Monkfish, Lamb, Monkfish, Lamb, The Road to Lyon Tasting at The Elephant

The  Staff Canteen

It's was quite a nervous moment, when Simon Hulstone asked if we'd like to offer a Bocuse tasting to The Staff Canteen members, I say nervous, as perhaps selfishly you think, what happens if we can't fill the event and that is, therefore, going to look really bad on the part of The Staff Canteen, but also on perhaps Simon confidence, at a time when he and the team are really flat out with work, run throughs and last minute preparation.

I certainly didn't want to add more work, or let him down. It's really been a great privilege to support Simon, and the team, and be part of the joined up approach and campaign to raise the profile of the UK Team. Michelle at Koyah PR has done an outstanding job in ensuring that the UK Team has gained more exposure and raised very important and necessary funding needed to compete at this world renowned event, under the banner of a true French gastronomic legend Mr Paul Bocuse.

Having been asked to create the video petition for the team, which was tasked to raise awareness and show the support  from across the hospitality sector, and of course with Chefs, in rich media format. Loosely based around the success of our Featured Chefs, filming both Marco and Albert Roux was in my opinion both a great privilege, but also a huge marker set down to raise the profile here in the UK, the words and comments of Albert Roux, I'm sure I don't need to remind you, a French man, yet delivered with such passion and support for the UK, yet the frustration at the lack of support for the UK, was very evident in his voice. The video was of course further supported through Heston, and Ashley who I know has been a key figure in Simon's planning, ideas and approach to the competition, Ashley has worked really closely with Simon on a number of key elements.

The major trade have also played a key roles in supporting and raising the awareness of Simon, Nick and Jordan, the team, and the competition as a whole, The Caterer, of course, also had a "Chef Eat Outs" on the Thursday (the day before The Staff Canteen were due to visit). So yes I was more than nervous and worried, stomach churning, as I heard myself say "No problem Simon leave it with me, no I understand that you want chefs to critic it, yes of course we can be there on 14th January 1.00pm that's fine leave it with me." So gulp, what to do? The first thing is to create a news article, and post it pretty damn quick on The Staff Canteen, and communicate it through the various social networking channels that have become part of the standard communication tool - Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn So I type we proof read (not me of course!) and add images to the text, that great Three lions poster, we publish and we notify members, and then quickly we tweet, we facebook share, LinkedIn share, and then all of sudden a horrid silence. The phone, the phone, right who will go, oh bloody hell it's on a Friday, who's idea was that, how many chefs are going to get a Friday off, oh bugger, why did I agree to do this..... Panic large!

And then in the bottom of my screen appears that all to familiar icon, "You have a new messages" double clicking the inbox I can see that I've two private message, probably one of the members missing Kudos no doubt! you know how competitive they are!! But no wait - two of our Cornish members have read the post and hey presto that's three places filled. So I phone my Nan and tell her sadly that she won't be needed...... Well everyone needs a plan B surely!? Now Torquay - lets be honest is a pain in the arse to get to, so my thoughts are that Londoners are going to struggle, so thinking on my feet, I know that Cornwall is closed in January, and it's fairly close to Devon (in more ways than one - they have some strange customs also)

So e-mails to Paul Ainsworth and Nathan Outlaw, are returned very quickly, with positive responses that's five - I'm half way there. Chris and James Tanner both follow after a flurry of direct messages and interruptions into Chris and his family's skiing holiday. Chris is pretty sure that James will come also, bloody hell that seven. Next on my hit list is Richard Hunt Executive Chef of The Grand Hotel in Torquay, he has the closest distance to travel, and could actually walk, around from the Grand, yes he's coming that's eight, so with me and plus one we are full brilliant. Everything is confirmed everyone is to be there by 12.15, as Simon and the team, are running this under exact competition timing he serves at 1.00pm, with the main course at 1.35pm on the button, so I hope 12.15pm leaves us enough time in case anyone is late, and we can meet and greet, everyone has a beer and it's lunch, prefect a plan. I check, with Simon, he's happy that people can enter the kitchen, and talk with him, and get a understanding of what it's like and to see the food that is being prepared. He asks me if Chris Eden, can attend, Chris is the Chef from a great property in Cornwall, Driftwood, "Yes of course" I say just as long as he (Simon) is comfortable, as originally he mentioned 10.

Simon was, so we are eleven even better! We arrive at 12.15 bang on time, and we are the last ones there, well last except Paul Ainsworth, who is literately pulling up the same time as us. What's this 10 chefs all ahead of time surely not, this is unheard of. The kitchen is a hive of activity, Simon and Jordan seem fairly calm, most of the activity is centred around talking with Simon, the do's the don'ts and a general request for Bocuse understanding, what is the competition  really all about? At this point, we are joined by two unexpected (on my part) yet very welcome guests - Tom and Beth Kerridge from the Hand and Flowers fame. Simon, Tom, Nathan and Beth had all been at Restaurant Angélique around the bay and behind the hill in Dartmouth, as guests of Alan Murchison at the opening and naming of the former New Angel.

