Friday, 28 February 2014

Benefits of Buying Food Locally

Purchasing and eating food that has been produced/grown locally has now come full circle in popularity with demands for food produced nearer to home favoured over foods flown in from all corners of the world.  As well as supporting one's local infrastructure, there are reported health benefits for adopting this lifestyle choice.

I recently wrote an online article for Warwickshire Life magazine about the buying local food with a focus on food vendors - Platinum Pancakes and their approach to providing an offering which is totally local.

Hope you'll enjoy reading it and in turn take time to see what food is around you and on your doorstep.  Click for Article Link

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Veggie Sushi for Valentine's Day

I’ve always by-passed sushi as it’s fish-based, so it’s never really been on my radar and I’ve never paid any attention to it.  However, I’ve been made aware of larger supermarkets now stocking vegetarian sushi, but still, I’ve never really entertained it.
But I was recently approached to trial a sushi kit for two where I could make my own vegetarian versions and I thought this would be an opportune time to see if I could be turned.

The kit, made by Yutaka has ample ingredients (bar fillings) to feed two people and it comes with a bag of rice, two large sheets of nori (pressed seaweed), sachets of shredded ginger, sushi vinegar, soy sauce and wasabi paste plus a rolling mat to help you assemble your sushi.
Using the instruction leaflet, I boiled the rice in its bag, let it rest, then prepared it in a bowl with the sachet ingredients.  I did however only use a little of the sushi vinegar (as it can be overpowering) and I omitted the wasabi paste (due to personal preference).

Laying the nori sheet on the mat, I placed a layer of rice on the sheet followed by some griddled vegetables I’d prepared earlier (asparagus, ribboned carrots and very thin slithers of red pepper).

So far so good. 
Crossing my fingers for a moment, I then embarked on creating the sushi roll.  The mat was a blessing and again, following the instructions, I ended up with a sushi roll that resembled the images on the pack.  
But before I succumbed to complete smugness, I did notice that my roll was somewhat portly compared to the benchmark pictures on the packet but not letting size be the issue here, I was pleased to find that they cut well and formed sushi parcels albeit a little bigger than anticipated.

The creation of sushi is indeed an art form and for a novice like me, the mantra of practice makes perfect is certainly applicable.  The key here is to keep the layer of rice and filling thin as once rolled, it becomes very padded which detracts from the original idea and although it tastes great, it becomes difficult to eat (as I discovered).  

But I am definitely going to make it again, now that I have grown a little in confidence with it and now that I have switched my mindset that vegetarian sushi is possible, tastes delicious and can be alternated with so many different vegetable combinations.  

Sushi-making and sushi-eating is a romantic way of spending Valentine's Day together and a quirky, healthy change from the usual 3 course fayre served with red roses, so this could be an option for all those looking for something different this weekend.
Now I've had my rehearsal, I hope my next batch using the Yutaka kit will be just as more-ish but perhaps I'll use a little less filling and exercise a little more practice in making them just like they are on the packet!
Yutaka’s Sushi Kit for 2 can be bought for £4.99 from Sainsbury’s supermarkets or from a variety of online stores.

Disclosure:  This post was written following kind receipt of Yukata's Sushi Kit for 2 .  This review was conducted honestly without bias and I was not required to produce a positive review.  For further details of my PR policy, please see the Press, PR & Food Writing page of this website. 

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Restaurant Epi - Interview & Pop-Up Review

Having recently dined at the new pop-up restaurant event run by Restaurant Epi, I took the opportunity to find out more about the team that run it and their vision and mission to create good food and a fine dining experience.

Chef Nathan Eades (part of the Epi team) started his career at The Royal Oak whilst doing his NVQ in culinary arts at Worcester College of Technology.  Here, Nathan's passion for cooking began. He then moved to Nailcote Hall in Warwickshire, where he met his wife and now business partner Charlie. A year in the Malvern's followed at Colwall Park.

Nathan went onto Lainston House, Swinfen Hall near Lichfield Staffordshire and then onto Wedgewood Hotel in Canada, the only relais and chateaux property in Vancouver.

Charlie, (Nathan’s business partner and wife),  a recent graduate from the UK Centre for Events Management, has a wealth of experience within the hospitality industry. When not running the floor for Restaurant Epi, Charlie can be found organising and managing a variety of events.

Charlie's operational background includes an extensive period at the renowned Nailcote Hall, home of the British Par 3 Championship. Charlie has a flair for creativity and is usually the mastermind behind Epi's uniqueness.

In September 2013, the pair set Epi up in their home kitchen aiming to provide an unforgettable dining experience but without the fuss of fine dining.

Working with fellow chef Grant Hill, a series of pop-ups followed in Bromsgrove Worcestershire, which received excellent reviews (including from Philippe Boucheron - Eat the Midlands and Hayley Pash - Bromsgrove Advertiser, both October 2013).  Expanding to cater for Birmingham diners, Restaurant Epi are now holding a number of pop-ups at Kitchen Garden Café in Kings Heath with, on the occasion I attended, additional support from chef  James Sherwin who was recently a contestant on Channel 4’s ‘The Taste’.

James Sherwin & Nathan Eades

As well as his industry experience, I spoke with Nathan a little more about his passion for food and how he weaves that into his work for Epi.

What do you enjoy about cooking the most and where did you gain your experience pre-Epi?

At home, I enjoy the simple things: Sunday roasts are always the best meal of the week for me.  It's a chance for us to all sit down as a family and enjoy one another's company before falling asleep afterwards!!  I really enjoy cooking Asian food, mainly as my wife (business partner and maître d' at Epi) is a veggie and we can enjoy the most delicious dishes that are quick and easy to make.

