David Swann, Executive Chef, Food Story

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 14th February 2017

David Swann is the executive chef of Food Story – a catering company specialising in Kosher cuisine. Training under TV chef and personality, Heston Blumenthal, who's restaurant The Fat Duck recently regained its three stars in the Michelin Guide UK, David has worked with a number of high profile chefs throughout his career.

Whilst looking to set up his own healthy fast food business, David was head hunted by Food Story to help develop specialised kosher food for a range of events and occasions. David’s job is to create new and innovative meals for the Jewish market while abiding by the strict law of Kashrut which forbids a range of foods. Alongside working for Food Story David is also now a partner in Flavour Feed – a flavour trends business.

The Staff Canteen caught up with David to find out what it was like working with Heston, the restrictions to the kosher food chain and the challenges faced in operating a completely dairy free ‘meaty kitchen’.

sticky short rib of beef truffle, pommes, puree, confit, heritage, carrot, pulled beef, cigarillo and truffle jus

sticky short rib of beef

How did you get into the industry?

I was inspired from baking fairy cakes with my nan and early TV programs like Rick Stein, Ken Hom and Gary Rhodes. I have been lucky enough to work with all three of these and they still remain to be heroes of mine and some of the best chefs to have had TV shows prior to Jamie Oliver.

How did you become a development chef?

I was head hunted at a time that I wanted to start my own healthy fast food business. Funding wasn’t quite happening and I knew an opportunity to work at M&S would build on my credibility, so ultimately it was a stepping stone in search of investment! I had always had aspirations to work for M&S or Waitrose, having had experience with Heston demonstrating to some of these companies. So timing worked very well and it was a great experience.

What is it about being a development chef that you enjoy?

I think the continual search of perfection, even though nothing can ever be perfect, you have to be your own biggest critic and continually look to be better.

You started off working with Heston Blumenthal at the Fat Duck, what was that like?

Incredible, he still remains to be the most inspiring person I have worked with throughout my career. I was there in the good days, we went to the gym together every day, me, Heston, Ashley Palmer- Watts and Garrey Dawson. Heston taught me to question everything, something that is so important in our industry, food should be about constant evolvement, as science, technology and knowledge develops so should we.

>>> Read: Three stars for the Fat Duck plus two stars for Raby Hunt in the Michelin Guide UK 2017

Can you tell us a little more about Food Story

We are a niche business, in a niche market. Kosher is super specialist and restrictive. We are introducing new foods and style. It has been, and remains to be, a slow process, but worthwhile and the response and feedback is always positive. The Jewish market are very passionate about good food and really know their stuff. There are around 52 kosher caterers under the London Beth Din (the kashrut authority that provides our kosher supervison) which all vary in price & quality.

Off the menu

London gin cured salmon, apple, fennel & tarragon  

Beef carpaccio, heritage beetroot tartare, wild rocket and lovage oil (supplement – iced horesreadish vodka shot)

Mains

Duo of lamb, burnt ketchup, sweet onions, fondant potato & salsa verde

Sweet soy glazed rib of beef, Asian carrots, matchstick potato, wafu dressing

Desserts

Chocolate delice, salted caramel & popcorn parfait

Chilled chocolate rice pudding, vanilla strawberries & tonka spiced biscuit

How did you come to be involved with Food Story?

I was asked to come in and asses the business by Lucy Gemmell (founder of Rhubarb). At the time it was run by Sobell catering and my advice was to close the business, it was filthy and beyond help. The three new owners, or as I call them, the three wise men, recognised the potential in the market and convinced me to stick around to change everything and give it a try. Six months later with new menus and a whole new warehouse, along came Matt Rickard (our MD) and a couple of months later, we relaunched as Food Story.

Can you tell us more about kosher cuisine?

We work under kosher supervision provided by the KLBD (The London Beth Din). The KLBD are the council or board who regulate the standards of kosher supervision, supervise our food preparation in our kitchen and at events.

It’s common knowledge that we operate a pork free, shellfish free kitchen but the kosher guidance and supervision is a little bit more complex than that.

We operate a ‘meaty kitchen’ which is totally dairy free by virtue of kosher regulation. Kitchens and equipment is either ‘meaty’ or ‘milky’ – never mixed. Most of our supply chain has to be certified. Most salads, vegetables and fruits have to be washed and inspected whilst others are considered impossible to inspect and therefore not allowed in the kitchen i.e asparagus, raspberries, kale, etc. All fish must be received with scales on and ovens and stoves must be lit by the shomer (someone provided by the KLBD to supervise on a daily basis). Under kosher guidance only a Jew can cook for a Jew so with the Shomers lighting the stoves they are empowering us to cook for the Jewish community.

The supply chain restricts us and we don’t readily have the choice of products and suppliers that I am used to but that doesn’t stop us seeking the best. Being dairy free is a challenge, particularly with desserts, and the lack of gelatine in the kitchen means we’ve had to work hard at finding the best alternatives, or more accurately, to work out the best blend of alternatives. This is probably the hardest area to be innovative with.

Meat supply is also an interesting subject – we are restricted to the kosher supply chain, we have fewer cuts of meat available to us and the choice, the provenance and quality is limited.

Is there a big demand for kosher cooking in the UK?

There is, surprisingly the Kosher market host a lot of events, every teenager has a Bar/Batmizvah at their coming of age which is 13 for boys and 12 for girls, so these are huge celebrations for families and the community, as are weddings. On top of this with charity being so important in the community there are many fund raising events which keep us busy. Unless we are catering an intimate dinner in a private home, most events tend to be 250 – 500 guests, so its large scale.

Coconut and yuzu panna cotta
Coconut and yuzu panna cotta

Where do you find inspiration for your dishes?

Everywhere! You have to be open minded, we eat out a lot, social media is great and I am also a partner in a Flavour Trends business, Flavour Feed, so I am fortunate to have this team and amazing tool to work with. At Food Story we develop our food with current and future trends and then have to consider what we can produce for 300 on a weekly basis and the logistics around this, sometimes sourcing ingredients is the hardest part.

Do you find it difficult abiding by the rules of kashrut?

It’s a big challenge, but one we are happy to work with. Sometimes it’s frustrating, but two and a half years later I am used to the restrictions, the lack of dairy, gelatine, pork and shellfish.

How do you keep the dishes new and modern?

Continuous improvement and Flavour Feed! We always try to be better day after day, like most chefs in the industry.

What’s next for the future? Any plans to expand?

Well, we are always exploring new opportunities from a restaurant, to retail production, home deliveries and more. There’s a lot of interest in what we are doing, we’ve got three fantastic entrepreneurial owners. There are a few irons in the fire right now so let’s see where the future takes us!

>>> Read more in the Menu Watch series here

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 14th February 2017

David Swann, Executive Chef, Food Story