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Archive for December, 2010

Here we are, 2011 is looming and another year almost over. The clichés beckon, “Where does the time go?”, “what happened to the year”, “what have I actually achieved this year?”, “What will next year bring?”. And of course there’s the numerous programmes on TV that will review the year too and oh how I soon get bored with those, especially when they start that in November (sure that was the BBC). So I think with just over two days of the year left I am safe to do my own review. Well I did make a few food related resolutions at the beginning of the year so I should let you know how they went.

My first resolution was to have a lesson from a real Chef, yes I managed that three times. One at Braxted Park Cookery School with the very talented, and may I say funny, Chris Jagger. The next was at Corrigans where we got to cook with head chef Chris and some of the team, with Mr C casting his experienced eye over us. The last was again with Chris Jagger in his own Kitchen to get some real professional experience. All fantastic, all taught me so much and to Chris and Richard and his team I say a heart-felt thanks, you were all truly inspirational.

Second resolution was to make a curry from scratch and I just scraped that in toward the latter end of the year. Using Atul Kochhar’s recipes I made a great meal which I have to say I was fairly impressed with myself. A lovely coconut curry, stuffed aubergine and some spiced fried okra. I have experimented with the left over spices many times since.

The third was to try something I had never eaten before. I have done that a few times this year but the most memorable has to be at Glavin La Chapelle where I had brain and sweetbreads for the first time. I’m not too sure about the brain but the sweetbreads I will eat again and have. Love them. Not sure why I’ve been so scared of them really.

The fourth resolution was to be more adventurous and experimental. Well I think with the uses of spices I have gone for this year and the meal at Galvin La Chapelle I have more than kept that resolution. There have been successes like my first ever venison carpaccio made with my own invented marinade, cooking pehasant for the first time  and disasters which never even made the plate.

It’s been a great year in all, made some more great twitter friends and project Obsession really lifted off with now having 10 of the 54 signatures I need which to complete the book. Considering I only started in August I don’t think that’s too bad. That’ brings me to one fo the most memorable evenings of the year, the Obsession dinner at Hix. A feast by four top chefs which has inspired me to do a four course meal for New Year’s Eve and I also plan a meal suing recipes from the Obsession book in the New Year.

The highs of the year also include several meals at Galvin Café a Vin, a birthday dinner at The Blueprint Cafe, last night at The Boxwood and getting to have a chat twice (yes twice) with the witty charismatic gentleman that is Olly Smith. Oh and let’s not forget the Chefs I have had the pleasure to meet this year, Michel Roux Jr, Richard Corrigan, Mark Hix, Brian Turner, Nigel Haworth, Gary Rhodes, Stuart Gilles, Tristan Welch, Theo Randall, Fergus Henderson, Chris Jagger, Chris Galvn, Jeff Galvin and a glimpse of Michael Caines. A special mention to a few other food related people whic were so friendly that we met on our journeys ; Sara Galvin, Matthew Fort and Tom Parker Bowles.

The lows, I sort of thought not to mention these but it wouldn’t be a really review if I didn’t. There is the arthritis in my hand that started this year which kept me out of the kitchen for two months and feeling very down. The other is having the Flu twice. One of those ruining a meal at Gidleigh Park, to the point that I could only manage four out of seven courses. The second bout of flu almost caused me to miss an evening at Corrigans too.

I have got over this though, hand recovered and doing well, cooking a lot to make up for the missed time. The Gidleigh Park experience still gnaws at me though, I am really really annoyed at that, especially when I then found out Michael Caines was in the Kitchen. Anyway, life goes on and with Project Obsession going on, I think there will be enough experiences to make up for it.

I would like to thanks a few people for tips, advice and help but I know I will miss someone out. So to everyone who has answered my queries, questions, talked to me on twitter, commented on my blog and messaged me or replied to posts on Facebook, I thank you all. You are a great bunch of people and friends. So at midnight on the 31st December 2010 I will raise my glass to you and wish you a very happy and prosperous New Year. Look out 2011, here we come.