In the kitchen, I love second class cuts of meat and fish.  Sometimes, I feel that it is easy and too safe as a cook to cook your primes, fillet of beef etc, it takes a lot of skill to take a whole shoulder of lamb or pigs heads and turn them into a delicious product. With fish, quite similar to vegetables, in a sense that there is very little room for error.

Pre Epi, I did the 'rounds' as it were. Working in various kitchens, but I would say two chefs/establishments had a massive influence on my cooking career. Andy Mackenzie and Phil Yeomans were awesome (Executive Chef and Head Chef respectively) at Lainston House. They champion local food beyond anywhere else I have worked before. We grew 90% of our own veg (in the height of the summer) for the restaurant, as well as keeping pigs in the grounds. It was an incredible place to work and I worked with some amazing chefs, two of which, Tom Wilson and Chris Barnes, who have gone on to start their own pub in Old Basing (where I have taken inspiration from).

Second was Lee Parsons in Vancouver. I initially went over to Vancouver for a 'relaxing' working holiday; but when I went into his kitchen at 'The Wedge' I knew I didn't want to go anywhere else. I applied 3-4 times before getting the job.  He came through the ranks at Claridges under John Williams, and then onto Le Manoir before moving abroad. The guy is by far the best 'cook' I have ever worked under/with; he could turn anything into gold, in cooking terms.  He just had that innate cooking ability in which I'm still envious of! He showed and drilled into me the key thing which Epi stands for -  FLAVOUR!    


  What was the catalyst for starting Epi and how does it differ from other pop-
  up restaurants?

I think I had a bad service at my last job in Ludlow.  During my daily 40 mile commute home after service, I decided 'I can do this,' but it was nothing more than a dream really.

Then talking it over with Charlie, it became more of a possibility. We both are very passionate about cooking great food and offering great service; but I'm personally sick and tired of the pompousness that is associated with fine dining. No one really wants it anymore. You only have to look at how many pubs and informal establishments are gaining Michelin Stars now. The starched table cloths, 12 waiters standing in a dining room that feels as cold as funeral parlour are, in my opinion, long gone.

I personally think we offer that quirkiness and individuality that sets us apart from the norm. Serving fish and chips in a paper bag takes guts in my opinion. But the cooking stands up against (Charlie's) gimmicks. In December, we took our diners through a 'journey through Christmas.' Starting with savoury mince pies and compressed carrots for Santa and Rudolph, ending with handmade mini fire places and stockings filled with treats (chocolate oranges, penny sweets, candy canes)

  As well as your venue in Bromsgrove, why did you choose Kitchen Garden Cafe 
  to host your Birmingham events?

The Kitchen Garden Cafe is like a little oasis that you would never think exists just off a suburban Brummie road. It's an incredible venue and their values for the cafe are quite similar to ours. I also knew that Claire Hutchings (MasterChef finalist 2011) did her pop ups there too, so it already had that experience of hosting previous events.

  You use a lot of foraged foods in your dishes, what do you enjoy about foraging
  and how you think it enhances dishes?

Foraging takes up only 5-10% of our dishes. I won't use anything for the sake of using it, so to speak; it has to enhance a dish. The enjoyment really comes from just being able to switch off and be able to reflect. If we don't pick anything, that's fine, it's sometimes great just to get out of the kitchen.

This time of year it's awful, everything is either had frost bitten or dead. But in the spring there is nothing better than walking into a field or by a river that is full of wild garlic, or along a road and finding some horseradish.  I suppose it's that sense of being a child and finding that 'hidden treasure.'


You champion vegetarian food and ensure that vegetarian diners are catered for with just as much thought as meat-eating diners.  Where do you get your ideas?

With my wife being a veggie, we have found that going out for dinner, a veggie's choice is rather boring. You get the general 'risottos' or 'pasta' and I find it a shame.

Vegetables are so versatile. You can do so much with veg and applying different cooking techniques to them changes their tasting profiles drastically eg: roasted carrots are a lot sweeter than steamed carrots for instance.  For me, it's just about exploring the different, unusual vegetables and applying the simplest of cooking techniques to them.

Basically, I will always bounce ideas off Charlie. I like to take a single ingredient, such as a cauliflower and create 3, 4, 5 different products with it.  Mainly to showcase the versatility of the ingredient, but also to showcase our skill level also. 


Do you observe seasonal dining?

Seasonality is paramount.  At the moment it's a chefs' nightmare. Everything is very dull in colour and its hard together quality ingredients that are in season.  It wouldn't feel right for me to put a 'tomato' on the plate for the sake of colour if it doesn't enhance the taste of the dishes.

In England, our seasons are usually quite short. Take asparagus for instance.   We normally have about 4-5 weeks of English asparagus, so for me it would be sacrilegious not to use it then. We need to showcase our produce as much as possible.


What plans do you have for Epi?

Plans, I'm not quite sure as yet. I would love to get a site and turn it into our own, but only time will tell. We have a few things in the pipe line. We are  at the Kitchen Garden Cafe on 25 February and 31 March and at The Courtyard Café in Bromsgrove until the end of April.


Epi are residing every weekend at the Courtyard Cafe in Bromsgrove, as well as one off events at the Kitchen Garden Cafe in Kings Heath (25 February and 31 March 2014).

For information about Restaurant Epi and future dining dates log onto:

To read my review of Restaurant Epi published on Dine Birmingham's website, click here.  


I would like to thank Nathan Eades for his time and for participating with the interview.
This post was written following Restaurant Epi's kind invitation to dine at their pop-up event .  This review was conducted honestly without bias and I was not required to produce a positive review.  For further details of my PR policy, please see the Press, PR & Food Writing page of this website.