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After some happy times working together in the kitchen in years gone by, I catch up again with my friends at THE BRITISH LARDER to talk about our shared love of food, that first trip to Ibiza and much, much more…
The British Larder was created by Madalene Bonvini-Hamel and Ross Pike. Originally a recipe diary, The British Larder has grown into something much bigger encompassing food consultancy, food photography, food safaris, retail products and much more. Madalene and Ross were often asked for recipes or recommendations, so the foodie duo decided to create a place where they could share their culinary knowledge and write about the food they love and their discoveries…from new ingredients, products and gadgets to restaurants, chefs and cookbooks.
2010 saw the opening of The British Larder gastro pub in Suffolk. Working closely with local farmers and producers, the pub was hugely successful, a staple of The Good Food Guide and The Michelin Pub Guide and was the recipient of a host of awards. It was also voted one of the best ethical restaurants by Observer Food Monthly, one of the best places for Sunday lunch by The Times and one of best gastro pubs in Britain by The Telegraph.
The beginnings of your incredible food journey began in Ibiza where you spent a month staying at a campsite which helped you travel around Europe. What are your food memories from that trip?
Maddy – This was before I met Ross, a very long time ago – 21 years to be exact. I was young, a bit of a wild child and was always up for a good time. I traveled light and soon found myself on a campsite in San Antonio. When I say I traveled light, I mean really light! I had a sleeping bag, flip flops, a couple of bits of clothing, a serrated tomato knife, two travel saucepans (small), a knife, fork and spoon, a falcon cup and plate, a travel gas cooker and salt and pepper. All I remember from this time was fresh fish, tomatoes and also figs that we used to grab from the trees hanging over the streets. I recall clearly one of our favourite dishes was when we used to gut whole sardines, fill the bellies with sliced tomatoes and onions and then wrap them in the fig leaves cooking the whole fish slowly over the campfire, it was stunning! The figs were cut in half wrapped in foil, drizzled with honey and then slowly roasted over the warm coals and served with natural yoghurt. We also cooked squid in our small saucepans, sautéed the squid, seasoned with pimento/paprika quickly in one pan and in the other saucepan cooked spaghetti, tossed together with fresh herbs and plenty of lemon juice. It was simple but absolutely delicious.
Ross – At this stage I did not know Maddy and was traveling around Europe with my good friend Ed. We ended up in Ibiza as young men do… and my memories sadly are not of the food experiences, they are of sitting on the beach at the Sunset Party at Café Mambo, soaking up the incredible atmosphere and having a good time. I was a DJ myself back then and would seek out venues where DJs that inspired me were playing, DJs such as MJ Cole; Pete Tong and Judge Jules.
What are some of the reasons you fell in love with Ibiza on that holiday?
Maddy – Sadly not for the food at that age as I was young and a wild child. I loved the clubs and music at night…and the sun and beaches during the day. I vegetated on the beaches during the day soaking up as much sun as possible and at night after a siesta and a good supper of whatever I could find thrown into my two small saucepans on the camp stove, would hit the clubs intil the morning.
Ross – I had a preconceived idea that I was not going to go out there and enjoy myself, as I thought Ibiza was going to be cheap and tacky. I was pleasantly surprised and proven wrong. The atmosphere and high quality operations of the clubs stood out for me.
If you would host a Pop Up Supper Club in Ibiza…dead or alive, who are the 5 guests you’d invite to make it a night to remember?
We would invite Marco Pierre White, both of the Adria brothers, Anthony Bourdain and Pete Tong.
With the up and coming arrival of the Adrià brothers to the island with their new Heart restaurant, just how serious is Ibiza on the European food map all of a sudden?
The essence and what I understand they wish to achieve is to create memories, entertain in an extravagant way and do something special and different. I do believe though that Ibiza already attracts sophisticated foodies up for a good time, soaking up the sun and having a great time. The arrival of Heart will capture a good time with music, entertainment and food, that in itself will make massive waves on the international food scene and will attract a variation of clientele to Ibiza. It will give all the rest of the food operators, restaurateurs, foodies, cafes, bars and markets on the island a good opportunity to do well, up their game and benefit from the focus on Ibiza’s food scene due to the attention the Adria brothers bring. I think it’s exciting times ahead for Ibiza.
Seasonality is at the heart of your recipes, why is this so important and what else do you consider when developing recipes?
