Sunday, 30 August 2015

5 Questions - Simon Wood, Masterchef Winner 2015

It's no surprise to you all that I love Masterchef. This year seen the show return for its tenth year with co-hosts John Torode and Gregg Wallace once again putting amateur chefs and home cooks into situations that they could only dream of, in the hope that they can carve out a new career doing something that they love.
Each year I try to pick out one or two of the contestants and follow them throughout the process, and this year there were three or four who caught my attention. As the competition became hugely competitive, Simon Wood, Tony Rodd and Emma Spitzer managed keep their cool and serve up consistently good food before reaching the final where they had to cook for The Chef's Table. I can't imagine how nerve-wracking it must have been to cook for Marcus Wareing, Andrew Fairlie, Daniel Clifford, Anthony Demetre, and renowned Italian chef Francesco Mazzei, who between them have eight Michelin stars.

Thanks to social media, fans of the show are able to throw their support behind their favourite contestants, with some of the amateur cooks taking the time out to interact with fans whilst the TV show is on air. I had picked Simon Wood out at the early stages as someone to watch and as the show reached the final, Simon held his nerves to be crowned Masterchef 2015 winner by John and Gregg.
I have been lucky enough to have had previous winners Ping Coombes and Tim Anderson take time out to answer 5 Questions, and I'm please to add Simon to this illustrious list.
Here's Simon's story;
What do you hope to do with your career after Masterchef has ended?
Simply put, my dream has always been to cook, and to make people happy with my food! My focus currently is with The Oldham Event Centre at Oldham Athletic where I am now their executive chef, which I'm really excited about. We will be holding Fine Dining events where people can sample my food, with the first coming up on the 30th October. I will also be holding regular cookery schools there – for more info and to register interest visit http://oldhameventcentre.co.uk/ or call on 0161 785 5185
What was your favourite challenge on the show?
There were so so many that I thoroughly enjoyed, but my absolute favourite had to be cooking the special 50th anniversary celebration lunch for The Red Arrows in Lincolnshire during the Semi Finals. It was a great day and a complete privilege, and of course, I lead the Blue Team to victory so that was an enormous bonus!
What is the biggest thing that you learnt about yourself over the process?
I would have to say it's that in the face of adversity I rise to the challenge and perform at my best. This is a quality I want to take into my own professional kitchen and something that will, I hope, help it to be a great success.

If you could only cook one of the recipes that you cooked over the MasterChef process, what would it be & why?
It would be my Wild Mushroom Ravioli with Sage butter and Panne Gratatta – it's jam packed full of flavour, and very inexpensive and easy to make.

You can invite one person (living or dead) to your last meal – Who would it be and why? …and what’s on the menu?
This is a tough one, but it would have to be my Dad, just so he can see that I finally achieved what I had always wanted to do. The menu would be a really simple one - an omelette to start (as he taught me to make them), followed by a really good steak, and to finish my favourite dessert, Tiramisu.

Simon went into the competition with hopes of cooking like and ultimately becoming a professional chef and since being crowned Masterchef 2015 champion, he's well on the way to fulfilling his dreams. Having recently taken the Executive Chef role at Oldham Athletic Football Club where he has developed a 'Simon Wood Menu' which will launch very soon. Diners at Oldham Event Centre can enjoy three new menus throughout the year and bi-monthly Simon will be creating bespoke menus for food lovers to enjoy in 'Dining with Simon Wood'.
In addition to his Executive Chef gig, Simon is currently writing recipes for his first cook book, honing his skills by getting more practice in some of the top kitchens in the UK, making appearances at various corporate events and is also available for private dining too. It has been non stop since the final was aired back in April so I would like to thank Simon for taking taking out of his hectic schedule to answer 5 Questions and wish him every success in following his dream.
Find out more about Simon and his private dining availability on www.simonwoodcooks.com or for his Oldham Events log onto www.oldhameventcentre.co.uk
Keep up with Simon on Facebook and Twitter.



