What inspired you to become a chef?
Food. I have always been greedy – I’m not much of a chef ‘s chef – more of a thoughtful foodie. I love ingredients, the way they speak to you, the way that the good stuff informs how and what you cook. My grandfather was a butcher and my mum always cooked, food has always been a big thing in my world.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
The constant sense of surprise – you never stop learning with food and it can take you anywhere – it’s certainly taken me to some interesting places, mentally and physically. The joy of discovery is the thing I think that keeps me engaged.
Paperwork – I was simply not designed to operate a spreadsheet. I hate accounting and on one level I am deeply upset by the idea that something as complex as food and environment can be reduced to numbers in little boxes.
What is your favourite game bird to cook at home?
That’s a question I get asked a lot! – well, very nearly – what I am most often asked is “What’s your favourite game bird” without the “at home” bit and I would usually answer with a top three – young grouse, teal and woodcock. But the “at home” qualifier changes things a little, we are big fans of pheasant in our house, we eat a lot of that along with a lot of pigeons and the odd wild duck or three. Pheasant seems to rule the roost though and in this instance I think its the diversity of dishes it lends itself to that makes it such a hit. Everything from curries and sausage rolls to dumplings, won tons, stews and roasts – everyone in the family loves it.
What is the most important thing to bear in mind when cooking game at home?
The same as when cooking anything at home – how can I best cook this, and how will it behave if I treat it in such and such a way…
What game in particular, benefits from hanging?
Good question, and not one that can be answered in a brief few lines!
Is there a particular game dish you serve regularly in your restaurant?
I often do pigeon smoked with hay in the summer –
served with a courgette salad and a raw tomato dressing.
You are cooking for a dinner party at home –
with game as the primary ingredient, what would you serve for starters and mains?
Totally depends on the time of year of course, but let’s say midwinter? If so then I would ideally serve: Smoked mallard, swede purée
Grouse won tons, soy dipping sauce
Pheasant and chestnut soup shots
Hare gnocci, butter sauce, winter cress
Pheasant escallop, romesco, dressed kale
Apple doughnuts, salt caramel ice cream, crab apple sauce
How would you describe what makes game different?
It’s real. The most common comparison between meats are pheasant and chicken. They’re both galliforms and bear a natural resemblance, but it’s a passing one. Even an old chicken that has lived a good life will be more tender and have more fat in it than the most pampered of pheasants. For me the more wild the game the better, but each game bird or animal you deal with in the kitchen will have a different story to tell and this will effect the outcome of your choices in the cookery. For example a hard shot cock bird in December will require utterly different cookery and process than a lightly shot November hen bird.
What is the best way of encouraging people to eat more game?
Serve it. Its that simple really. I also think we should add a levy to the cost of production for all low welfare meat to make it a comparable cost to game or high welfare farmed meat. Instead of making the good stuff seem expensive this would level the playing field and get the consumer ready to really engage with quality and flavour over cost. The levy could be used to pay for the onwards environmental damage caused by cheap meat production, or educational campaigns designed to highlight the advantages of lowering the amount of meat consumed. Less and better is the way forward, and good quality game has an important part to play in that future.
Is there any game you don’t – or wouldn’t – eat?
Nothing endangered obviously, but I eat more than most – although not technically game I eat rook and squirr
The Country Food Trust
The Country Food Trust has done some sterling work feeding over 130,000 people in need using lean, free range British game meat in the last few years. Getting the charity moving forward efficiently has been a great challenge to be involved with, and assisting with recipe development for our all new Country Curry has been rewarding if at times frustrating. We have been attempting to offset the effect of the ultra long and slow cooking process that renders the pouches of pre made curry and casserole almost invincible but yet plays merry hell with the flavour components within the curry. This, has resulted in a lot of second guessing to get the product closer to the original idea.
Along with my input the last 18 months has seen a real injection of assistance from new and existing trustees – a growing group of people committed to making this charity prosper with each bringing their own valuable skills to the table. A new major project this year is the trialling of the Country Food Trust Initiative (CFTI) where shoots can donate their birds along with a small fee for processing and they will end up, skinned, diced or minced at a local charity kitchen via a local game dealer. This initiative is helping to feed more people more quickly and also support the game dealer trade.
As part of this I have set up a project to help the cooks in the charity kitchens to feel inspired to use the game meat as best they can with their limited resources. The wonderful world renowned food photographer James Murphy and his diligent team have donated their time to photograph the dishes that a whole raft of well known chefs are submitting in support for the project. So far we have had submissions or agreement to submit from Brian Turner, Mark Hix, José Suto, Rachel Green, Juanita Hennessey, James Martin and many more besides. Momentum is growing and soon we will have enough recipes and photographs to keep even the most busy charity kitchens engaged and interested. We are all very grateful for the support of these well know foodies, and we hope that their numbers will continue to grow as the project gathers momentum.
All the chefs submitting recipes have attempted to select ingredients that we think are likely to make an appearance at a food bank/charity kitchen. That has made this an interesting brief as obviously most fresh herbs are out, as are many other beloved staples of the chefs kitchen.
These recipes are my basic submissions for the project but we will be publishing all those recipes donated by these charitable chefs on the charity website very soon (www.countryfoodtrust.org) and you can also use the site to donate money, find out more and even make purchases of our products on the basis that each one we sell will help to feed more people in need of food.