Mapping ‘food webs’ – timely report on local food

A couple of years ago I took part in a workshop that took place in Faversham as part of a study by the CPRE with the Plunkett Foundation exploring ‘food webs’ – the linkages and value between consumers and local suppliers of food.

This week, rather neatly timed to coincide with the first emwilcosupperclub celebrating the wealth of local suppliers and producers, the report has been published and can be found here. It’s wonderful to see so many of the suppliers and retailers who I value featured in the report and for their value to be quantified and valued.

Building on the town’s excellent foodie credentials are the ‘Faversham Food Trails‘ developed with Visit Faversham so you can take a walk and taste the goodies.

Sell out!

Thanks to everyone who has booked, all of the tickets have now gone which is fantastic! You won’t mind if I celebrate by tasting the Kentish fizz from Throwley I’m planning to serve do you?

Onto the asparagus

Having tasted the oils on their own it was time to put them through their paces with the asparagus. I blanched the stems briefly in well salted water before putting them on the griddle for a few more minutes, just allowing them to colour before turning. My chief tester (Mr emwilco) and I then dipped the charred spears into both the Andalucian oil and the rapeseed, having dismissed the french olive oil earlier. We decided that the rapeseed allowed more of the nutty asparagus to come through whilst still imparting its own gentle flavour.

So to dressing the plate. Asparagus stacked loosely, a sharp grind of pepper and some Maldon salt before a not ungenerous dose of oil, finished with shavings of Winterdale Shaw a wonderful, semi-hard Kentish cheese. The final, and rather pretty, flourish of rocket flowers going to seed in the garden added a mild peppery hit.

Tasting and testing

I’ve been having some interesting discussions via Twitter about the merits of rapeseed oil versus olive oil to dress the asparagus I am planning to serve on the 26th May; and as every good chef knows it’s all about tasting so I spent this evening with three oils and load of lovely asparagus from Owen’s Court. Whilst I love the ‘jumbo’ stems occasionally, with a soft-boiled duck egg maybe, my favourite grade is the fine or “sprue” which cooks in no time. I used to buy and sometimes pick asparagus at Blackbird Cottage not far from Faversham and would eat the superfine stalks raw as I picked, they almost have the flavour of a pea-pod straight from the plant.

Before tasting it with the asparagus which I was blanching briefly, I tried the oil neat. The first was a gift from a friend who produces her own oil in Andalucia and which tastes powerfully of olives and finishes with pepper. It seems rather daft to say that an olive oil tastes of olives, but often it is grassy or peppery; this one tastes like you’ve just bitten into a wonderful rich black olive. It’s an oil which I save for tomato salads when it brings even a sad glasshouse tomato to life and makes me think of sunny days – vital with this endless grey.

The second a traditional french extra virgin olive oil, nothing too fancy, the kind you might pick up on a day trip and use every day for everything – as I do. It was smooth and unremarkable, a hint of pepper but not much more.

The final oil is sunshine in a bottle, Quex Foods cold pressed rapeseed oil, beautifully nutty and fresh tasting and a wonderful colour. Next to try them with the ‘gras…

Developing the menu and……the venue!

It’s hard to imagine and plan a menu celebrating Spring when it’s blowing a gale outside but I’ll do my best and perhaps even will the sun to shine.

Early contenders for inclusion are asparagus – I’m thinking blanched then chargrilled and finished off with some fruity olive oil and shavings of tangy, piquant “Kelly’s goat” from the fabulous and talented Cheesemakers of Canterbury. You can see a film all about their cheesmaking on their site which reminds me of a rather sunnier May last year when I learnt how to make cheese at River Cottage which may feature on a future menu.Image

Also high on the list, slim fillets of mackerel grilled under a high heat, skin crisp and served with gooseberries, compote or mildly pickled. Looking at my gooseberry bushes they will have to be sourced from further afield than 50 yards from the back door. Alternative fish thoughts include soused herrings, brown trout, skate cheeks ….and so it continues, A trip to Bluey in Oare is in order to see what’s looking good before I fix the menu.

On to the meat course. It has to be Spring lamb, but will it be a saddle, slow cooked shoulder or sweet cutlets with a salsa verde? More testing and tasting needed.

Pudding I think is pretty settled, a wonderful light macaroon cake by Tamasin Day-Lewis accompanied by the sharp pink stems of rhubarb straight from the garden, poached in a ginger and spice syrup.

Let me know what you think and if you’d like to be there and I’ll make sure you hear first when booking opens. May 26th, 7pm. Faversham, after hours in the cafe at Macknade Fine Foods. With thanks to Stefano Cuomo.

Within a mile of Faversham..

Within a mile of Faversham it is possible to buy all of the food you could want, directly from small local producers, at farm gates, from fishermen and indepedent shops. Salt-marsh lamb and outdoor reared pork at Luddenham Court, spankingly fresh fish straight off Bluey’s boat from Oare, startlingly fresh vegetables at Saffery Farm and it continues. My Saturdays are frequently spent on a tour round all of them before heading home to cook an array of dishes which I will share over the next few months as the supper club emerges.