Farm Africa: Michelin-starred chefs share top tips for charity gala

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 21st April 2016
Top tips on serving a successful charity gala menu from three Michelin-starred chefs gala1A black tie gala event can be a great way for charities to raise awareness and money for an important cause, and for those working in the food and hospitality industry it can be a brilliant opportunity to help others by donating valuable time and skills. Michelin-starred chefs Ashley Palmer-Watts, Tom Kerridge and John Freeman are all stepping up to support international development charity Farm Africa, with the three food maestros taking time out of their busy schedules to design a special menu to be served to 210 guests at a Farm Africa Gala being held at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Money raised will support Farm Africa’s work to reduce poverty across eastern Africa by enabling farmers to grow their incomes in an environmentally sustainable way. But putting on such a high profile event takes a lot of hard work and if things go wrong it can make for a very public disaster! Here Ashley, John and Tom share what motivated them to support Farm Africa, and give some of their key considerations when designing a successful menu for a gala event like this: Ashley Palmer-Watts is Executive Chef at two Michelin-starred Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, and Executive Head Chef of the Fat Duck Group: “I heard about Farm Africa four years ago when I was invited to visit their sustainable fish farming initiative in Kenya. I’ve been working with charities for many years doing dinners but this was the first time I had actually gone to visit a project. It was also my first trip to Kenya and a very different experience - if it’s not in your immediate environment it can be difficult to think about problems elsewhere in the world – so it was great to have the opportunity to sit down with fish farmers and hear directly from them about the opportunities and challenges they face. “What I saw with Farm Africa seemed like an incredible initiative. It’s not just about giving aid, it’s about giving farmers the chance to gain the skills they need to build a sustainable farming business which delivers long lasting results and generates work for the community. ash“While I was there I made a throw away comment that climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro sounded like fun, and the following year we ended up doing it to raise money for Farm Africa. I’m scared of heights and so spent the whole time petrified, edging along ledges, little cliff passes and vertical walls. It was exhausting, I trained pretty hard and only just made it but getting to the top was amazing, although then you have to start thinking about how to get down! I couldn’t see myself climbing Kilimanjaro again but this year when Farm Africa asked me to be part of their gala event I was happy to help. Time is expensive and we never have enough, but people leveraging their profiles and sharing their skills is a powerful way to raise awareness and money for a good cause. I pulled in some chefs to work with me, with John Freeman being an obvious choice because we did the Kili climb together. I was looking for someone else who would fit in well with John and myself, and who would cook a great dish for the gala. I’ve known Tom Kerridge ever since he opened his restaurant, The Hand and Flowers, and I often go there so it was great when he agreed to get involved. Tom and John each decided what they wanted to cook, and I think the three dishes together will make a really special menu. We’re serving three courses - very different dishes which combined create a great menu. It’s vital to pick a dish that you think will work well in this type of situation, something that will be served as close to what you would do in your own restaurant. You have to consider what equipment is available, the temperature of the food, how intricate it is to plate up, and what the timings are. It’s all about the preparation, it’s no good picking something that you can prepare for 50 people if you need to serve 250, it would take too long. The V&A is such a unique and beautiful venue to hold a dinner but poses quite a challenge. John, Tom and I are used to running our own kitchens with all our own equipment. The caterers we will be working with on the night, Payne and Gunter, are very well versed in doing these type of events and with all our experience combined, this should be a great one.” John Freeman is Head Chef at Sat Bains Restaurant in Nottingham, which has been awarded two Michelin stars: John quote“I first heard about Farm Africa when Ashley got in touch randomly. He had done something with them before and said he wanted to do a fundraising climb up Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. It took me by surprise but I said yes. “It was the first thing I had ever done for charity and it was very fulfilling. I am a very selfish person and will openly admit it. I find I get worse as I get older, but doing something like this makes you feel good and is very humbling. “Ever since we have been at Sat Bains we have done dinners all over the world. It’s one of the perks of the job, it’s nice to meet new people and see different operations. You’re learning all the time and you very quickly discover what travels well, something which is great in the restaurant might not be suitable for an event somewhere else. “I’m doing a tiramisu for the gala. There are a lot of considerations when deciding what you’re going to serve. You have to think about what ingredients you can get, what equipment is available, and how much time and space you will have. You wouldn’t do a soufflé for 250 people - that would be culinary suicide. You have to make it both as good and as practical as possible, and it has to be a dish that reflects your personality and style of food.” Tom Kerridge owns the gastropub The Hand and Flowers, the first ever pub to be awarded two Michelin stars: tom kerridge“I first heard about Farm Africa through a conversation with Ashley, and his huge involvement with the charity is well known across the industry. I’ve known him personally from a long, long way back, right to when he was a young lad at The Fat Duck, and when he asked me if I wanted to get involved in the gala, I told him I was happy to. “We have very high standards and have worked very hard to get to the point in the industry where we are recognised.  With that recognition brings consumers and it is fantastic that we can use our profiles as chefs for a good cause. It’s about remembering how lucky you are and using your skill set to help others - doing the gala is great opportunity to give something back. “I’m serving a lamb shepherd’s pie at the dinner, something that will be homely and hearty but done with finesse and quality. When choosing a dish to serve at an event like this, the hardest thing is finding something that showcases your style and which you are able to serve on such a huge scale using a kitchen that isn’t yours. “The biggest challenge is getting everything cooked at the right time, you want it served perfectly so the temperature is hot enough and it hasn’t turned cold or soggy. But I’m not worried, I know it will all be alright on the night!”  

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 21st April 2016

Farm Africa: Michelin-starred chefs share top tips for charity gala