Written by Gerry Haughian Written by Gerry Haughian

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Meet Your Match at TGI Fridays, Featuring 5 Questions with Head Chef Terry McDowell

Serving up big, bold flavours to the UK since 1986, Fridays knows how to create food with the wow factor; the new menu features smoky, tender meats and gooey, sweet treats, bringing together classic Fridays favourites with delicious new dishes.
There’s something on the new TGI Fridays Meet Your Match menu to tickle everyone’s taste buds and myself and Nicola were invited along to try out some of the new kids on the block. Whether hot, crispy and cheesy Double Layered Nachos get your mouth watering, or sweet and sticky barbequed pork belly smothered in Jack Daniel’s® glaze is more your taste, guests will be sure to find their perfect plate on the new menu.
Fans of the unique Fridays kickin’ Jack Daniel’s® sauce won’t be disappointed – the much-loved range is expanding, with the introduction of the Jack Daniel’s® Pork Belly and Jack Daniel’s® Bucket of Bones – a juicy, laid-back dish. Other new additions for guests to get their hands on include a range of five hot dogs, layered with flavours inspired by New York’s best loved street eats. If you’re not hot for ‘dogs, the succulent new Warrior Burger will not disappoint, if you dare to take it on.

We often pop into TGI Friday's for cocktails but it has been many years since we had eaten there so when the invite came along, we were both keen to see what we had been missing. The menu at Fridays has always had a huge focus on traditional American classics with burgers, steak and ribs topping the bill, but the menu hasn't had any new additions in 8 years. Now you could say 'if it ain't broke, but keen not to allow complacency to creep in, Fridays were of the belief that it was time to shake things up a bit.
Creative Head Chef Terry McDowell was tasked to come up with some items that were worthy of the Fridays name and on the night, myself and some of Glasgow's other food bloggers were given the opportunity to try out some of the eight new items that Terry and his team have created.
We had already had a sneaky look at the TGI Friday's website before our arrival and had worked out from the 'Meet Your Match' pages, that the new items were going to be Fridays version of Man v Food, which is pretty much what panned out on the night.
We were each allowed to try one appetiser (which is being used in its loosest term) and one main meal each. I'll say at this point that neither myself or Nicola are huge eaters and as our first dishes arrived, we knew that we had both indeed 'Met Our Match'.
Nicola had ordered the BBQ Pork Belly which was smothered in Jack Daniel's glaze, toasted sesame seeds and chilli flakes and served on a bed of fresh apple slaw. Three thick slices of perfectly cooked pork belly were fantastic, the stick JD glaze was balanced with the crisp, fresh coleslaw and had they served it with some chips on the side, Nicola would have been more than happy to call it dinner.
I had the Bucket of Bones, a crockpot full of delicious pork ribs and chicken wings smothered in the rich Jack Daniel's glaze. Wow! I can honestly say that I've not tasted ribs like this in years..... Actually, ever! I couldn't stop eating, the meat just fell from the bone which meant that I had to get my spoon into the amazing sauce in the bottom of the bowl to rescue the tender pork. This dish is meant to be shared but I made a good attempt at finishing the lot but common sense got the better of me and I stopped about two thirds of the way in, taking the rest of my ribs home in a doggy bag.
By this stage we could both have easily thanked our guests for their hospitality and made our way home but we still had our mains to come. Nicola had ordered the Jack Daniel's Chili Dog, a huge pork 'dog topped with hot and smoky JD beef Chili, diced onions, cheese, jalapeños and American mustard, all of which was nestled on top of a pile of crispy fries. This hotdog was full of flavour and had it not been for the fact that Nicola had devoured her pork belly earlier, she could easily have finished her main. However, in the end she had to admit that she had bitten off more than she could chew.
I don't know what I was thinking when I ordered the Warrior Burger, after all, I had read the description! Where was I going to put two 7oz burgers piled high with mozzarella fingers, cheese, bacon, more cheese, caramelised onions and TGI Fridays Mayo? Not to mention the homemade onion rings, which were delicious, and a basket of fries. It didn't take too long to realise that I was failing to tame the Warrior Burger and I had to admit defeat much earlier than I would have liked.
As the meat sweats started to kick in, we chatted with one of the PR agents for Fridays and passed on our own feedback that everything that we had served to us was well presented, and tasted great. However I did have some concerns that the portion sizes could see an unwanted increase in food waste although we did agree that it would be unlikely that most diners would tackle the amount of food that we were invited to order on the evening so maybe it won't be such a big problem on an average day.
In all fairness, I think that when myself and Nicola go back to TGI Fridays next time, we would probably choose a couple of appetisers to share over a cocktail or two, rather than try to tackle the larger main meal menu items.

