MOST readers would not be too surprised to learn that some of my favourite memories are based around food.
So many people’s are, because these are the times we share with family and friends, try something new or celebrate a special occasion. 2012 was a pretty incredible year when it comes to food memories, not only at my own restaurant and in launching my second book Kitchin Suppers, but I’ve also had the opportunity to attend, support and even cook at some phenomenal events.
The most special for me have been those that have given me a chance to revive some of my own special memories, working once again with two chefs who have been my biggest inspiration – Pierre Koffmann and Alain Ducasse.
In November, I had a rare chance to step back into the kitchen with my mentor Koffmann. He was celebrating an incredible 35 years since he opened La Tante Claire, his first, famous restaurant in London, and he had gathered a small group of chefs at his current restaurant, Koffmann’s at the Berkeley in London. All the chefs were those he has worked with in the past and inspired over those incredible 35 years and I was lucky enough to be involved. It really took me back to those years of training with the legend of all chefs.
From the moment I stepped into Koffmann’s kitchen all those years ago, I watched him in awe – cooking and working every minute of the day with flair and passion. I knew then that I wanted to be part of it, one of his army of chefs. He inspired me like no-one else; shaped the chef I am now and he is still a huge inspiration today.
What really amazed me about him was that he always cooks from the heart and I honestly believe it is this, more than anything else, that makes a great chef. There is one dish, whether I’m eating it or cooking it, that brings back all the tastes, smells and sensations of being a young chef in his kitchen, and that is pig’s trotters.
It’s Koffmann’s signature dish and truly iconic. My own dish of pig’s head with pig’s ear salad was born from my love of this and it’s one of which I’m still incredibly proud.
Produce, recipes, moments in my kitchen will remind me of those days of cooking and learning, and they have undoubtedly shaped my restaurant, my style and the food I enjoy when I eat at home or dine out.
Another chef who has had a huge influence on my cooking is Alain Ducasse (pictured below) and 2012 was also a special year for him, when he celebrated 25 years of culinary excellence at three Michelin star Monte Carlo restaurant Le Louis XV. I worked with him there as a young chef and still consider it a very important time in my career. It is one of the most outstanding restaurants in the world and no-one ever forgets a dining experience there.
The three-day celebration in Monaco in November was incredible: 200 chefs with 300 Michelin stars among them gathering to recognise one of the world’s best chefs. I went with my wife Michaela and it is a trip neither of us will ever forget, from the inspirational people we met to the sensational food we enjoyed.
It was a genuine honour to be invited, but even more of an honour to cook at the chef’s market they created. The event was attended by royalty – Prince Albert of Monaco, Princess Charlene and Princess Caroline were all guests at the gala dinner. Just 14 chefs were invited to showcase the fantastic Mediterranean produce and I was proud to be one of them and get a chance to share and demonstrate one of the dishes that Ducasse inspired me to create on my own menu today.
My dish was octopus carpaccio because it epitomises my times there and is a reflection of my own ethos at the restaurant: from nature to plate. It’s a philosophy that very much developed from my time with Ducasse, who truly believes that quality dishes are created from the best produce nature provides us with and we must respect that produce. Ducasse is renowned for his unique style of cooking and the incredible quality and freshness of produce he uses.
The event was so heartfelt for me and, in turn, conjured up so many wonderful memories of good times, and in all honesty tough times, none of which I would ever change.
Events like these show you can create truly unforgettable experiences, either by doing things differently or by gathering people who are equally passionate about food and the eating experience as you are.
If you haven’t already started planning a few special meals either at home or at a restaurant for the coming year, I suggest you start. It’s a great way to cheer up January and give you something to look forward to, but it also gives you a chance to hone your cooking skills. What better resolution for 2013?
