Flying the flag for British pork at Tuddenham Mill

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 23rd April 2013
Suffolk’s Tuddenham Mill recently hosted the eighth of Dingley Dell’s ‘Flying Visits’, a round up of some of the best young chefs in the UK to celebrate the goodness of Dingley Dell farm’s Freedom Food approved British pork. The Staff Canteen’s feature’s editor Lee Williams was invited to attend. If you are invited to three AA rosette Tuddenham Mill to eat Paul Foster’s stunning food, you say “yes” pretty smartish. If he throws in a personal foraging walk and pig butchery demo, you say yes so quickly it’s a little bit embarrassing. However if you are invited to Tuddenham Mill to eat a five-course pork dinner with each course cooked by a different young star of the catering world including Mark Poynton of Alimentum, Matt Gillan of The Pass, Eric Snaith of Titchwell Manor, Ben Spalding and Paul Foster himself, you begin to wonder what you have done to earn such good karma, and how long it can last before things start to go wrong. It was with this half-stunned sense of gratitude that I travelled up the M11 to deepest Suffolk to visit the renowned Tuddenham Mill hotel and restaurant. Housed in an old water mill, the building has been in existence for around 1,000 years, even getting a mention in the Domesday Book, the Michelin Guide of its time… kind of. The current incarnation, owned and sympathetically refurbished by Angellus Hotels, has kept the giant water wheel of the original mill and the looming, slightly forbidding presence of the 53-foot chimney stack. It straddles Tuddenham Mill Stream and overlooks picturesque water meadows that shelter wildlife such as herons and otters as well as many of the wild plants that wind up on Paul Foster’s menus. It was in these water meadows that the day began with a foraging walk led by Jon Rose of Botanica, a nursery specialising in rare English-grown plants from nearby Woodbridge. Jon arrived brandishing a big clump of Alexanders, a fragrant smelling relative of celery that would later feature as one of the canapés. Jon led us along the river and around the meadows pointing out the various wild titbits ranging from the well-known (dandelions) to the more obscure (phragmites – a type of reed from which sugar can be extracted).  Combining a stroll in the country with talking about food has an odd way of working up an appetite so luckily canapés were waiting for us back at the mill including those Alexanders with chickpeas and a moreish salty combination of pork scratchings and onion mayo served on gnarled wooden logs. We tucked into these as butcher, Tom Roberts, took us through a butchery demo in which he carved up a whole Dingley Dell pig. Tom, a butcher and sales manager for meat suppliers, Direct Meats, displayed some choice cuts of shoulder and belly as well as lesser-known cuts like rib eye. Finally It was time for dinner which was a good thing or else the kitchen might have been physically stormed by several dozen bezerk foodies, whipped into a frenzy of hunger by talks, titbits and look-but-don’t-touch butchery demos. Each of the chefs was responsible for a course using pork from event holders Dingley Dell, a local Suffolk farm and RSPCA Freedom Foods member committed to clear local provenance and animal welfare. First up was Mark Poynton, Michelin-starred chef of Alimentum, with a starter of pork liver, trotter and hazelnuts, followed by Eric Snaith of Norfolk’s three-rosette Titchwell Manor who cooked a main of BBQ shoulder, head fritter, fresh kimchi, turnip and ham dashi. Next was Ben Spalding formerly of Roganic and John Salt. Ben cooked pork belly flavoured with spicy chocolate ketchup, bonfire salt, orzo grains and natural yogurt. Tuddenham Mill’s own Paul Foster provided the fourth course with poached shoulder, pig face hash, broccoli, elderflower, pickled onions, crispy millet and meadow leaves. Finally, the man tasked with the unenviable job of capping off this outrush of porky creativity with a suitable dessert was Matt Gillan of Michelin-starred The Pass in Sussex. Matt provided a porky pud entitled ‘Like a pig in…’ displaying perhaps the use of humour that he has learnt from his time on the Great British Menu. They were five wonderful courses, each with a little surprise of their own but the overall highlight for me would have to be Ben Spalding’s delicious dark sticky pork belly, followed closely by Matt Gillan’s cheeky dessert and with Eric Snaith’s head fritter as the most mind-blowing single item. All in all though it was the combination and interplay between the different techniques and uses of ingredient from five of Britain’s most talented young chefs that was the overall treat in a night of treats – the uber-treat if you like. As Paul Foster said: “It’s good to get a group of chefs around the same age group and mind-set all together. I learn from their dishes and they learn from what we do. I’ve seen some interesting stuff today that I never would have thought of.” It was a night of sharing ideas and experiences and the odd alcoholic beverage inside the kitchen as well as out. In general it was about as far from the traditional stereotype of the single, ego-driven testosterone-fuelled, hell-hot kitchen environment as you could get, something reflected by the fact that two students from the West Suffolk College heat of ‘A Passion to Inspire’ – a competition helping students in the catering industry – were invited into the kitchen to help. Reflecting on this, Alimentum’s Mark Poynton said: “We don’t get much time off so it’s nice to meet up with other chefs and try their food, to have a beer together and help Passion to Inspire at the same time. There’s no egos involved. We all get in there. We all help each other, help plate up, help send it out and help clean down.” Later, lying in bed with a belly full of top quality pork cooked by some of the most talented chefs around, with the sound of the wind in the trees and the river flowing past my window, I reflected that whatever arrows of bad fortune tomorrow might sling at me, for tonight at least my karma was in pretty good shape.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 23rd April 2013

Flying the flag for British pork at Tuddenham Mill