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Shaun Hill

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  1. Shaun Hill

    Walnut Tree

    I'm delighted and relieved that the Walnut Tree's latest incarnation is doing reasonably well. I spotted the thread and thought it easiest just to explain my involvement and how this fits in with other stuff. I pitch up at the Walnut Tree most days from just before midday until shortly after the last main course has gone at night - I live 60 miles away. I rarely take a day off - one a fortnight perhaps though my ambition is one a week, usually a thursday - and am shaking the pans during the service rather than merely in attendance. There's a head chef, Roger Brook who worked at the Walnut Tree under Franco Taruschio and Stephen Terry before my time and who is first rate. He does all the stuff that I don't like, the ordering, rotas and such, runs the kitchen in fact. Also he doesn't seem to mind me turnng up each day to participate. In his position it would drive me mad. I have several consultancies. The biggest is Fortnum and Mason who I advise mostly on produce, and I turn up almost every week there on a Monday when the Walnut Tree is closed. I also work for the Montagu Arms in Beaulieu but need only see them once a month as they have a superb chef and really don't need much more than encouragement and reassurance from me. Similarly I do a couple a days a year for British Airways and advise the Welsh Millenium Centre in Cardiff on the same basis. I enjoy writing and will produce a column, review or whatever whenever commissioned. My next book is a year late because I've been busy All this, folks, pays the bills. I take nothing thus far from the Walnut Tree and in fact ran up a loss of £103K in the first year - no limited liablity so all owed personally - but expect to break even this year and make a profit next. I do understand the suspicion though. I did once take a shareholding in a brasserie in Worcester - where I now live - and found that things weren't as I wanted so bailed out. The danger in any involvement other than full time and in full control is that people who are greedy morons will do embarrasing things in your name. The Walnut Tree was flattered by recent ratings. It is a good brasserie - just the sort of food and style I really like best - but never going to compete with those making elaborate two or three star meals. Jane Grigson once said that what we needed was a better standard of ordinary and I concur. I'm happy to chat to whoever wants if you come to eat but don't enjoy touring the tables to fish for compliments. So shout up if you want to see if I'm at work. If not. keep an eye on the bar where I will - toward the end of each service - take a glass or two of red wine - the consolation as well as the reward. Very best wishes Shaun
  2. I was called yesterday morning by the Sun for comment on all this, presumably because the Walnut Tree in an earlier lifetime took a bashing from Gordon Ramsay and that I could be relied on to take a swipe back. My view was that cooking stocks, sauces, stews and most pastry somewhere off site made lots of sense financially, that the margins he achieves are his business - if the price for a meal is too high the place will fail - and that eating at one of his spots is optional not compulsory like the rates. I did say that the Kitchen Nightmares programme in my opinion was becoming formulaic and could do with quiet euthanasia. So I was mildy irritated to see quotes from me that I didn't say and that do not reflect my point of view in today's paper. I think that the piece was written and the attitude already decided long before I or anyone else was called. The journalist did tell me that I was being too generous about things. Not me, I would have said different if I had thought different However, they did ask my age and get that right. Not sure whether that's a result.
  3. Shaun Hill

    Pacojet

    possibly I'm the only person who doesn't much care for Pacojet machines. I don't think they make good ice cream, merely frozen mousse with soft texture. A recently churned ice cream made the usual way tastes and feels fabulous - better in my opinion
  4. Peter Kromberg who was the first head chef at Intercontinental in Hyde Park Corner has died of a stroke aged 67. I was chef tournant then sous chef under him when it opened - I most liked the months before opening when we practised recipes rather than serving diners - and had a great respect for his crafstmanship and capacity for sheer hard work. Sad that he has gone
  5. Shaun Hill

    Bill Baker

    Bill Baker who owned and ran Reid Wines near Bristol died last night. He was a giant on the British restaurant scene and will be a great loss
  6. Shaun Hill