Maddy – Seasonality is important, it’s about enjoying the season’s best as Mother Nature intended it to be. Having for example strawberries and asparagus in December here in the UK is wrong on so many levels and for that reason I focus on the seasons because foods in season tastes at it’s best. I also focus on locally grown and produced foods, our ethos is that our penny and pound spend in our local county will make us as a county financially stable and self-sufficient. Imports and exports are important to keep global economy moving, however focus on local is important to make your own county stronger. When making dishes and writing recipes I keep the following points in mind: I get bored of monotone food quickly. For me the perfect dish has a good balance of flavours: acid, sweet, salty, umami and bitter. Good balance of texture: I’m looking for crunch, crispy, chewy, soft, coarse and smooth. The look of the dish is important too, it’s got to look interesting colorful and harmony is important too. When writing recipes I also keep my target market in mind, if I write a recipe for chefs I like to use a good balance of techniques to keep them interested, for home cooks the dish has to look great but easy enough to understand and execute at home. There is a lot to keep in mind, my audience is wide and I am writing for a large mixture of cooks with a varied abilities.
There is a big move towards healthy eating, ie. sugar free, gluten free, raw food etc. Is this something you will include in your recipe repertoire?
Possibly and to a certain extent it’s what I have already been doing. When working for Gordon Ramsay and the Roux brothers, I realised that Gordon’s cooking was the ‘low-fat’ version of indulgence vs the high calorie butter and fat smothered versions of the classic French cuisine at the Roux establishments. At Ramsay we made cream sauces using very little actual cream but managed to get flavor in the food with clever cooking skills and the use of quality stocks. These techniques stayed with me and it’s what I use in my cooking today. However my cooking is about indulgence and it’s a treat, I bake cakes and make confectionary and I use oils and butter in my cooking. I like to cook gluten free when I can and have made many cakes using gluten free flours or techniques to avoid using flour, I learned a lot about it but my heart is lying with the real deal. Raw foods are exciting and interesting and especially during our summer seasons, it’s a great way to enjoy great food.
What do you think will be next big food trend?
We are enjoying the height of street food right now, this is here to stay. Flavoursome, good quality snack foods with snapshots and fusions of various cuisines. We will see a massive focus on South American foods for the next couple of years including Mexican, Brazilian, Peruvian and Argentinian. Asian and Japanese cooking will continue to be the focus with healthy tasty foods. Super meaty meat dishes from South America and the Argentinean BBQ is also a massive trend. When eating meat you are eating meat! It’s big, bold and super tasty. Steaks such as tomahawk, T-bones, 2kg rib eye steaks with simple accompaniments of raw salads and wonderful tasty sauces with accompaniments such as chimichury and kimchi will continue to be huge. Ice pops and ice cream lollies will be big this summer with interesting flavor combinations such as raspberry and pink peppercorn; pineapple and schezuan pepper; mango, tequila and sea salt etc. Fermentation techniques will be mastered, making your own wine (elderflower and rhubarb), beer and fermented bread (sourdough). Also fermented preserves, paleo probiotic foods and vegetables such as kimchi; Choucroute; sauerkraut, atjar will feature heavily on bloggers sites.
What would you recommend as the best retox food you could eat before a big night out?
High protein foods. A good steak with a super foods salad inducing sprouts beans and nuts, no creamy sauces and definitely no starches.
And any tips for that post club hangover?
I would definitely want something more delicate. Poached eggs and whole sourdough toast or even porridge with plenty of fresh berries and honey, yup…that will sort a hangover out! Nothing too fatty, okay…a bacon butty does the trick too.
What would be your perfect Ibiza balmy dinner menu…
For Starters…A tapas platter: Homemade chorizo http://www.britishlarder.co.uk/home-made-salami/#axzz3boxVGSLL – homemade buffalo curd, raw courgette and cucumber ribbon slaw, homemade pitta breads, beetroot hummus http://www.britishlarder.co.uk/roasted-ruby-beetroot-ricotta-with-pan-fried-asparagus-and-broad-bean-salad/#axzz3boxVGSLL etc…
Main Course…BBQ Lobster, Sea Vegetables and Asparagus http://www.britishlarder.co.uk/barbecued-lobster-with-sea-vegetable-and-potato-salad/#axzz3boxVGSLL
What would be the perfect ingredients for a British Larder picnic and where is your perfect location?
