Tag Archives: Britains Best Dish

….and that was 2011: a review of our supper club year

Now that the dust has settled on Christmas and I’ve had time to sit back and think about the past year, I’ve realised just how much we’ve achieved….and wow its been a real rollercoaster! I thought I’d share a few of the many high’s (and far less low’s) of 2011 with you.

For those in the know we’ve come a long way in a short space of time…there can’t be many supper clubbers with such humble beginnings….I was made redundant, my money had run out and I was signing on…with fifteen job rejections, a mortgage to pay, two kids and a marriage that was under increasing pressure as the reality of living on one salary took its toll it was time to do something. Things were getting really tough and I was pretty down. But then I had this mad idea. “Let’s set up a supper club, there are lots of people doing it now in London”…I knew we could do it and I thought it would be fun at least while I was searching for a ‘proper’ job. The family went along with it and so I chucked the last of my cash and a great deal of dole money into funding and setting up the first Welsh supper club. We scoured charity shops and boot fairs to find plates and dishes as enthusiastically as I put my creative energy and love of writing into this blog. It was a risk but I had little left to lose. I didn’t know if it would work up here in the mountains of Wales, if anyone would read my work or come and eat my food so I gave it a year. That was October 2009 and a year on there was no going back.

Two things happened at the end of 2010 that made me carry on. First Rachel’s dairy emailed me and asked me to sample and write about some of their products; that made me realise that people were actually reading my blog and second ITV contacted me and asked if I would consider being part of Britain’s Best Dish.

2011 began with a whirlwind of auditions and TV filming. Had I anticipated how far I would get in the competition I might have attempted to cook something more exciting than a trifle! But it was amazing to win for Wales and a huge amount of fun. I met some inspiring people (Sarah of Food for Think, Julie who went on to start her own supper club the Raspberry bush supper club in Blaenavon and of course Conor the 14-year-old lad who eventually won over all). At the same time I started a Creative writing MA at Kingston University but as the success of supper club grew and the lack of academic jobs remained I took another bold step and registered as self-employed, this took my catering to a business level. Helped by a small business grant from Menter a Busness and financial help from an old and good friend (you know who you are) I had enough to buy basic equipment, stock and insurance and so I was away!

In between all of this….

the local produce market committee asked me to join them in establishing a monthly market for my town Bethesda (Gwynedd) and to run a pop-up cafe; both have been a roaring success and huge amounts of fun.

I’ve made jam and chutney by the vat-full and people have bought it and come back for more.

I’ve taken our supper club from being a monthly hit and miss dinner to being fully booked a month in advance, usually with a waiting list.

and I’ve cooked some lovely food, found and developed new recipes and surprised myself a lot!

Still our financial fortunes were not great…there were times I had to borrow money from family and friends just to fund supper club and I still had to cancel occasional dates due to low-interest and lack of money. These days we are so well established this no longer happens. I have also built great business relationships and trust with most of our local producers.

I have cooked for some lovely, wonderful people and have forged great friendships (including lots of the wonderful local producers that supply the most amazing produce) and supper club retains the same buzz and excitement it did when I began. I have worked with some wonderful local people…Gemma Brook, designer of my jam jar labels and business cards, she faultlessly transferred my ideas on to a jam label; Sophia Ingham of Phia designs for her wonderful supply of beautiful organic cotton table linen, aprons, bunting etc. and for standing in as waitress and jam seller when we need an extra pair of hands; Sean McClearn for chatting up the local ladies who bought jam in response and the small posse of teenage waitresses that are so keen (Rosie McClearn, Elin Cain and all the others that have helped out).

The summer arrived and through Ellie of salad club I got the opportunity to cook for the wonderful crew and production team at the Green Man festival. I met Delyth from Calon y Gegin in Cardiff. She contacted me when she was setting up her supper club so it was a chance to meet in person and work together. It was hard. Sixteen hours a day of flat-out cooking and a very steep learning curve but it was also one of the best months of my life despite the strain it put on me and the family. It was also the first time I’d paid myself properly since going self-employed so that was a major plus!

This was closely followed by more festival catering, this time Harvest at Jimmy’s where I finally met Ellie and Rosie of salad club after two years of email communication. They were the loveliest people to work with and we had a whale of a time. I also met some of my foodie hero’s; Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Stevie Parle and Jay Rayner.

Conwy Feast invited me to cook up a ‘supper club’  alongside accomplished chef Jimmy Williams. It was amazing to cook on the same bill as Bryn Williams, michelin starred chef Bryan Williams and Aled Williams from Cennin (above MooBaaOink). I also met Morfudd Richards and Sian Lloyd and made lots of new friends and fans, including twitter follows from some of my musician hero’s.

I catered for my first wedding and business lunch, both nerve-wracking and hard work but enjoyable and successful

I finished my creative writing MA with a distinction and hopefully my writing has improved as a result.

I finished the year with a nomination for the Daily Post food hero 2011 and although I didn’t win it was still a great honour to be held in the same esteem as the other amazing producers up for nomination and perhaps a fitting end to a year of hard work. The runners-up, Rhyd y Delyn cheese, Helen Holland from Mon ar Lwy ice cream and the clear winner MooBaaOink in Beaumaris were all totally deserving. They too work damn hard to make the best.

