Getting out there, applying skills and using food in a positive way to help people are all particularly important to me. Giving back to the community and spreading social innovation in new ways really can drive change.
Massimo Bottura at The Conduit
It was really exciting that The Conduit opened this week, not only as a hub for social innovators to get together in London, but also because four graduate apprentices from Beyond Food are now working there full time. Apparently they’re doing amazing work, and it was a stressful first week for them too, with one of the world’s best chefs – the three-Michelin star Massimo Bottura – coming in to cook!
I went along on the second opening night with my girlfriend Tracy and it was an amazing experience. Massimo is an interesting chef because he creates his dishes through experiences and shares these creative stories on the menu, which makes eating the food especially impactful.
One of the dishes was called ‘Flavours of Normandy’, and it was essentially a lamb tartar with oyster sauce. When I closed my eyes I could smell the sea, white wine, cream and Normandy apples from the apple sorbet. The whole experience was quite remarkable.
The stand-out dish for me was a very simple piece of cod with a brioche crumb that had been toasted in butter, served in a green olive, oregano and olive oil sauce. The sauce had amazing complexity, yet it was such a simple dish.
I also enjoyed one of Massimo’s most famous dishes, which is a piece of beef rolled in ash, served with peppers, beetroot and potato puree. It’s served very dramatically, a bit like a Jackson Pollock plate.
The dessert was called ‘Oops I’ve dropped the lemon tart’. Massimo’s story behind it was of a busy night in a restaurant when the pastry chef only had a couple of servings of lemon tart left, and the plates were dropped. They had to try to put the lemon tarts back together again. The dessert is now served as if the whole thing has just been dropped, with the lemon tart mix splashed across the plate, lemon sorbet and broken biscuit. But it’s so much more than that, with a couple of salted capers, a splash of pesto and a spot of chilli. It’s amazingly ‘together’ as a dish, even though it looks like it won’t be!
This whole experience really challenges what you’d imagine about Michelin star food and high profile chefs. Many chefs are using trickery, plus weird and wonderful chemicals and techniques, to try to create something innovative. But really, good food is still about great stories and stunning flavours.
Cooking with + for others
Most of my time recently has been spent on the road for my book campaign in the run up to the launch in November, cooking with the beneficiary organisations who are helping us reach vulnerable people through the book. We did some work with UK Youth at the Avon Tyrell activity centre for the PwC Games, and I did a session with ten young people at the Prince’s Trust in London too. These were people who have gone through the Fairbridge programme, who would have been in trouble or vulnerable situations if the charity hadn’t helped them. It turned into more than a cooking session with me, as they had the additional challenge of cooking for the key workers and other team members at the Prince’s Trust. It went really well. I also went to Bruern Abbey School, which is the only school in the country to help young boys with learning difficulties with entry into mainstream schools. It was great to speak to young people who are thinking about their futures and inspire them to think about careers and next steps.
I also spent some time with some residents at the psychiatric hospital Bethlem with one of our apprentices, Ben, who was formerly a resident there. Ben is on an amazing journey (see him in the film below) and he’s at a point in his development where he wants to give back, which is a really important step. Ben really wants to open the eyes of people who don’t understand mental health issues and he feels passionately about working with people who are in the same situation that he was in. And it’s a scary situation too, even though the residents at Bethlem are surrounded by loads of amazing experts. What really hit home for me was for them to hear the words “you’re going to be ok” – from someone who has actually been through it. That was really powerful. I talked a bit about what we do at Beyond Food and Ben made fresh bread with them. They picked fresh produce grow in the Bethlem grounds, from sweet potatoes to leeks and carrots, and we made four seasonal soups. Ben inspired people by telling them about how the programme has helped him and how eating good food can help on the road to recovery. Bethlem’s residents are very fragile but it was so positive to talk to them about what their futures could hold once they’re ready to leave the hospital.
I’ve also started a seven-week cooking course at Refettorio Felix, the community kitchen initiative by Massimo Bottura helping homeless people. I ran the first session this week for 15 people, providing some general support as we do with our Freshlife programme, before getting into the kitchen together to use food in a positive way. The idea is for them to start thinking about where they want to take themselves forward. Around six of the participants are currently homeless and sleeping on the streets, and after the course they may have the opportunity to come over to Beyond Food to get some employment training, so this could be a really big deal for them.
The other amazing community initiative I was involved in this week was at Tablehurst Community Farm. I went there with three apprentices – they gave us fresh produce from the farm and we cooked and served it to 170 people. It was a really special day and it felt like a gift for everyone – we all got something out of it and no money exchanged hands. The farm supplied the produce and we cooked it. The apprentices learned more about fresh produce and gave something back to the community. Plus lots of hungry people got fed!
The feeling of getting out on the road, putting whatever skills we have to good use and giving something back to the community really is like nothing else in the world.
This week’s recipe is from The Conduit: Conduit chicken paillard, lemon and garlic oil, cucumber yoghurt.
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