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Shaun Hill

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Posts posted by Shaun Hill

  1. You mustn't be intimidated by souffles. They are not as fragile as people would have you believe. Mainly the idea is that the more whisked egg white you add the higher it rises - but sooner it falls again and less it tastes of anything.

    Even with moderate amounts of egg white, you need to flavour the souffle with something strong enough to cope with all this dilution. That's why cheese and chocolate - not necessarily at the same time - work so well.

    If your souffles look untidy but taste okay then you only have a presentation problem. Try lifting them from the souffle dish and serving them on a plate, perhaps with a puddle of some well flavoured sauce or fruit puree

  2. The main objective was to be independent. With no capital other than a mortgaged house on Dartmoor, the options were limited to either soliciting financial backing - either from banks or from shareholders - or thinking small. And I preferred the latter.

    I enjoy working alone but recognise its drawbacks. In a large brigade you can employ people who have more specific skills than yourself, a good pastrycook for instance and take credit for all their talent and work. Alone you are constricted by what you can do without help.

    The upside of this is that you don't have some jerk forgetting to put salt in the bread or serving up what should be in the bin and that the head chef is also in charge of such customarily lowly jobs as boiling the vegetables. So it will be consistent if nothing else.

    I came to Ludlow because I liked the look and feel of the place. It had a thriving food market, good food shops and a deli. Most important, I could afford to buy a property here and this meant that I could set up shop without all the peformance of cash flow and business forecasts and the sort of input from bankers and accountants that destroys ventures.

    For instance, I work on a gross profit margin of 50% - this means that half of what you pay will be raw material. In a standard business where 65% -70% - less than a third toward raw material - is deemed routine I would have had problems.

    Of course I need to work at a profit and compensate for the extra spend on food by employing hardly any staff, one - excellent - waitress and a part time cleaner represent the entire payroll. This means for instance that nobody pours the wine for you. My view is that it is perfectly fine to expect this - or anything else from a restaurant but not to expect that it is free. I work to my own priorities and hope that there are enough like minded to make the place commercially successful.

    I had seen Robin and Marion Jones doing this sucessfully, also Jacques and Jenny Astic at the Old Woolhouse in Northleach. These were more inspirational for me than say places like La Potiniere in Scotland as they offered choice to the diners

  3. How I react when people redesign the menu depends on what they want. It's usually no trouble to substitute ingredients from one dish to another, similarly to reduce portion size for children and suchlike.

    It can be very difficult to remove say garlic or onion from the range of mise en place(prep) that I use to assemble dishes or make sauces during the service. This takes notice

    This saturday I have a table with a woman on an elimination diet who has written to me with the half dozen or so things left that she will eat - also a vegetarian and with food intolerances. Another table has someone who won't eat fish and would like plenty of choices and on a third table I have a standard vegetarian who can eat - and wants dairy product amongst his choices.

    As they have forewarned me I'll do my best. No notice and one can get a little grumpy

  4. There are good Indian and Chinese restaurants between here and Birmingham. I'm yet to be persuaded by the kebab places I've tried.

    I hate to sound snobbish - really - but I dislike MacDonalds apart from the chips and have not yet eaten at KFC. You have to leave something to look forward to in your old age and I choose that

  5. I do like to cook on my day off. But I don't like to cook restaurant food which can disappoint any dinner guests hoping for a selection from the menu.

    Restaurant kitchens have to break down dishes into component parts that can be reassembled alongside a piece of prime cut meat or fish within the space of a few minutes. This makes complex dishes easier - all the little garnishes and tubs of reduced stock can be brought into play - but makes something as simple as roast duck quite awkward as it takes an hour to cook and doesn't reheat well.

    I eat out when I can also and am very lucky with my location. I ate out a few weeks ago at Hibsicus in Ludlow which is within walking distance and as sophisticated a french restaurant as you would find anywhere in Lyon. Last sunday I drove an hour to Lough Pool In near Ross on Wye to eat in Stephen Bull's pub and at least once a month I drive just over an hour - across fabulous scenery - to eat Stephen Terry's food at the Walnut Tree.