Terry McDowell, TGI Fridays’ Head Chef said: "Fridays is all about having fun, and we think these new additions to the Fridays food family will most certainly deliver on this, with their big personalities and American-inspired flavours to match. We can’t wait to unveil them to the nation, and for guests to come on in and meet their match at Fridays"
I was lucky to catch up with Terry on the night and he was able to spare a little time to answer 5 Questions.
Here's Terry's story;
How did you get started?
After leaving school, I was doing an engineering apprenticeship and I hated it. I happened to bump into an old friend who was doing his City and Guilds 706 1&2 and he told me that he loved it. I decided I'd give it a go, and have been working in kitchens ever since.
What’s your best piece of business advice you could give to aspiring chefs?
Always give everything you have; food is about creativity, passion and delivering consistently every time you are in the kitchen.
Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years’ time?
I'd like to be the director of food in a business I believe in, like TGI Fridays. It's really important to me that any role I’ll be doing allows me to be creative, be hands on and make a difference to the guests and team, as well as being a thoroughly enjoyable place to work.
If you could have one of your own recipes entered into the "Food Hall of Fame", what would it be and why?
The dish I'd like to see in the Food Hall of Fame would be Pan Fried turbot with a gin and pink grapefruit sauce. I really like cooking with fish and the flavours and simplicity of this dish make can be replicated at home or up-scaled into an amazing restaurant dish. That or the new Warrior burger created for the new TGI Fridays Meet Your Match menu.
You can invite one person (living or dead) to your last meal – Who would it be and why? …and what’s on the menu?
I'd invite David Lee Roth - the original singer in Van Halen. He's the person who personifies what I like about food. He's an entertainer, he gives it all he has - he's passionate, innovative and keeps re-inventing himself. I'd love to listen to him tell the story of his life and how he's managed to stay at the top of his game for so long. As he's a lover of Jack Daniels whiskey, I'd do a JD based BBQ menu, including some of the items we have on the menu at TGI Fridays.
Suitable stuffed, we said our goodbyes and made our way home with our perception of TGI Fridays firmly changed. I'm not entirely sure why we never considered Fridays as one of our go to lunch or dinner options but after our visit last week, we will definitely be back again soon.
We would like to thank the staff and management at TGI Fridays Buchanan Street for the invitation and for their hospitality on the night. I would also like to say that although we were guests of Fridays, the above review is an honest account of our own experience on the night.
Keep up with all the news from TGI Fridays on Twitter or Facebook.





 Written by Gerry Haughian Written by Gerry Haughian

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Nocking Point Wines - UK Launch Party @ Old Joint Stock, Birmingham