…..and on to 2012. What next you may ask. There are plans….lots of them. I want to write more, visit more people to see what they producing and am planning lots of collaboration! There are new supper club dates with a more formal set-up. We will be doing one weekend on and one-off with Friday and Saturday night dinners. I also have four weddings in my diary during the summer months and who knows what else!

For Christmas I was given a little note-book for writing down my recipes! Hopefully this also marks the beginning of what might eventually become a book on modern seasonal Welsh food (for all the family). All I need now is a decent camera and to remember to take some photos!

Also I’d love it if more readers posted their comments on this blog…a little bit of feedback from readers goes a long way 🙂

So a happy new year to you all and I hope it is fantastic, amazing and prosperous. Maybe I will see one or two of you around the supper club table

Much love

Denise & co xxxxx

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The famous ‘Tipsy Laird’ trifle and my Britains Best Dish experience

Tipsy Laird

Although I’ve mentioned it in passing I haven’t actually written about my experiences on this years Britain’s Best Dish. Now that I’m able to, I though I’d just let you know how it all came about.

I’d never watched the show before (I don’t watch TV at all really) so didn’t know much about it. I started doing a bit of research when in November, completely out of the blue, I received an email from Matt Tiller, an ITV researcher, asking if I had considered submitting a recipe for my dish for the new series.

I spent about a week thinking about it and discussing it with family and eventualy decided that the worst that could happen would be that they weren’t interested in me. So after some thought about what would be the perfect British dish, I sent them two recipes that I’d created myself for supper club, and that I knew had gone down well; a main course of Welsh Black beef and wild mushroom pudding with mashed potato and leeks and stir fried spring greens and my second choice recipe, the ‘Tipsy Laird’ trifle (click here for the recipe).

A week or two later I received another email inviting me to audition. I made both dishes, which I then had to try to get to Manchester in one piece. (I should have been in the Cardiff auditions but Manchester was closer). The main course looked slightly worse for wear but the trifle did very well and it was that dish that appeared to catch the eye of the producers. The day was great fun, slightly frantic and it was lovely to meet other enthusiastic cooks, a couple of whom I saw on the show later on.

I returned home to await their decision. They said they would tell us by the end of the week and when I didn’t hear anything I presumed I hadn’t been picked. On Monday morning I received the call to say I was on. I was extremely excited, didn’t know what to expect, but couldn’t wait!

Filming began on the 4th March, so off I trekked to London, expenses paid, on what turned out to be the beginning of a mini-adventure. Cooking in front of so many cameras was so nerve-wracking! My hands consistently shook, I couldn’t separate my eggs, and we had to listen to the judges discussing us!! It was a 12 hour day and by the time the results were due to be announced I was so exhausted I felt quite faint. I was over the moon when they chose me and getting the vote from Michelin starred chefs and critics meant everything to me!

A week and a half later I was back off to film the final. This time I was less nervous about the cameras and more nervous about living up to my last effort. I was more relaxed, a bit blase and then screwed up my custard in my panic…it didn’t set, I hadn’t cooked it out for long enough. I knew I’d screwed it up and thought I’d blown it. I didn’t think there was any chance I’d get chosen. When the (rather tasty himself)  Ed Baines, John Burton Race and Jilly Goolden gave me the unanimous vote again (as well as a very welcome £500) I was so keyed up I just cried! Idiot.

The national finals at Hackney Catering College brought the seven winners from all the regions together. There was more waiting round. I was tired, unwell and I’d lost my voice. Not a good start. I’d been in bed with flu for three days, only recovering sufficiently to have a small birthday celebration on Saturday, before heading off to London on the Sunday. I ate Vocalzone throat sweets all morning and they only brought my voice back enough for me to croak.

I found the experience tense and frustrating. I couldn’t talk without my throat and larynx hurting, I had John and Ed breathing down my neck the whole time watching me make my custard…which was FAR worse than the cameras and I had no sense of smell or taste. I didn’t taste my fruit, which was obviously a lot tarter than the previous two batches and even though Ed had assured me that there was nothing wrong with my custard, it was obviously not good enough for John!

My recipe barely changed throughout the programme….I left out the orange zest on the judges advice Ed asked me “what’s the zest for?”  “Err, to make it look pretty” I replied. “Fuck pretty” he said “if it’s not there for a reason, get rid of it” so I did. I replaced it with some roughly chopped candied peel. I also added another egg yolk to the custard and cut down the milk from 500ml to 400ml. I think with the benefit of hindsight I would also add a teaspoon of cornflour as well, just to increase the thickness and aid setting.

From the beginning I wondered how far I would get with a humble trifle. There isn’t much you can do to improve its appearance and all of its pleasures are hidden beneath that top layer of cream. When Sarah Kemp and Conor McClean went through I was disappointed, but not at all surprised. Their dishes looked fantastic and of course Conor went on to win it.  I had a feeling my journey was coming to an end and I was ready for it to do so. I’m proud of how well I did and of winning for Wales. When I sat and watched the final, not knowing who had won the whole thing I cried buckets again…Conor is a very talented lad at the beginning of his career and I’m glad he got the title.