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Now you all know I like Italian food and with my recent post about Theo Randall you may gather my standards are quite high. I’ve been to Sicily and Italy, have a few Italian friends who have made me amazing authentic meals. Well, imagine my delight when it was announced we were going to Zizzi for the Christmas lunch! Okay, maybe delight is not quite the right word. I have been to a Zizzi in Chelmsford and it wasn’t too bad (not great, but not too bad) so I thought this would be okay. After all, it’s the company you’re with and the spirit of Christmas at the forefront.

We all trundle off up the road to Zizzi Brentwood. Our courses chosen, well main and dessert as the starters are all put out for sharing. We take our seats and I will tell you now, I was not an entirely happy camper as it was freezing. Zizzi’s obviously haven’t learnt the basic lesson of keeping your customers comfortable. I didn’t take my coat off and even put my scarf on at one point. All I’m saying is it was a bit chilly.

What I do love about Italians, is their beer so a large Peroni was in order for most which always goes down well. The starters arrive and here’s the shocker, they weren’t actually all that bad. In fact I’d go as far to say they were pretty good. Their pesto bread is very good actually and the garlic bread straw types thingies were pretty good too. I was also pleasantly surprised at how good the mozzarella was too, light, creamy and went great with the sundried tomatoes and the smoked mountain ham.

Everyone seemed to enjoy the starters and I do like it when you’re all digging in. Beer continued to flow and lot’s of diet cokes as we waited for the mains course. I was still freezing by the way in case anyone cares. The main courses were, well, okay, ermmmmm, well the selection was fairly limited as it was a set menu. A choice of 4 dishes for each course (compare this to Theo Randall’s set menu, okay maybe that’s a bit unfair).

So I went for the grilled chicken drizzled in a pine nut and basil pesto with roasted vegetables and herbed potatoes. Sounds lovely doesn’t it? It did sound lovely, it didn’t look to bad either . The roasted veg was nice, red onions, peppers, possibly something else which I couldn’t figure out and the potatoes tasted nice although were a bit dry inside. Then there’s the chicken. Firstly it was not drizzled in pesto, the pesto came in a little dish on the side. Secondly I think a plain chicken breast had been grilled and believe me, now it was cooked, no amount of seasoning was going to rescue it. Believe me, I tried. Even with the pesto on, due to it being thoroughly cooked, the flavour had no effect on this lifeless chicken. It were as if the chicken was Gareth Gates and everyone expected the chicken to be the star and steal the show but beside him is the veg, Will Young who suddenly sneaks up and goes “Hey guys I’m here” and he walks away with the prize. A strange analogy, but anyone who has seen Pop Idol (showing my age) will understand.

Comments I got about the other courses were that the pizzas were a bit tough but tasted okay and the risotto was stodgy and seemed like it was a microwave re-heat job. Am I selling Zizzi’s to you yet?

And so to the dessert. Not many  restaurants can make me a dessert I will truly love, in fact I can only think of Le Gavroche, Bentleys, Lindsey House and Galvin’s Cafe a Vin. I’m more a savoury person so when the 4 choices are sorbet, ice cream, chocolate torte or tiramisu then you are not off to a good start. For one, I do not believe any of the desserts are made fresh on the premises . I’m told the chocolate Torte was too sweet and didn’t hear much about the ice cream of tiramisu (which looked suspiciously like Theo Randall’s! The sorbet, which I had, was a scoop of mango and I think one of raspberry. I had a small spoonful of each. Yes, it was that good.

We were given a shot of lemsip with our desserts. Oh sorry, someone just told me it was limoncello. Really? Are you sure? Well if you insist, I still go for lemsip with alcohol in it. Not much of it got drunk. Although, I quickly downed two before braving the cold outdoors. Well I was already cold (have I mentioned it was cold in there?). Now I know you’re thinking this was not a great meal, but actually it was pretty good. We enjoyed ourselves, everyone forgetting about work, it was very enjoyable in that respect.

I should mention the staff though. Despite the quality of food and the cold (no I will not stop going on about it), they were very good, helpful, pleasant, friendly and on the whole the service was not too bad considering there was over 30 of us. Really if they could sort out the quality of the food and the ambience, it would not be a bad place for a reasonably priced meal. One note to Theo Randall, I think you can sleep safely, your crown still belongs to you.

So to my colleagues and the staff of Zizzi, thank you for an enjoyable experience and I wish you and my readers a very Merry Christmas and prosperous New Year.

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