One night back in February, I remember hearing Nicola squeal with excitement as she read about the up and coming launch party for Nocking Point Wine that was due to be held in Birmingham a few months later.
Nicola's high level of excitement wasn't down to the fact that she loves wine, although that did play a small part, but because Nocking Point Wine is owned by Stephen Amell, the actor who plays DC Comic Book hero- The Arrow, and his friend Andrew Harding. The launch was being held to coincide with the City of Heroes convention being held at Birmingham's Hilton Metropole that weekend which meant that Stephen would be in town and also be in attendance to meet, greet and mingle with the revellers on the night.
Nicola is a huge fan of The Arrow and made an executive decision that we just had to be there for the launch party. So thanks to cheap return train tickets with Virgin Trains and very reasonably price overnight accommodation at Premier Inn (which happened to be right next door to the party venue), we had our Nocking Point Launch Party trip to Birmingham booked and confirmed.
It wasn't long before May arrived and we made our way to Birmingham for what turned out to be a great weekend. We arrived early in the afternoon and after checking into our hotel, we decided to check out the venue for the impending party as well as grab some lunch. Part of the Fullers stable of pubs and hotels, Old Joint Stock is a traditional pub situated inside a Grade II listed building. Originally built as a library back in 1862 before becoming the Birmingham Joint Stock Bank and then one of the early branches of Lloyds Bank in 1889, the building is now home to a fantastic bar that is regarded as one of the top 25 in the UK. As well as the stunning bar, the building is also home to the Old Joint Stock Theatre, a professional 100 seat studio theatre which hosts musical theatre shows, improv comedy and much more.
Speciality pies are the main focus of the menu but if pies don't do it for you, there is a huge range of good range of mains, sharing platters and sandwiches choose from. With thoughts of a lighter lunch, we both opted for sandwiches but Old Joint Stock clearly don't know the meaning of a light lunch as we were both stuffed after our well filled sandwiches. (Maybe we shouldn't have ordered those sides of fries?) Fullers London Pride is one of my favourite beers and Old Joint Stock sells more of this beer that anywhere else in the UK but with so many beers on show that I hadn't tasted before, I decided to wash lunch down with a pint of Frontier (a new craft beer from Fullers that lacked any real body) and a bottle of Wild River that packed a huge hoppy citrus punch. Keen to get into wine tasting mode for the evening ahead, Nicola started as she meant to go on, with a cool white wine and soda.
Suitably fed and watered, we made the short walk back to the hotel for an afternoon nap, hoping to be fully refreshed for the arrival of The Arrow!
It was almost showtime and myself and Nicola crossed the road and joined what was already becoming a rather lengthy queue of party-goers outside of Old Joint Stock. The rumour mill was running at full speed as word spread up the line about who else might be in attendance at the launch. The City of Heroes Convension had seen cast members from Flash, The Arrow, and Gotham so we were all hopeful that we might see Caity Lotz, Brandon Routh, Candice Patton, Jesse L. Martin, Sean Pertwee to name a few, unfortunately most of the other actors and actresses had started their own journeys home after the event.
When Stephen and Drew arrived, Stephen took time to walk along the queue saying hello and allowing those on the outside edges to grab a sneaky photo or two, before heading back inside to start welcoming us to the launch party.
We were some of the first to get inside and once through the doors we were each given some drinks vouchers to use at the bar, as well as a commemorative wine glass each. Simple instructions were given out about how the night would work but in short, there would be a bar area on one side set up where we could try out the Nocking Point white and rose wines and another bar area set up where there would be samples of the various Nocking Point red wines. At first I was concerned that we would only be getting a snifter of each of the wine but as it turned out, there was unlimited refills on any of the Nocking Point Wines which meant that there was going to be one or two people in Birmingham who would dealing with sore heads come Monday morning, myself and Nicola included!
As it happened, we were right next to the bar serving up the white and rose wine and as I took my sample, I tried to move on to allow others to get to the bar however Nicola and the girl that had been next to us in the queue were rooted to the spot. I mentioned before that most of the stars from the convention had made their way home after the event but The Arrow's trusted assistant John Diggle - AKA actor David Ramsey had been recruited for the evening to act as a bartender and he was pouring wine right in front of us! Nicola eventually blurted out those immortal words "can I get a picture?", to which David replied with a cheeky grin "Selfie?" I think it's fair to say that no matter what happened across the rest of the evening, Nicola had had her money worth. Big thanks to David for being a good sport and making Nicola's night.
After such excitement, we needed a seat and as we were still ahead of the slowly dispersing queue, we managed to commandeer a raised table near the back of the venue that was only a shot distance from the loos and also happened to be on the main path from the kitchen to the bar which meant that every time a platter of canapés passed by, we had first refusal. Special credit needs to go to the kitchen and waiting staff on duty who done a great job feeding the 400 or so people who eventually crammed the bar. I've been to a few events where there is a small element of finger food where the principle of 'if you're not fast, you're last' applies but Old Joint Stock continued to serve food right up until closing time. Our location meant that we were able to make good use of the buffet service and I can honestly say that the kitchen team served up a fantastic range of tasty treats.
It didn't take too long before it was standing room only inside Old Joint Stock and the wine kept flowing. At times Stephen and Drew took their turn pouring wine from the makeshift bars, although I was never lucky enough to actually chat with Stephen about Nocking Point but did manage a quick chat with Drew about the brand an their plans for the future. Currently the wine is only available through The Nocking Point Wine Club and also only available in the USA - so whilst the night wasn't a proper launch event, more an introduction to the brand and their wine, it gave the lucky attendees the chance to sample and enjoy some pretty good wines.
Nocking Point produce a very easy to drink white and rose wines which we both enjoyed, however I would say that the red wines that come out of the 3.5 acre vineyard in Walla Walla Valley in Washington state are some of the best that I've tasted especially the 2009 Merlot that had me returning for a refill, time and time again.
The wines are named with an element of inspiration taken from The Arrow - Wicked Aim, Verdant House and Vigilante to name just a few, this coupled with cool label artwork designed by legendary DC Comics illustrator, Jim Lee, means that each bottle quickly becomes collectors item. If I had been smarter on the night, I could have asked for a few empties on the way out!
As the night drew to an end, Nicola made one last attempt at getting up close and personal with The Arrow but Stephen must have gotten word and was trying to make a quick exit. Not quick enough though and Nicola managed to snap a picture of The Arrow and Diggle bidding each other goodnight.
It wasn't too long before the party began to wind down as the licensing laws in England meant that by 11pm, we had to be on our merry way. We had both had a great night chatting with fellow Arrow fans and enjoying the endless supply of wine so we were more than happy to make the short walk back to our hotel for a good night sleep.
I'm not sure if we will ever see Nocking Point Wine reach the UK but if we do, I'll be doing my best to get my hands on a bottle or two.
You can keep up to date with the team at Nocking Point Wine on Facebook and Twitter.