Boned and rolled pig’s head with langoustines and a crispy ear salad
• 1 pig’s head (de-boned and tied)
• 2 carrots, roughly chopped
• 1 white onion, chopped
• 1 celery stick, chopped
• 2 bay leaves
• 1 sprig thyme
• 2 pig’s ears
• 1 tsp herbes de Provence
• 1 tsp fennel seeds
• 1 tsp ground cumin
• salt and pepper
• olive oil
• 12 langoustines
• 80g mixed salad leaves
• 1 tsp tomato chutney (optional)
• 1 tsp sauce gribiche (optional)
To prepare the pig’s head
• Start by removing all the hair with a blowtorch. Go down the middle of the head, all the way to the snout, then carefully cut away the flesh at each side of the head, keeping the mat attached to the skin and then tie with butcher’s string. You can always ask the butcher to do this if you don’t want to do it yourself.
• Place the tied pig’s head, carrots, onion, celery, bay leaves and thyme into a very large stock pot. Cover with about two litres of water and bring to boil. Then cook for about one hour.
• Remove all the hairs from the ears with a blowtorch and wrap them in muslin. Add the ears to the pot with the pig’s head and cook for another four hours.
• Ensure the ears remain covered, so top up with boiling water if needed. At the end of the cooking time, take the pot off the heat, remove the ears and set them aside. Leave the pig’s head to cool.
To roll the pig’s head
• Remove the cheeks from the pig’s head and separate the meat and fat from the skin. Set the meat aside and discard the fat. Lay a piece of clingfilm on a chopping board and place the skin, outer side down, on the clingfilm.
• Shred the meat from the pig’s cheeks and mix with the herbes de Provence, fennel seeds, cumin, a pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Lay a line of cheek meat mix in the middle of the skin and roll it into a sausage about 6cm in diameter. Wrap tightly in clingfilm and leave in the fridge to set for 12 hours.
As you are ready to serve, cut the sausage into 3cm thick slices and fry them in olive oil until crispy on the outside and warm in the middle.
To make the crispy pig’s ears
• Remove the cooked pig’s ears from the muslin and trim off the muscles. Wrap the ears in clingfilm and put in the fridge under a heavy weight for 24 hours.
• Pre-heat the oven to 170˚C/gas mark 3. Shred the ears very finely with a sharp knife. Heat the olive oil in an ovenproof frying pan and add the shredded ears, spreading them evenly. Fry them for a minute or two and then place the pan with the ears in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes until crispy. Keep warm until needed.
To cook the langoustines
• Peel the langoustines and leave only the end tail in the shell, removing all the dark intestinal tracts. Heat a heavy-bottomed pan and add olive oil. • Season the langoustines and pan-fry for one or two minutes depending on size.
On each plate, place a few salad leaves and a teaspoon of sauce gribiche if you prefer. Then add the slice of the rolled pig’s head on top and decorate with some crispy pig’s ears, some tomato chutney and serve with the langoustines.
• 2 carrots, chopped
• 2 onions, chopped
• 2 celery sticks, chopped
• 2 leeks, chopped
• 240ml soy sauce
• 4 star anise
• 1 large piece of fresh ginger
• 10 cardamom pods, crushed
• 2 whole octopus, cleaned and previously frozen
• Maldon sea salt
• cracked black pepper
• fresh herbs
Lemon caper dressing
• 1 lemon, zest and juice • 1 tbsp finely chopped shallot
• 1 tbsp capers
• 4 tbsp olive oil
• salt and pepper
• In a large pan of water, bring the vegetables, soy and spices to the boil. Put the octopus into the pot, with enough water to submerge it, and bring back to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 40 to 60 minutes. The octopus is done when the thickest part, ‘the shirt’, where the head meets the tentacles, is easily pierced by a sharp knife. Take the pan off the heat and drain the octopus well.
• Remove the tentacles and discard the head. Lay out the tentacles on some clingfilm, alternating thickest to thinnest ends, then roll up very tightly in the clingfilm. Pierce the finished roll with a sharp knife to let out any excess moisture. This allows the natural gelatin to set the roll better. Chill for four to six hours.
• Prepare the dressing by mixing all the ingredients together.