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Archive for May, 2011

For those that don’t know Essex, there’s a small village called Coggeshall. A place I knew of, being from Essex, but had never been. I have had two great excuses to go and visit and strangely they were for different reasons but at the same place. The first trip was for the cookery school at Baumanns Brasserie,  day’s lesson that I won through Twitter from Chef Baumann himself. Now you’ve seen my adventure on cookery days so you’ll know I was quite looking forward to this. Even more so that it was a game day. That is game as in the animals, not that we went and played Cluedo in the kitchen (it was the chef with the carving knife).

A few game birds

I arrived very early as the great sat nav told me it took 40 minutes, add in A12 traffic in the morning, I gave myself an hour. 20 minutes it took, 20. Half of 40! Not that it annoyed me as, as you can probably tell. I had a wander round the village, sat in my car, was eyed by people walking their dogs, who were probably thinking, who is that person just sat in their car at this time of day. I finally decide to make a move, knowing I’ll be first in but it was getting chilly. I’m greeted cheerily, actually very cheerily for that time of day and coffee is supplied. I sit and wait for others to arrive and there ends up being four of us, two girls, two boys, nice & even. One of those girls was @EssexGourmet. Wasn’t our first meeting but nice to actually know someone there as, believe it or not, I’m a bit shy.

We meet the chef, Chris and the day is explained, menus handed out, aprons (much used since) are adorned. There’s the usual health & safety talk. Would you believe that knives are sharp! The kitchen is quite small, but not sure what I was really expecting as I didn’t know much about Baumann’s. It was fine for the five of us and special guest whose name I should have noted, basically it was a guy from their butchers who showed us how to bone a bird and put together a three bird roast. Should I change the wording of that last sentence?

I did learn quite a lot and since the day there I’ve mainly been buying whole birds and butchering them myself with the new found skills. It really works out a lot cheaper and is not as hard as it seems. Personally I learned more again about simple things you can do in the kitchen to makes things taste better. I mean, cooking with butter and putting some thyme in with it, so you just coat the meat and there’s a gentle flavour from the herbs. So simple and easy but something I’d never thought of doing before.

All the dishes turned out well and I think I was the best at butchering as well as cooking. Although @EssexGourmet will probably tell you otherwise. As well as what was on the menu, a few things were brought out from the larder to try, tarragon pannacotta is sublime and the Bailey’s and espresso one too, mmmmmmmm.

I have all the recipes and notes from this day but I’m not going to divulge too much information. Why? Because you should go and find out for yourselves. Put it this way, yes it was free for me to do it, but given the price, it is well worth it. I think one of the more value for money days actually. You’re a lot more hands on, the smaller group makes it easier to see everything and Chris is a great chef and very good laugh. Sometimes the day are with Mark Baumann but who wants to cook with him when we know who really does the hard work! (Secretly I’d like to cook with Mark but I don’t want to appear too much of a geek).

The second reason I had to go to Baumann’s was as a dinner guest. Again I’m not going to tell you much about the food as you have to go and try it yourself. I love good food, informal surroundings and great service and we got all three here. Having only been cooking with Chris (hey that should be their name for the experience days)a few weeks earlier we were treated to a few extras and ended up with a six course meal. The bonus to having great food is when the price is reasonable and it certainly is at Baumann’s. When you consider we had a glass of wine with starter and main rather than sharing a bottle, three courses each, after dinner drinks and coffee, a price of £50 a head is not to be sniffed at. Actually make that four courses paid for as we had the middles as well (you have to check out the menu to see them, fantabulous idea).

The great thing about the Brasserie is there was plenty there I had never tried which is why I ended up having Antelope. I have to say I was pretty stuffed after and we actually didn’t eat until about 2pm the next day as we had been fed so well. I am already trying to arrange my next visit back there and, if you haven’t been, then you should arrange your first.

