scallop small

Seared scallop, edible crispy yoghurt scallop shell, scallop roe coral rocks, compressed apple, pickled+fried kombu, sunchoke cream, pea

Some dishes are a work in progress for an age. Others come together in hours or even minutes. This scallop dish falls into the latter camp.

Still pushing to evoke the prime ingredient’s natural environment – not a unique concept by any means (Albert Adria’s Natura desserts remain a huge influence), but one that just feels right when done well. And Bras salad/Noma forage-influenced platings aside, it’s one that is still under-used in the world of savoury – the very area where giving a dish a sense of place arguably makes most sense.

The trick is to make sure any tricks – visual, textural, chemical or whatever – are carried out in service of the ingredients. It’s important that it looks good. It’s essential that it tastes great.

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Evesham Asparagus: edible soil of hay, onion & vinegar powder + asparagus canciollotte cheese + iberico ham + pickled pumpkin seed.

aspara 1 (2)

Virtual pickled onions. Oh yes. A key part of a ‘ploughman’s 2012’ concept for allium’s tasting room.

The fallout from Ferran and Albert Adria’s work has been interesting to watch. Most visibly, foams have been deployed every which way, roundly slated, and then pretty much withdrawn again. It’s a shame so many tasteless aerated sauces have been draped on plates without care, because when used correctly, foams can offer a pretty terrific way to deliver flavour and texture.

Spherification hasn’t been co-opted quite so much, but its uses have often been even more criminal. Again, too many chefs think that randomly dropping a sphere onto their plate will instantly make the dish so much cooler (just as they now do with foraged items), without ever considering what role the sphere plays on the dish or how the diner is going to relate to it.

The Adrias’ have used spherification in a number of smart ways, but their stroke of genius was to use the technique to serve a virtual olive. In the jar it looks like an olive. In the mouth it tastes like an olive. It’s true to their terroir. It’s clever AND tasty.

Here’s my own little adaptation of that concept, the aim being to throw in my own cultural reference points, while paying just as much mind to the way the diner will interact with and react to it. In the jar of pickling vinegar they look the part, and in the mouth they perfectly match the real thing. And crucially, the pickled onion is something that translates to the new medium. The sphere’s skin has a texture akin to that of a real onion, so the diner feels comfortable with the texture (quite literally a sticking point with so many misconceived spheres).

Truth be told I could eat these all day.


Away from the kitchen experimentation and private catering work, much time has been spent working with the good people over at allium, helping with development of the long-gestating tasting room project – both with the dishes that will make it to the launch menu, and also building a website and other materials to herald its arrival.

In contrast to the crisp, white cleanliness of the simply allium website and marketing bumpf, the aim with this one was to come up with something a little cooler, clubbier, and almost retro-styled. 

the tasting room, which opens on Friday, August 31st, is going to serve set, 12-course menus (with accompanying wines) for £80. Expect courses that reflect the work we’ve been doing in the allium test kitchen over the last couple of years, including some taster-sized updates of classics like lamb with hay and wool and skate on ice. Needless to say, we’ll be back in test kitchen soon, working to ensure that the menu changes and evolves with the passing seasons.

Royale 2012: Venison haunch, crouton + pâté, blood and chocolate veil, nettle yoghurt bullet, edible sticks, fresh herbs [sorrel, wild garlic, nasturtium, miniature oxalis, baby carrot tops], vinegared wild garlic + chive flowers, petrified leeks, rosehip ‘blood spatters’ + fluid gel, nettle vinaigrette.

An attempt to lighten and modernise Venison Royale – the arguably less intimidating offspring of the revered hare dish, Lièvre à la Royale – without losing what makes it so glorious in the first place.

The original’s sauce, thickened with blood is the centrepiece of the dish – rich with minerals and astonishingly earthy. Here a smoother interpretation – a blend of blood, stock, port, wine and bitter chocolate – is turned into a soft, flexible (carrageenan and locust bean gum) gel veil to serve semi-melting. Crucially it also becomes the ‘earth’, with edible herbs sprouting directly from the lightly dusted dome – a fresh way to soften the artificiality and unfamiliarity of a savoury gel. Underneath (see the second image) sits trimmed venison haunch, a crouton, and an apppropriately roughly chopped pâté. To finish, a melting edible bullet (visible in the third picture) and preserved rosehip ‘blood’ to further sauce the plate: garnishes fit for a hunter’s treat.

