I’m always questioning the processes of how the kitchens work, why we do certain things and what we can do better.
This thought process however makes me reflect on myself as a chef, what makes me excited? What drives me to be a better cook? How can I improve what our customers are eating? Many chefs preach about British, local and seasonal produce but very few actually follow through these ideals and we see pineapple desserts cropping up all over Britain in the winter months when our crops are less than abundant.
What is British cuisine? This question is a constant dilemma I ask myself daily. There’s no doubt our little island now produces ingredients that are the envy of the world. Scottish seafood is used in some of the best restaurants in the world! Is it possible to serve an entire meal composed of exclusively British ingredients without compromising the quality of the meal? There’s little point in restricting what we use just because we’re trying to be clever, but I have no connection to tropical fruit and when I walk around our resort I’m not tripping over mangoes I’m on the hunt for wild garlic or cobnuts.
There’s no doubt our cuisine has been shaped by the cultural diversity Britain is lucky to have. Chicken Korma can probably be considered as a national dish! The spice trade shaped what Britain has grown into so does that mean I can use exotic spices in my dishes? If I can grow fennel in the kitchen garden does that make it British even though its origin is Mediterranean but wild fennel is prevalent across Britain. Where do I draw the line?
If I’m cooking seasonally then in July I can produce a tomato dish from a British producer, but as we’re all aware the English summer can leave us wanting. So on those days when it’s been pouring with rain all day a plate of tomatoes isn’t exactly a comforting hug of warmth and decadence that you want after a day of staring at the weather from the wrong side of the window.
Cooking should reflect a time and place. A chefs emotive feelings on that day. It’s not black and white, a fancy font on a menu, it’s how the kitchen wants to present on that day driven by its creative force and the influence he has on the team.
One of my favourite ingredients is pearl barley I love the flavour, texture and versitality of it. It’s deeply rooted in our ancestry and has and is still used for the production of beer and whisky but it originated in Asia. One of my favourite methods is to make a barley miso inspired by Japanese miso made with soy beans.
The flavour is amazing it takes 6 weeks to ferment but is seriously worth the wait.
Here in lies the dilemma I may never answer, Barley is one of Britains great products that originates from a far away land and yet we call it ours. And here I am in Torridon creating a flavour inspired by Japan. That’s what the Brits have done all through history, taken something worth while and made it our own. So is anything truly British?