For more information on Baumanns Brasserie and the Cookery School visit www.baumannsbrasserie.com

Or contact them at:

 Baumanns Brasserie, 4-6 Stoneham Street, Coggeshall, Essex CO6 1TT
Tel: 01376 561453       Email: food@baumannsbrasserie.co.uk
Y0u can follow Mark Baumann on Twitter @chefbaumann

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Prudence

The Beatles sung “Dear Prudence, come out to play”.  There is a girl called Prudence who plays all year round and with that she helps us to play and enjoy life. If you have ever had a Sipsmith Gin or Vodka, then your life has been touched by Prudence. I guess I should explain. Prudence is the still that produces Sipsmith Gin & Vodka. I have been lucky enough to meet her. A glorious gleaming copper still, sitting proudly in a quiet street in Hammersmith. She quietly goes about her business of making two fine aromatic liquors that we love. To steal a line from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, I would go as far to say she is a phantasmagorical machine.

In the heart of Prudence

We met Prudence by going on a  tour of the Sipsmith distillery, well I say tour but it is really just one room, that’s all there is to the building. Now I knew it was small but was still surprised as to how small. So small in fact we were lucky to get there this year as the company is going from strength to strength and may be having to expand very soon to larger premises. The tour itself starts with the various guests mingling over gin and tonics (very generous gin and tonics, a seemingly never-ending supply of gin and tonics in fact). The group was largely taken up by students and anyone who just grimaced when i said that, yes, that was our initial reaction. I will tell you this, the best behaved, polite and great bunch of students I have ever met. We had quite an in-depth discussion about gin with a couple fo them, discussing the various types and brands. It was quite funny as these students were learning the business, how to distil and their knowledge was clearly technical where ours was more from experience of drinking the stuff. I felt like the wise old sage at one point as I went through the various spirits I have tried over the years, what I liked about them and passing on my advice of enjoying the drink, savouring, don’t binge. Glad I said that to them before I staggered out quite tipsy at the end.

Sam keeping us entertained

Back to the tour. Sam, one of the owners, talked us through the history of Gin and I took in every word and can’t remember a thing now, sorry Sam, I blame the Gin. We moved on to Sipsmith’s themselves and me and my wife even got a special mention as “batch one” owners and supporting them from the start when they launched at one of the Taste of London festivals. I felt very proud. While Sam continued his interesting and often humorous talk about how the gin is made, how they came to their choice or aromatics, Prudence sat quietly behind him, hard at work on the next batch.

One story I do remember is the struggle Sam and his Partner in the business, Fairfax, had in trying to get a licence to distil in London. You see, Sipsmith are the first to ask for such a licence for a long long time, Prudence is actually the first copper still in London for nearly 200 years. When trying to get their license, they found no one really knew how to do it. Well, there’s no one alive that last issued such a license in London. They ended up having to speak to the office in Scotland as apparently they have som experience in issuing licences for distilleries. I know, you’d have thunked it. Eventually, after I think 12 months, if memory serves (note, buy a notebook Simon), they were granted the licence and were able to bring a new product to the market, Sipsmith Gin (not forgetting the Vodka too).

Anyone who’s drunk this gin will probably know why I rave about it. Aromatic, smooth, drinkable neat. It’s one of those spirits that makes you feel like you’re drinking a quality product and that’s from the flavour, not from the look of it. Bottled with understated labels that use the feature of the Swan’s Neck from the still in the design. A label that is just stuck on a fairly plain bottle. No fancy shapes, embossing or fancy glass work for these guys. It is definitely a case of the product speaking for itself. So what are you doing sitting here reading this? Get out there and get yourself a bottle and while you’re there, get yourself a bottle of vodka too. Grab a pack of Fever Tree tonic as well as it works very well with both, a few limes, ice, a glass and enjoy.

I’d like to say thank you to Sam and Fairfax for a great evening, we will see you again at Taste no doubt. And to all of you, there is only one thing I can say now, “make mine a double”. For more information on the tours, gin, vodka and the company:

www.sipsmith.co.uk

Follow Sam on twitter @SipsmithSam

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