British Larder Scotch eggs (quack eggs) http://www.britishlarder.co.uk/crispy-quack-eggs-with-radish-mayonnaise/#axzz3boxVGSLL
Picnic in a Jar http://www.britishlarder.co.uk/picnic-in-a-jar/#axzz3boxVGSLL
Orange soaked Brioche Buns for after’s http://www.britishlarder.co.uk/orange-and-cardamom-soaked-brioche-buns/#axzz3boxVGSLL
Homemade Peach Melba Cordial with a couple of shots of vodka or gin, yup adult lemonade sounds good to me! http://www.britishlarder.co.uk/peach-melba-cordial/#axzz3boxVGSLL
…this will be enjoyed on a sandy beach preferably on the Norfolk coast on a hot summer’s day watching the sun goes down with our two springer spaniels Hector and Mr Darcy splashing about in the sea. And yes they will have their own homemade biscuits http://www.britishlarder.co.uk/posh-doggy-biscuits/#axzz3boxVGSLL
Sardines and squid are integral to the Mediterranean diet and obviously feature on many menus in Ibiza, what have been the best recipes you have made with these wonderful seafood?
In our opinion both these ingredients should be used very simply and cooked quickly. This recipe http://www.britishlarder.co.uk/herring-escabeche-salad/#axzz3boxVGSLL will also work magically with sardines…
Or this one http://www.britishlarder.co.uk/saffron-orange-soused-mackerel-salad/#axzz3boxVGSLL – use sardines instead of the fish on the recipes.
Squid we like cooked quickly in a very hot pan with plenty of sliced fresh chilies, garlic and olive oil. In a separate bowl have ready lots of freshly chopped soft mixed herbs such as coriander, parsley and dill mixed with finely sliced/ shaved fresh raw fennel, celery and courgettes…and add fresh segments of lemon or lime.
What is your main foodie annoyance
Chefs who try too hard to be different. When foods that obviously do not go together are mixed. We would rather have classic combinations than weird combinations that simply do not work.
What are you working on this summer and what are the plans for The British Larder for the year ahead?
We are focusing on our consultancy business and we are working on a plethora of exciting new recipes for the website. Maddy is currently working on a project developing flavours for a large snacking manufacturer in the UK and developing products and menu ideas for a high street concept. Ross is consulting for a Gastro Pub and Hotel Group.
If you could have a food master-class with someone, who would you choose and why?
Maddy – Paul A Young chocolatier in London (or any of the top chocolatiers in the world to be honest). I have a massive amount of respect for chocolate and love eating it too. I find working with chocolate difficult and it’s a true art. I wish to master that art.
Ross – a master class with Massimo Bottura, the second best restaurant in the world. This chef is mad in every sense of the way but my word does he inspire. His provocative artistic twist and expression with his food is infectious and inspiring. A day in the kitchen with Massimo will be a dream come true. Shame I do not speak or understand Italian. This is one restaurant in the world I wish to visit one day – a lot of saving to do.
A dish that always reminds you of your childhood?
Maddy – Meatballs in tomato sauce with spaghetti. I love it, it’s simple but really make me miss my family!
Ross – A chip butty with malt vinegar, buttered white bread and sea salt.
Who has been the biggest inspiration in your kitchen rise to fame?
Maddy – Well where do I start? I find them all inspirational as I have worked with/ for all of them. Gordon Ramsay, Angela Hartnett, Marcus Wareing, Rowley Leigh, Paul Ainsworth…
Your favourite restaurants from around the world…
Maddy – Marc Veyrat Lake Annecy, Haut Savoie France. Arazak San Sebastian Spain (below right) and WD 50 New York.
Ross – El Buli Roses Spain – I had the privilege to experience this and it’s amazing (below). Ledbury London (Chef Brett Graham). La Manoir Aux Quat’ Saison (Raymond Blanc) and also Le Champignon Sauvage (David Everett Mathias).
The best piece of advice you can offer to the thousands of budding chefs reading this…
Start at the bottom of the ranking ladder, learn the basic skills, hang in there, it does not matter how tough it get put in the hours and endure the pain and sometimes humiliation – it’s how you learn your skills. Also look after your own knives and equipment, you need that to earn money so do not neglect it and do not let others use your tools. Also look after your health. Also learn about finances and managing a kitchen. You will need all these skills once qualified.
And finally some tips for the perfect summer barbecue…
Choose what kind of BBQ you are going to use. If using gas or coal make sure you know enough about it, master the perfect fire, invest in the best equipment you can afford before you then focus on the food. Once armed with this, learn to know the heat on your BBQ, you can do so much with various parts of the fire/ BBQ. Cook fish/shellfish over cooler parts, chicken should be cooked low and slow, steak wants hot/high heat and requires fast cooking. Most importantly rest your cooked meats and fish, resting it will help it to relax and retain juiciness and deliciousness. Also master the art of marinating, there is so many different marinades that can be made and make the most interesting BBQ’s. Most importantly enjoy and have fun!