As updates go, this isn’t actually an update. More an apology for the lack of updates, for the benefit of anybody who cares to check in regularly. Private catering commitments seem to have been taking up every hour recently. But with Spring produce now in good supply and some time for trying a bunch of mentally-filed mad ideas and techniques on the horizon, updates will be forthcoming. Some of them might even be interesting…

Yet another riff on forests, soils and the like. Playing around here with a few components, flavours and presentation ideas, based – rather improbably – on the The Forest of Dean. Inspiration came from the genuinely wild boar now being supplied over at Restaurant Allium.

Winter Woodland: chestnut+applewood smoked 36-hour rib with sticky birch sauce, oak-flavoured acorn, mimetic bark, herb mousseline, pickled crab apple, yeast+verjus+nut soil, morel + sorrel, roast chestnut cream, brassica moss.

Few things make the seasons pass faster than getting older and watching children grow, though attempting to cook in a way that’s true to nature and resisting the urge to buy in ingredients from warmer climes comes a close second. Just as you get used to the fine summer harvest, it disappears to be replaced by autumn fare, and then – in the blink  of an eye – it’s all change again and you’re hurtling headlong into winter.  This time of the year puts a serious crimp on the availability of fresh produce in this part of the world.

Little wonder we all used to be so well versed in the fine art of preservation, using any means necessary – freezing, acid, sugar, alcohol, dehydration, salting, even sand – to add longevity to supplies gathered during brighter days. For anybody serious about food seasonality, tapping into these age-old techniques is imperative. But that doesn’t necessarily mean slavishly following the old rules….

Originality so often comes, not from freshly minted inventions or brand new ideas, but by asking ‘what if?’. The greatest strides can be made simply by taking something out of its comfort zone or placing it in a new context. Everybody wonders what the next big thing will be in gastronomy, without really considering that the most influential chefs of recent times – Ferran and Albert Adria – helped change the face of modern cookery, not by dreaming up convoluted new techniques, but by having the gumption to take processes and ingredients out of the commercial food production laboratory and into the restaurant kitchen…. and then the skill and imagination to be inspired by this new bag of tricks.

Free from the shackles of high-sugar gelling, what else can we make jam, jelly, pickle and marmalade out of? What happens when we go beyond the obvious with acids? And how about alkalis? Are there any new applications for curing? Okay, so we’ve all gone retro and now have a bale of hay in the kitchen – but what else do our collective sense memories suggest can be used for smoking food? And what else can we smoke, for that matter? How best to infuse, what to do it to and how to blend it? Is there more to drying and candying than meets the eye? What don’t we freeze that might actually transformed by the process? And just how do we make use of the fruits of these labours? How about forgetting about sweet, savoury, and any other preconceptions, and using intuition, imagination and maybe a little chemistry to find out what really does pair up well?

Cooking is so often a matter of learning by repetition, of days filled with ‘what next?’. Next time we shouldn’t be afraid to a try a little ‘what if?’. What’s the worst that can happen?

That wasn’t so hard. Took two years to get around to trying out the solution I had in mind, but it works like a charm.

Last time around I simply made vinegar powder as a way to give regular candy floss a sweet and sour flavour to pair with hay-baked lamb. (Visit restaurant allium to try to the Lamb with Hay & Wool dish for yourself.)

This candy floss (or cotton candy, if you prefer), however, delivers the same great texture but with pretty much no sweetness – making it ideal as a vehicle for strong (or subtle) savoury flavours and accompaniments.

Pictured here with salt and espellette pepper seasoning.

Another culinary trompe l’oeil, for possible inclusion on a dessert-in-progress. The apple and crumble will be real, some of the blackberries less so…

Scribbling, ponderings, and maybe a little food porn…

by Mark Ramshaw

owner at feast for the senses
food design, private catering, consultancy

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