 

 

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For.... Beer Gelato?

Award-winning Italian beer, Menabrea, teams up with La Gelatiera to create limited edition beer- infused gelato
Magnifico, bellissimo, or just rather brilliant? Italy’s oldest brewery, Birra Menabrea, and Covent Garden’s premier artisan gelateria, La Gelatiera, are to give new meaning to the phrase "fancy a cold one?" this Thursday, handing out 250 tubs of bespoke beer-infused gelato to lucky Glaswegians.
The dairy-free, adults-only creation, flavoured with real ginger and Sorrento lemon to complement a base of well-rounded, moderately bitter Menabrea "Ambrata" lager, is part of an exclusive run of only 150 litres, which has seen sampling in London and Manchester over the previous two weeks. Menabrea will be pedalling their branded freezer bike between city centre locations, so those interested are encouraged to follow @MenabreaUK and search #GrownUpGelato to see where the bike will be throughout the day.
In a crowded culinary landscape where once-exotic and improbable foodstuffs have become everyday items, Menabrea’s ‘Grown Up Gelato’ was designed to impress even the most jaded foodies as a unique synthesis of two fine Italian traditions – beer and gelato. The positive reaction on Twitter suggests the gelato has gone down a treat so far.
The award-winning Menabrea brewery has brewed its signature lagers – a crisp, well-balanced blonde and a rich, hoppy amber – on the same Piedmontese site since 1846, benefitting from local Alpine spring water and a system of underground caves where the beer undergoes its 4-week ‘lagering’ process. The brewery, still in the hands of its founding family, has found a natural partner in La Gelatiera, winner of Top 50 Foods at the 2013 and 2014 Great Taste Awards. Drawing on the family traditions of Calabrian co-owner Antonio Parisi, La Gelatiera’s flair for experimentation and use of the finest natural, seasonal ingredients and traditional processes set them a cut above the rest.
Says Aly Bayne, Menabrea UK Brand Manager, "Menabrea is a quality, authentic Italian product that’s full of flavour and steeped in heritage and we’ve really enjoyed collaborating on this project with the talented team at La Gelatiera, whose business embodies the best of another strong Italian tradition. This creation has been a bit of fun for us but the gelato has proved to be a huge hit in both London and Manchester – and we’re sure it will be in Glasgow too!"
Stephane Leyvraz, co-owner of La Gelatiera, said of the project, "When Menabrea approached us with the idea of infusing gelato with their beer, they had our attention right away. We thrive on experimentation and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in terms of flavour, while staying true to traditional methods of production that are the foundation of real, Italian artisan gelato. Of course, the better the beer, the better the gelato, and we’re very pleased to see how well it’s gone down with the public so far."
When you ask for a ‘birra’ in the cafes and trattorias of Turin and Milan, odds are you’ll be served a cold bottle of Menabrea. The beer was introduced in its first major UK distribution deal late last year and is currently bringing a taste of authentic Italy to bars and restaurants across the country.