    2005 Best Restaurants in the World

    Yes I turned up to drink all that free booze. It was an enjoyable evening I too found it difficult to hear anything on the PA system and it was an extra delight not to be personally in the running for anything - takes any pressure or embarrassment away. I don't think you should take these things too seriously. Yhey're meant to be fun or at most thought provoking
  7. I'll be closing Merchant House sometime next Spring, probably around early March, regardless of whether it sells as a restaurant or house or even whether it sells at all. It's been a joy - mostly - for the past ten years but when the feeling comes that it's time to change then that's what you should do. I have no real idea what happens next or where and don't intend to start looking until January. The work here needs me to have my mind fully engaged on the immediate practicalities of cooking the food. My view is that the estate agents are optimistic in the asking price as the house is worth only £500,000 as a residence but you know how it is, I'm willing to take it if someone is willing to offer it. I have been surprised that no other chefs have tried their luck in Ludlow over the last few years. The three major restaurants are all full months ahead and there is room for another. This will still be the case after I shut up shop. Hibiscus, for instance, is a world class operation and my view is that it gets less attention than it deserves because Claude is French and his food fairly french in style so perhaps less newsworthy as part of a rural British restaurant revival. Hopefully this will improve after I have departed the scene. Hopefully I will be at the stoves somewhere by the summer. It's that or the Big Issue concession for Ludlow. Best wishes
  8. What I find stimulating these days is the momentum and excitement that food and cooking now generates. A series of restaurant meals here or anywhere will show bright minds at work on what are basically the same ingredients worldwide. Not all is successful naturally but enough works or intrigues to keep the brain ticking on what's possible and what's good to eat. A big change from 20 or 30 years ago when my trade was still largely the refuge of no hopers
  9. I always cook cauliflowwer in florets so that the thick stalks don't need to be considered when judging the cooking time. Like all members of the cabbage family there is an element of rankness in the smell and flavour and this combines perfectly with spices like cumin, cinnamon and coriander so I'd be tempted to cook the cauliflower, drain it, then dust with some combination of middle eastern spices and finally brush with light sesame or olive oil before cooking out the extra ingredients with a short spell under a grill or in the oven. As ever the disadvantage of giving some robust treatment to any side vegetable is that it has a direct effect on whatever else is sharing the plate at the same time so this need to be considered. Otherwise you may like to consider deep frying the florets. Boil them as before then make a batter from flour, olive oil and water, whisk an egg white and fold this in before coating the cooled florets and deep frying. These are fine as a warm start also especially with some garlic and tomato confection by way of sauce
  10. Veal shanks - sold as shin of veal - are excellent plainly roasted. Th ideal tecnique for the others is pot roasting. Pot roasting is really an extension of the braising process but implies large joints rather than cubes of meat. Try to add the minimum of extra liquid, especially at the start, so that the meat will produce its own juices rather than poach in stock or wine. It's a slowish business but worth it.
  11. Interesting question with several aspects some of which I'll try to tackle. Many of the ingredients you list are as much about texture as flavour and this is an aspect of the meal that is worth consideration in any case. Ratatouille could be blended into a sauce but maybe one with too much going on at once. Better to think in terms of reworking the ingredients so that one of the major players takes a more leading role or has its texture altered. You could deep fry all three - aubergine courgette and peppers - in a light batter and set them on a tomato and garlic sauce, you could stuff the courgettes with a fine dice of the rest, the possibilities are huge because the ingredients act well with each other, like strawberries and cream or peaches and raspberries. If you wanted the mixture to act as a sauce, then dice the vegetables very finely, then you will have the same interaction of flavours but without losing all the texture and the role of a sauce - something that coats and flavours a piece of fish or meat - still fulfilled The whole question of what goes with what is complex with major differences in the tastebuds of people around the world and throughout history. The mediterranean diet before Columbus for instance was very different. not just in availablities but in taste preferences. Smelly and sweet combinations were the most sought after, and a fermented fish sauce similar to Nam Pla, garum, was the everyday seasoning, silphium, a now lost spice from Libya which allegedly tasted a bit like asafeotida, occupied the spot as most prized and expensive spice. It may be good for you to spend some time tasting the ingredients you mentioned separately and plainly cooked and to approach the tasting as if you were judging wine so that you can combine them or spice them successfully. Cabbage for instance has slightly rank and smelly aspects to its flavour so it it's interesting to see that in Hungary it is caramelised with sugar successfully to flavour pasta. On a more general note, acids like vinegar and lemon are regularly associated with fish. My view is that this is a mistaken extension of the affinity that lemon and vinegar has with fats like butter or oil - to act as balance - and that it is the buttery sauces or oiliness from deep frying that calls for that sharpness and not the delicate flesh of the fish itself. The subject is massive though and I wouldn't pretend to have all the answers many of which can be personal to yourself and your own tastebuds. I think you are wise to work on relatively simple combinations at least to begin with. Remember that something like an apricot or a lamb cutlet is already a complex item with large numbers of flavour molecules and that highlighting aspects of these existing flavours is a large element in success with complementing and contrasting them as next step. I'll stop now before I start to bore you
  12. The amount of olive oil a ratatouille type concoction will take without looking greasy is entirely dependent on the ratio of oil to non oil liquid - juices from the tomato, stock, wine or whatever - in the pan. What you are seeing when there is a pool of oil rising is an imbalance between these two in the same way as a curdling mayonnaise, either too much oil or too little stock. Whisking in hot water or wine, a tablespoon at a time, will put things right. The same can happen if the ratatouille is kept warm for a long while or reheated as the non oil liquids will gradually evaporate leaving the quantity of oil - which won't evaporate - too large proportionately to cope with If the amount of oil is more than you want in this sort of dish in any case then this is what to do. Fry the vegetables separately and drain the oil for reuse with the next ingredient. With this system you need to fry the aubergine last as it will absorb the most. Finally fry the onion, garlic and tomato in whatever's left and add the vegetables to the pan. Best wishes
  13. I think that your method is spot on. The difficulty with coarser or bigger green leaves is the trade off between fresh tasting and soft texture. Unlike the method for most greens I use minimal water and then add olive oil or sesame to the drained result. If you shake the pan around whilst doing this the oil will form a temporary emulsion with the remaining droplets of water and steam. The advantage of this is that all the seasonings will distribute themselves evenly as with mayonnaise. The best aspect was that you take care of the vegetables not just whatever meat or veg is centre stage. Not everyone does.
  14. I would be loathe to split the fish and add stuffing to the middle unless it was say some lobster mousse replacing the bones in turbot or sole. The advantage of the spice and chipotle mixture on the outside of the fish is that it will take the main blast of heat and much more of the cooking process than the more delicate flesh underneath. It tastes better that way I think the best bet is to increase the amount of spice paste that you cover the fish with in proportion to the thickness of the fish and if necessary carve it into slices after cooking - maybe even use a pastry brush to spread the mixture down and evenly across the fish so that the right amount of flavour is there for each serving. Best wishes
  15. I sympathize with your plight and wonder whether the effort in preparing octopus is actually justified by the result or whether they are best left to annoy other sea life whilst we tuck in to some tender and delicious squid. I have always used one of the methods you have already used and discarded, dropping the octopus into boiling water for a minute or two then rescueing it to somewhere cool, repeating this two more times then simmering for an hour. At this point the octopus is ready to be cooked again - and for another hour - as part of some stew. Have you thought that this is as good as it gets? Good luck
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