Would I do it again? Well, you never know….

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Food the British Way

George Orwell once wrote “It will be seen that we [the British] have no cause to be ashamed of our cooking” *, but it seems to have taken about 50 years for us to actually realise this.

Over the past five to ten years Brits have started to realise that the produce on their own doorstep and the recipe books lining their shelves, passed down from parents and grandparents, (Mrs. Beeton, Good housekeeping etc) are just as good (if not better) than those in the ‘exotic’ cook books that stand next to them. Orwell decried the demise of good old British cooking when rationing was still in operation. He stated that as a country we did ourselves no favours with our lack of decent eateries serving traditional British food, but this was in the post-war era when Britain’s were becoming upwardly mobile and aspiring new and greater things.

The cold austerity of rationing was followed by a desire for the new and exotic. For the moneyed set, it was the French restaurant, offering ‘class and sophistication’, while the less well off, but similarly experimental, sought out the new influx of Greek, Chinese and Italian restaurants that were popping up on the High Street corners of our major cities, offering cosy niches and a taste of warmer climes.

Meanwhile, Orwell craved kippers, yorkshire pudding, muffins and crumpets, treacle tarts, Oxford marmalade and a variety of very traditional pickles and preserves.

British food hadn’t exactly disappeared, it was simply hidden behind closed doors, replaced on the high street by the new and exciting. British traditional food became the preserve of the poor working classes, while those that could afford it were looking for a new trend. Additionally the post-war period saw the American influence leave its mark in the form of fast food; burgers, milkshakes and fries hit the streets and so saw the dawning of a fast food generation.

Now as the young affluent middle classes begin to return to their roots, have children and hanker after the home comforts of their own childhood, there is a rediscovery of British traditions and a recognition that buying local and cooking fresh seasonal produce is better for  the pocket as well as the planet. It is a choice based on conscience as well as necessity in the current economic climate.

We are seeing more people choosing to eat ‘Modern British’, more restaurants fusing traditional dishes with diverse elements from other cultures, more growing our own produce and a greater celebration of what Britain has to offer.

This essay by Orwell was a major inspiration to me as I returned to cooking traditional British food, although like any cook I still love top experiment and make dishes from across the world. Over the years I have collected quite a few cookery books and plenty have simple British recipes much used in my kitchen.  My favourites are Hugh FW, Nigel Slater, Gordon Ramsey and of course Nigella’s cakes.  Two of my favourite books (which will be used for two very British secret suppers) are not by any well-known chefs but are simple reflections of British fare. The 1980’s book The Taste of Britain by Kim and Marc Millon, bought for me years ago by my rather eccentric uncle and Eating for Victory a stocking present from my hubby. A tongue in cheek gift due our skintness at the time and my assertion that we did actually live on war-time rations!! The former has been well used and I just love looking over the 80’s pictures and modifying some of the recipes for fantastically named dishes such as Tweed Kettle, Cruibins, London Particular, Bubble and squeak, Toad in the hole, Star gazey pie, Kentish Huffkins and my favourite Angels on Horseback. I’m sure there will be similar experiments with the latter when I get a minute.

Loving the pink 80's get up and budgie smugglers

All this reflection is down to the fact that I’m cooking for the new series of Britain’s Best Dish and of course having a show that celebrates British food is another testament to the Brits return to celebrating their own. As far as I’m concerned there’s no better British Dish than trifle and I hope my Scottish variation, Tipsy Laird, comes up trumps! It uses the best of my own local produce and fuses Scottish, Welsh and English elements…can’t get more traditional than that eh?

* George Orwell Shooting an Elephant and other essays (2003) Penguin Books

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Exciting news about a TV appearance and a quick menu update for a Valentines dinner on the 12th February

I’m pleased, excited and just a little bit embarressed to report that I have been picked to appear on ITV’s new series of Britain’s Best Dish. They loved my focus on local food and producers and really liked my version of the Scottish trifle ‘Tipsy Laird’ so in a couple of weeks time I will be off to cook for the show!

In the mean time though there are secret suppers to prepare and what better way to ward off the late winter blues whilst wooing your beloved than to share an evening of tastebud teasing delights, hopefully with an exotic kick!

On the 12th I hope to tempt with Kir Royale and smoked salmon blini’s (fast becoming a standard introduction to every celebratory meal)

Then bring comfort with a rich, seasonal flavoursome carrot and leek soup with thyme,

Followed with a tantalisingly rich dark chicken mole (or vegetarian mole) with corn tortillas and winter salsa

then prepare to be seduced with a zingy blackcurrant Champagne sorbet.

and if this does not satiate your palate then we will conclude with a selection of cheese, some rich aromatic coffee and dark, delectable chocolate ganache truffles….

tempted?

To save a place email moelfabansecretsupperclub@live.co.uk

text 07775828768 or send us a message on facebook

Denise x

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