Monday, 10 August 2015

Quick Review - City Merchant, Candleriggs, Glasgow

A few weeks ago myself and Nicola made a trip into Glasgow to check out some of the early Summer sales. We hadn't made any plans for lunch but not wanting it to be a hugely expensive affair, I turned to restaurant booking site 5pm.co.uk to see if I could source somewhere close by that was serving up a cheeky lunchtime deal. We were spoilt for choice with tons of deals within a short distance of our city centre location and after a look at the menu at City Merchant, we booked a table for a little later in the afternoon.
An hour later we were seated at a window table looking over what can only be described as one of the best value lunchtime menus that I've seen in a long time! The standard deal is two courses for £9.99 however as we had booked through 5pm, we also had a glass of house wine included in the price. City Merchant is probably best known as a seafood restaurant but the lunch menu still has plenty of choice for those that aren't huge fans of fish. The biggest problem that myself and Nicola had was deciding what to choose but after our waitress talked us through the menu and the specials, we were soon ready to order.
Nicola ordered the Cajun Salmon Chowder from the special board and was thrilled by her choice. (So thrilled that she is still talking about it to this day) The thick creamy soup was full of flavour and packed with tons of Cajun spiced salmon as well as some prawns and white fish too.
I had ordered the pork belly terrine and beetroot relish (which is hiding under the toasted brioche). The large slice of terrine was cooked well and flavoured with plenty of herbs, the earthy beetroot relish worked well with the sweet pork and helped add a much needed layer of texture although For my own taste, I would have preferred the relish to have been slightly sharper in flavour. I enjoyed my started but I have to admit that I was envious of Nicola's chowder on the other side of the table.
As with most lunchtime deals, the tables are turned around pretty quickly so it wasn't too long before our mains arrived. Nicola had ordered the slow cooked shoulder of lamb which came with Isreali couscous, pea shoots and salsa verde. The lamb was well flavoured and very tender, falling apart at the slightest resistance. Isreali couscous is larger than in size and has a different texture to regular couscous with a nutty texture that worked well with the well seasoned lamb. A sharp salsa verde added another dimension and helped bring the dish together.
My own main course was a roasted Coley with crushed peas, smoked Morteaux sausage, sautéed potatoes and citrus cream. This was a clever plate of food with lots of flavours complimenting each other. The fish was seasoned and cooked well, working well with the smokiness of the Motreaux sausage (which I would have liked more of) whilst the sautéed potatoes, peas and citrus cream sauce helped balance the dish.
With two courses behind us, we didn't really have room for dessert although we did see a couple of tables get puddings served and at £3.50, they looked well worth the money.
The last time that I was at City Merchant was over 20 years ago but based on this visit, the gap between our next visit will definitely not be that long! Myself and Nicola still can't get over the range of choice, quality of food and value for money that we had and are already looking for another reason to get back in to town so that we can go for lunch again.
I think it's safe to say that we aren't the only ones wowed by the lunchtime deal at City Merchant as the restaurant was very busy all through the lunch service with almost everyone on the set menu deal. So if your looking for great value and top quality cooking, City Merchant is definitely somewhere that you should add to your list. (Remember to book through 5pm to get a glass of wine included in the deal)
Keep up to date with news from City Merchant on Facebook and Twitter.