Tom Kerridge, chef-patron of the Hand & Flowers, was the obvious choice as consultant chef for the 29th Caterer and Hotelkeeper Awards, but catering for 1,200 guests took him a long way out of his comfort zone. Amanda Afiya reports
In such a historic year for the country, we thought it only right and proper to give the Cateys a truly British feel in 2012 - and arguably, you can't get more British than our beloved pubs.
So when we were thinking about a consultant chef for this year's event, we had to ask recently crowned two-Michelin-starred chef Tom Kerridge, owner of the Hand & Flowers in Marlow.
When Caterer and Hotelkeeper phoned Kerridge to ask if he would take on the Cateys, he went silent. Was that a no, then? No, Kerridge was just overwhelmed by the request and immediately thrown into panic over how his complex style of award-winning cuisine would transfer to banqueting for 1,200 covers to be overseen by Grosvenor House, A JW Marriott hotel executive chef, Nigel Boschetti.
While the main focus of the Caterer and Hotelkeeper Awards is the nominees and the winners, the Cateys dinner always endeavours to deliver one of the year's most gastronomic menus on London's banqueting circuit. In the past, Michelin-starred chefs Marcus Wareing, Angela Hartnett and Chris and Jeff Galvin have been among those who have consulted on the menu, ensuring that the Cateys dinner has created a talking point well beyond the evening itself.
"I was nervous and terrified," commented 2007 Catey Newcomer Award winner Kerridge in the days after the event, "but honoured that I had had the phone call. It took a couple of days to decide to say ‘yes', and then Aaron [Mulliss, my head chef] and I had a big brainstorming session. There were dishes that we wanted to do, but then when we met with Nigel and presented our ideas, it all went out the window and we had to go back to the drawing board! That's when I started to learn how very different things work in my kitchen compared with how it works in the kitchen of the Grosvenor House."
Most importantly, Kerridge wanted to make sure that he and Mulliss were as hands-on as possible, at the same time bearing in mind that "we didn't know what we were doing at the scale".
"The biggest thing for me was to ensure that we got the flavour profile right," explained Kerridge. "If everything tasted correctly, I thought people would forgive us if we didn't necessarily execute the presentation of the dishes with pinpoint precision. Once we agreed on the dishes, it then went into Nigel's hands - and those of his brigade. Those guys really know what they're doing, they know how to do it to that sort of scale."
Prior to the Cateys, the biggest number of covers that Kerridge had cooked for in any one sitting was, of course, the Great British Menu. "I had done 100 covers for GBM twice, and that was one course which had taken months and months and months to get right and I was surrounded by people who knew my dish. Trying to get 40 chefs, who have only 15 minutes to get a course out, was something else. But I thought the operation of it was absolutely phenomenal."
Kerridge said that the whole experience had made him find a "huge, new-found respect" for banqueting kitchens. "It's not an area of cooking I'm ever going to go into, but these guys really know what they are doing. I will definitely look at big functions in a different way."
A constant in the back of Kerridge's mind, he said, was the honour of being asked. "I wanted to make sure we did ourselves proud and we didn't let such a prestigious set of awards down. We worked really hard and Nigel sourced the produce from some of my suppliers at the Hand & Flowers, which ensured the dishes were authentic."
For example, the eels for the Bramley apple soup starter came from Somerset-based Brown and Forrest, the Duke of York potatoes, served in a salt-crust "potato sack"-style dough came from Carroll's Heritage Potatoes and the "sacks" were tied with proper rope from Hand & Flowers supplier Rope and Splice.
"A couple of them are really small-scale suppliers, so to give such a huge platform to those guys was great. It's something I'm very keen on at the Hand & Flowers, finding the best produce we possibly can."
One thing Kerridge can't be accused of is playing it safe. The menu was bold, had plenty of strong flavours. and had the potential to divide opinions. The smokiness of the eel and bacon in the starter, for example, against a backdrop of sweet Bramley apples was always going to be Marmite.
"The menu at the Hand & Flowers is sometimes not obvious. We tried to use the best of modern British ingredients in a clever way, so I take something like a Bramley apple and say why not serve as a soup? Why not really make mustard the prominent flavour [in the main course]? We try to keep rock solid and simple and I think the food we served at the Cateys was a great representation, to a point, of the sort of food we do at the pub.
"It was down to the menu planning and Nigel and his team's skill of executing it and I think the final result was fantastic. A lot of work went into mise en place to make service simple. It's also worth bearing in mind that they made the soup to order, for 1,200 people! I thought it was brilliant and really well done."
Smoked Bramley apple soup with bacon, eel and borage
Beer-braised ox cheek with Colman's mustard with salt-baked potatoes and malt butter
Charles Martell Double Gloucester with Bath Oliver biscuits
Strawberries and cream
Petits fours and Kenco coffee
â- Caterer and Hotelkeeper would like to thank the following suppliers for their support: Fairfax Meadow, Brown and Forrest, Carroll's Heritage Potatoes, Casmir Chocolates, Cheese Cellar, Rope and Splice.
600g table salt
9 free-range egg whites
8-10 small to medium baking potatoes (for the Cateys we used Duke of York potatoes)
For the salt-baked potatoes, mix the flour and salt together in a food processor fitted with a dough hook. Mix in the egg whites, then slowly add the water to form a dough (you many not need all of the water). Knead the dough for five minutes, then wrap it in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for two hours.
Preheat the oven to 170Â°C/325Â°F/Gas 3.
Roll the pastry out into a rectangle about 5mm thick, place the potatoes in the middle, then gather the pastry around the potatoes and tie the top with kitchen string or rope. Bake the potatoes for two hours, or until the potatoes are cooked through.
Welcome drink and wines
Aperol spritz cocktail, Italy
This deliciously refreshing aperitif is the "must have" cocktail in Italy, especially Venice. Simply built using Aperol liqueur, Prosecco, soda water and a garnish of orange, it is a relatively light yet complex drink that leaves you wanting another glass. Aperol's unique colour and bitter-sweet flavour is achieved through a subtle blend of rhubarb, bitter orange, gentian and an array of herbs and roots - using a secret recipe that has been unchanged since its creation in 1919.
Côtes du Rhône Blanc "Les Abeilles de Colombo", 2011, France
Sometimes affectionately known as "the winemaking wizard of the Rhône Valley", Jean-Luc Colombo is a charismatic figurehead, a family man and a lover of food and wine. His passion and dedication to quality is evident across the entire range (including his iconic Cornas wines). This cuvée, a delicate combination of Clairette and Roussanne, has an intense perfume reminiscent of mineral, candied citrus and green apple. Its freshness complements our starter perfectly. Main course
Marselan "Ancianor", J Moreau & Fils 2010, Vin de France
Already an internationally renowned producer of Chablis, the house of J Moreau & Fils continues to strive for improvement and diversification. This wine is the result: a fine example of the rare Marselan grape (a cross between Cabernet and Grenache) grown in the Languedoc region but clearly portraying the house's Burgundian heritage and elegant style. You will find supple tannins, rich red berry fruit and a lively hint of spice, making it a great match for our main course. Dessert
Concha y Toro Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Maule Valley, Chile
A heavenly dessert wine produced from grapes grown in Concha y Toro's "Lourdes Vineyard", where limestone slopes and vertical trellises provide excellent exposure to the sun. Harvesting in late autumn allows the berries to raisin, partly under the influence of "noble rot", which concentrates the juice and sugars within. Ripe tropical fruit and honey aromas lead into a sweet yet crisp palate, brimming with luscious flavours of rhubarb and summer fruits that are in perfect harmony with our dessert.
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