At this point, Nick Vadis invites us all to sitdown, and offers a detailed brief into the competition and it's format. Many of the Chefs around the table are very well practiced in competitions - Great British menus, Salons and national events, but I genuinely don't think that many will have ever experienced anything quite like the Bocuse. Nick's comments are really valuable, and it's at this point that you realise, even with key support from business, still just how far we are behind the likes of Sweden, Denmark, America is just a different ball park, (yes the pun was intended) we listen to Nick, no stranger himself to competitions, who is begging and borrowing and calling in every favour he can to allow Simon's focus to be on cooking. It's been reported that many countries have ploughed a vast financial figure into sponsorship, into removing their candidate from his work place to solely focus on the competition and to practice, practice and practice again.

Nick explains how the judging works, the number of judges, the marking and who makes up the judges, which for the UK is Brian Turner. He goes on to explain his role, both before and during the competition, which again is hugely valuable information, and serves as a great source of information to us all. It's almost time for the starter, no I'm not going into detail on the food, for obvious reasons, but of course it's no secret that it's Monkfish to start and Lamb as a main course, after all those of you that follow Simon on Twitter, will have read his Monkfish Lamb post Just as the competition would dictate Simon, and Jordan, plate and arrange the Monkfish and garnish, of which there must be three, all on the presentation platter, this is then handed over to a team of foreign waiters on the day, who parade the work past the judges to a presentation table for the team to then dismantle and to plate, with this being served then to the judges. The team are still working on some of the display elements that will only further improve the presentation of the platter, offering more height through elevation of the garnishes - Nick explains.

You can practice until the cows (or sheep I guess in this case) come home, and I guess become robotic in your approach, and here is where I feel Simon has a huge advantage, he's a great Chef, and a very good competition chef, but also add into that culinary mix the head of a business man who runs his owns business as a tight ship, he understands that waste is cost, and by using and incorporating some of less fashionable items, you get some great cheffy touches, it's a real chefs treat in some of his garnish and extras. I think that it is safe to say, that despite the array of Michelin starred chefs around that table no one was expecting anything quite like what they had seen being served in front of them, this was almost cold buffet static display, served hot, the small intricate - almost ornate work that goes into the garnish is staggering, this is just so far removed from what the chefs around the table, and Simon, would serve in their restaurants, but that Chefs, is even in my limited knowledge, is very much Bocuse. Tom Kerridge, at this point, is raving about a Monkfish garnish that has been inspired by Heston, it did taste bloody good.

Readers whilst I bang on about presentation, and garnish, please do not be drawn to think that this is a visual exercise it is most definitely not, this very much is, of course, about taste and marrying those highly visual displays with flavour combinations that work, showing skill and understanding. The main item, be that either Monkfish or lamb must work with the chosen garnishs because of time it must be practical, and achievable, even with one hundred run throughs, it's not until you actually get into your kitchen in Lyon, see the crowd and the nerves kick in that you can really understand what it must be like, so somehow you have to build that unkown element into your planning. On to the main then, we know it's lamb, no secrets there, Simon and Nick talk us through how visually it will look in Lyon, they can't carry this into the room, as it won't fit through the restaurant door...Ooops thankfully no doors in Lyon!!!!

Simon, again, has brought his skill as a chef, restaurateur and business man into this dish, he adds some great chefffy touches here again - another great tasting added extra in this one for the judges. It's a great dish, which is full of flavour, I make those comments not as any great reviewer or restaurant critic, but they simply reflect the feedback, and open comments made by some of the UK's top chefs around the table on that day. I've said this before, and at the risk of repeating myself, I think everyone was completely surprised again, by the detail of the presentation that went into the main course, some truly classical flavour combinations that have stood the test of time appear with the lamb, and why not? Nick Vadis makes up the number 14 on the table and is on hand to answer a range of questions, which come from all angles across the table, and at this point, we are joined by Simon.

In Simon, Nick and Jordan, and let's not forget Jordan, a young man, shy (sorry Jordan) who came into this competition late, but rightly so, working with Simon, means that he's on hand to help and work with Simon. Whilst Simon has done an outstanding job in ensuring that the profile of the competition is raised, and by that it means often, he is associated with competition, but equally Simon is very quick to acknowledge the role of Jordan, who is, of course , putting in the same hours, effort and dedication as Simon, however, unlike Simon, Jordan, is far less versed in competitions, of course for Simon Trinkett Hulstone, as we all know is very much the seasoned professional.

So Jordan, is not, he joined the team, well into their planning stages for Geneva and had to hit the ground running, and he's now in the thick of the action, working in what is the highest profile culinary competition in the world. In Simon, Nick, and Jordan, we have a real chance, of course with support and exposure, comes raised expectation and the hopes of the UK culinary nation, can I'm sure, rest very heavy across those three sets of shoulders - at times it is a two edged sword, however I believe, that this time the UK is better placed than ever before, and we should, as chefs, be proud of these three guys, we should do whatever we can to show our support for the team - if you haven't signed the petitioned yet, why not? Add the link to your facebook page, tweet it, get your team, your managers, the restaurant, their team, all to sign the petition, and in doing so, you're exposing this competition to a wider audience, which has to be a good thing for chefs.

I want to end by thanking Simon and Katy for an outstanding lunch, and to thank all the Chefs and guests that turned up. Tom Kerridge Beth Kerridge Chris Tanner James Tanner Richard Hunt Paul Ainsworth Nathan Outlaw Adrian Oliver Chris Eden Phil Thomas Sylvia Thomas Thank you and good luck Team UK!


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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th January 2011

Monkfish, Lamb, Monkfish, Lamb, The Road to Lyon Tasting at The Elephant