    Of course I get to London as well now and again but this involves more effort and a bit more problem parking in front of the restaurant - not to mention restraint on the wine front to avoid the breathalyser on the way home.

  6. I enjoy reading things that are food related rather than recipes, perhaps food set in some context of travel or history. The great strength of writers like MFK Fisher and Elizabeth David was that they were interesting irrespective of any inspiration on the recipe front.

    Often this sort of stuff appears as magazine or newspaper article or collections of these like Steingarten's "The man who ate everything".

  7. It's kind of you to assume I have the talent for another career writing about food but I'm not sure that there is the demand. Most publishers are happiest with stuff that has "wow" factor rather than what I do which tends toward the painstaking in preparation followed by minimal effort in presentation.

    Similarly have always disliked doing telly work - somebody exhorting you to look all orgasmic about olive oil or somesuch or parlour games involving ambitious grub., retakes because the lighting or sound wasn't quite right. all that sort of thing. Good luck to them all but it's not what I want to do. Of course there are lots of chefs bursting to appear so I'm sure there will have been few tears shed by the TV companies

    In any case, I have never worked to a long term plan. I entered my career in the kitchen as a stopgap for a few months before finding a proper - a properly paid - job. Perhaps when my carcase starts to falter I'll have to return to this plan.  Thus far I have gone along with whatever opportunity presented itself and so I'll have to hope  - like Micawber - that something turns up when the time comes.

  8. Undoubtedly the restaurant scene has improved dramatically since I started cooking. In the late 60s a meal out was still largely a formal almost ritualised and definitely intimidating experience. The etiquette of dining was more important than the substance of what was served. Most restaurants outside the centre of London were in hotels and even those that weren't provided a nasty imitation of Edwardian haute cuisine for a limited number of punters. The only exception being the jewish community who were discerning and demanding customers in most every ambitious restaurant any weekend.

    Menus used names from the "repetoire de la cuisine" or Escoffier so all you got to indicate what a dish might consist of was the name of one of Napoleon's battles like Marengo, or mistresses like Marie Walewska. Chefs were motivated by success in competitions called Salons Culinaires where medals were won for producing snow white and the seven dwarves from marzipan or sailing ships from pastry margarine.

    Egon Ronay and Postgate's Good Food Guide were influential in changing priorities and encouraging people to eat out for pleasure. Robert Carrier - who I worked for - was at the time more influential than Elizabeth David through his columns in the Sunday Times and cookery books in making the whole business exciting and entertaining.

    Once people felt comfortable and less intimidated by the whole performance the scene changed swiftly and dramatically for the better and whilst it is possible to grumble about specific restaurants and trends in restaurants now, there are at least plnty to choose from and the certainty that those who do not please enough people will go bust.

  9. Inevitably I think it must be Heston Blumenthal for he is provoking so much passion about the food he serves.

    It is irrelevant whether you feel he is the best chef in the country, second best or even the worst. He is stirring up a debate on our preconceptions about dining and food combination.  

    A meal at the Fat Duck is of course not compulsory like water rates or income tax so I have only limited sympathy for those who hate his ideas as they are all well reported in advance by those both for and against.

    And it does provide a bit of excitement

  10. The most depressing trend is the subservience of food and service in restaurants to decor. I have the feeling that those foolish enough to invest in restaurants believe that they can buy success ready made with smart design and a huge PR budget. Luckily it very rarely works long term.

    The most encouraging trend is the confidence amongst those paying to eat out to demand both pleasure and decent value in the whole experience. This keeps us on our toes.

    This doesn't mean I necessarily subscribe to the notion  that "customer  is always right". Customers in restaurants come in the same spectrum of keen to bored, bright to stupid and honest to crooked as everyone else and some will be right and others not. The best bet for any chef or restaurateur will always be to cook and serve what they personally believe to be good - what they would like to eat themselves - and trust that enough agree to make a business viable

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