Culinary Classroom – Meat-Free Workshop at Reynolds
The focus of the second session was to highlight the importance of an often over-looked menu element; good old fruit & veg. We were kindly hosted by Reynolds, one of the leading fresh fruit and vegetable suppliers and wholesalers in the UK in their wonderfully appointed development kitchen at their Head Office in Waltham Cross.
Taking the lead on the day was Ian Nottage, Reynolds’ Chef Director and Diane Camp, a finalist in the 2014 National Chef of the Year competition and Reynolds’ Development Chef. It’s a wonderful sign of Servest’s and Reynolds’ continued partnership that Reynolds were willing to aid and assist in the development of Servest’s chefs.
Seeing as the day began in a kitchen, it’s probably little surprise that it started with breakfast. A wonderfully vibrant selection of fresh fruit (a simple mango and lime salad being my favourite) was paired with traditional bacon rolls. It was a perfect energiser to what would be a busy and fascinating day.
The first activity was to guess the mystery fruit and vegetables. Those of you familiar with chow chow, lotus root and shiso leaves would have been in good stead, but many of the selections would have flummoxed even the most experienced of chefs. Matt Vernon, who works on Servest’s Bosch contract, got an extremely respectable 8/11 and walked away with a delicious-looking prize basket. Ian Nottage followed up by going through the various ingredients, giving samples to taste and suggesting exciting menu ideas.
The Culinary Classroom attendees were then given a guided tour of the warehouse floor, where they were able to get inspiration from the vast array of produce stored on site. Rhys Richardson, Servest Development Chef, was especially enamoured with the broad selection of tomatoes on offer. The Culinary Classroom chefs were really excited to be able to inspect the produce and quickly realised that menu ideas were lurking round every corner.
Ian then took the group through a practical session explaining the importance of well-stored produce and also the impact of different factors on flavour. The difference in taste between a cold tomato from the fridge and one at room temperature was staggering, with the increase in temperature bringing a vastly improved flavour. Equally interesting was the chance to taste a raspberry that had been stored next to some garlic, not an experience many people were keen to repeat!
Next on the agenda was a working lunch, where the Chefs engaged in ‘Produce Lotto’. They were divided into groups, with each group randomly selecting a card with a specific vegetable on it. The task was to come up with exciting menu ideas where the vegetable was the main ingredient. Lots of great ideas came out of this session, such as; Beetroot Panna Cotta and Parsnip & Dolcelatte Soufflé.
The afternoon session brought everything together, with Diane taking the lead and cooking up some truly amazing meat-free dishes. She talked the group through her cauliflower couscous recipe and made a delicious curry served with taro root poppadums (taken from the mystery selection in the morning). The pièce de résistance was her pan-fried cauliflower ‘steak’ dish. The idea being to recreate the steak experience but using meat-free ingredients. A cauliflower ‘steak’ was pan-fried and served with a smoky cauliflower puree, the cauliflower couscous and Ian’s fantastically seasonal beetroot ketchup. It was an amazing dish that really drove home the point of the day; meat-free dishes deserve exactly the same attention as the rest of the menu.