which he found works best. The dish included chicory braised in orange juice and chicken stock, raisins steeped in jasmine tea to add more fragrance, and the pan-fried foie gras dusted with orange powder and sea salt before serving. Finishing the dish with caramelised walnuts, making him the third chef of the day to use the ingredient, Caines perfectly illustrated how the top chefs were always alive to seasonal produce but able to use them in widely different ways. MICHAEL CAINES'S PAN-FRIED DUCK FOIE GRAS WITH BRAISED CHICORY WITH ORANGE AND RAISINS ![INGREDIENTS (Serves four) For the foie gras - 4 x 80g pieces of duck foie gras - Braised chicory - Raisins soaked in Jasmine tea - Dried orange powder - Caramelised walnuts For the braised chicory - 25g butter - 50g onions chopped small - 200ml orange juice - 50ml chicken stock - 8 baby chicory - 1 garlic clove, peeled and chopped - 1 small bay leaf - 1 sprig of thyme - Salt and pepper For the raisins soaked in jasmine tea - 5g tea - 200ml boiling water - 100g raisins For the caramelised walnuts - 150g walnuts - 200ml stock syrup METHOD Sweat the onions and garlic in the butter with a pinch of salt, without colouring. Add the orange juice, chicken stock, thyme and bay leaf. Add the baby chicory and bring to the boil, season with salt and pepper. Cover with a parchment paper and braise in the oven until soft. Leave to cool. Remove the garnish and pass off the liquid, store the braised chicory in the stock. Take some of the stock and bring to the boil, add a pinch of orange dust and season with salt and pepper, now add a drop of orange juice. Reserve for later. To prepare the tea, infuse the tea with the boiling water and leave to stand until the water is warm. Place the raisins into a jar or plastic container and then pass the tea through a fine sieve on to the raisins. Leave to soak for three days before using to allow the raisins to plump up. To prepare the walnuts, place them into the stock syrup and cook until 110°C. Remove using a slotted spoon and place into a fryer at 190°C until golden brown. Remove and place on to parchment paper and lightly salt. Once cool, take a few and chop with a knife for the topping of the foie gras. In a hot pan, pan-fry the foie gras, colouring both sides. Remove from the pan and top with the chopped walnuts, a dusting of orange powder and some sea salt. Leave to rest in a warm place. Now reheat the chicory in its stock, and warm the raisins in its juices. Cut chicory in half, dress into the middle of the plate, sprinkle the raisins around then place the foie gras on top. Add a few caramelised walnuts and then sauce with the butter sauce. CHEF EATS OUT Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester The first of the three Chef Eats Out lunches took place at renowned French chef Alain Ducasse's restaurant at the five-star Dorchester hotel on Park Lane. Launched in November 2007, the restaurant is one of the capital's most exclusive eateries and has been tipped by Michelin as London's next three-star restaurant. It offers a menu reflecting Ducasse's lighter, more modern approach to gastronomy, with the kitchen overseen by head chef Jocelyn Herland. Delegates were welcomed at the Patrick Jouin-designed dining room with a Champagne reception before being treated to a beautiful four-course lunch. The meal was paired with a selection of wines provided by McKinley Vintners and managing director Peter McKinley's choices went down well with the diners. After lunch, Herland opened up his kitchen, offering his diners an in-depth tour of the back of house facilities at Alain Ducasse. Delegates were wowed by the standards and sheer size of the kitchen, the installation of which Monsieur Ducasse had overseen himself. MENU - Amuse bouche of royale of broccoli with crispy vegetables - Scottish salmon "goujounettes" with green emulsion - Hearth of Angus rump steak with artichoke, gnocchi and crispy Maxim potatoes in black olive jus - Girl from Ipanema (coupe ananas/vanilla) - Mignardises & Gourmandise THE SQUARE Meanwhile, delegates who had chosen to sample the cuisine of two-Michelin-starred the Square were being treated to a sumptuous lunch cooked by chef-proprietor Phil Howard. The meal commenced with a game consommé with bacon that was big on flavour and came with a warm grouse sausage roll that melted in the mouth. Next came a sauté of Scottish langoustine tails with Parmesan gnocchi and an emulsion of potato and truffle; followed by fillet of brill with Somerset snails, chanterelles and red wine and a fat, pink ball of smoked bone marrow. A Brillat-Savarin cheesecake with passionfruit and lime provided a rich, zingy palate-cleanser at the end of the meal. Chef-proprietor Phil Howard visited each table in the stylish and serene dining room after the lunch and personally thanked all delegates for coming. And then it was time to head off home - unless you were in the Lexington Catering posse, who chose to cross the road to the Coach and Horses for a lager digestif. MENU - Game consommé with bacon foam and a warm grouse sausage roll - Sauté of Scottish langoustine tails with Parmesan gnocchi and an emulsion of potato and truffle - Fillet of brill with smoked bone marrow, Somerset snails, chanterelles and red wine - Brillat-Savarin cheesecake with passionfruit and lime MARCUS WAREING AT THE BERKELEY Following the conference, 50-plus delegates had the opportunity to dine at Marcus Wareing's eponymous restaurant at Knightsbridge's Berkeley hotel. Wareing, who has been chef-patron of the two-Michelin-starred Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley for one year, welcomed guests on arrival and visited their tables between courses enabling him to share thoughts on his awards-rich year which included London's Best Restaurant in the Harden's guide. That night, at the AA Awards, Wareing went on to pick up another trophy, Chef's Chef. His six-course tasting menu featured a fish course of Dover sole, white leek and thyme, potted shrimp butter emulsion, and a stunning espresso and chocolate arctic roll, bitter chocolate jelly and blackberry sorbet. "To single out one dish would be unfair on the others, but I thought the whole menu and dining experience was outstanding," said Mark Morris, director of chef networking site Staff Canteen. "The menu combined clear flavours with exceptional skill and execution in both cooking and service." Fifteen-year-old 2009 Springboard FutureChef winner Luke Thomas, who took the chance to arrange a stage with Wareing, said: "I really enjoyed the conference and Marcus Wareing was fantastic - my favourite course was without doubt the Dover Sole." As guests left the restaurant, they were presented with a commemorative plate from Villeroy & Boch and many acquired a signed copy of Wareing's latest cookbook, *Nutmeg and Custard*, which published just two weeks ago. THE MENU - Amuse bouche of white onion soup with nutmeg foam - Marinated vine tomato salad, ricotta, Poilâne croutes - Dover sole, white leek and thyme, potted shrimp butter emulsion - Rhug farm Welsh suckling pig, cooked for 24 hours, braised chicory, pommes mousseline - Pre-dessert of passion fruit and lemon cream with vodka and lychee sorbet - Espresso and chocolate arctic roll, bitter chocolate jelly, blackberry sorbet The 2009 Chef Conference was sponsored by Bisto and organised in associaiton with the Academy of Culinary Arts. Thanks to Villeroy & Boch for sponsoring the commemorative plates and to Enodis for supplying the cooking equipment. Thanks also to the following suppliers for their support: RDA Organics, Paul Wayne Gregory, Alan Coxon, Catering and Leisure Supplies, Paxton & Whitfield, Michael Caines Restaurants, Mantinga Breads and Adande.
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