Great British Chefs #GBCCookSchool with Adam Gray

Adam shows off a tray of bread-wrapped mackerel

Adam Gray shows off a tray of bread-wrapped mackerel

I’ve talked before about the general wonderfulness that is Great British Chefs, and I was again honoured and delighted to join them for one of their fabulous events. This time it was for a cook school – not dissimilar to when Pinterest kindly invited me along to learn from Tom Aikens – at the aptly named Cookery School in Little Portland Street, London.

This time the chef was Skylon’s own Adam Gray; some years back my then-boyfriend (now husband) took me to what was then Rhodes 24 – where Chef Gray was busy earning Michelin stars. It was one of my first grown up fine dining experiences and I still remember elements of that meal very fondly, so it was great to now be learning tips and tricks from a master of the trade who had already contributed to warm and fuzzy memories.

We kicked off with Adam and his sous chef Damon making a fish dish that essentially required making a spring roll out of very thinly rolled slices of bread wrapped around fillets of mackerel flavoured with a dash of English mustard. He took us from filleting the whole fish to plating up beautifully with rhubarb chutney and sea purslane. There’s an alternative, BLT-inspired version of this on the GBC website.

Totes even and perfectly well-rolled, obvs. Ahem.

Totes even and perfectly well-rolled, obvs. Ahem.

Next came the opportunity to get our hands on some beautiful ingredients and mix Ticklemore goats cheese with cream cheese to form a sort of sausage; this was double-dredged in panko breadcrumbs and fried; with the gorgeous, simple tomato salad that made up the rest of the dish it was absolutely delightful. Plus I can now say a Michelin-starred chef has made suggestive jokes while I attempt to get hands-on with a roll of cheese. #lifegoals.

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Dessert before…

Dessert was a fluffy flourless lemon, almond and polenta cake topped with a warmed strawberry jam sauce and served with vanilla-scented natural yogurt. Sugar-free or not, I did take a bite and it was beautifully light yet rich; I might just work out how to do a lower sugar version. There were so many we couldn’t actually finish them and I ended up bringing some home for the family who were very appreciative.

Learning from Adam was really a great privilege; as well as demonstrating dishes and checking on everyone’s progress, he held a little mackerel filleting masterclass and was very generous with his time and his knowledge. He’s very passionate about British ingredients – he only uses locally produced rapeseed oil, for example, and was specific about the British brands, such as Tiptree strawberry jam, he supported when using a ready-made product. He’s visited the sources and investigated the factories. Best of all, he’s realistic about what can be achieved at home, and recognises the role of budget in the average household; mackerel is a fairly cheap fish, and rapeseed oil is much more affordable than some olive oils (though, being Greek, you’ll pry my olive oil from my cold, dead hands, obvs).

The sticky aftermath.

The sticky aftermath.

The Cookery School is a lovely venue; for my pal Christina, it was essentially her home for the week as she’d been on a baking course for three days and plied me with amazing cheese straws and quiche while supplying macarons and sponge cake to the rest of the crew. It’s well-stocked and spotless and founder Rosalind is incredibly, rightly, proud of what she’s achieved.

Best of all, the people who come along to GBC events are always interesting. We’re a very mixed bag, all connected to food in different ways (other than, you know, eating it, that is). Everyone’s always so ready to get stuck in, help out and produce something beautiful; I leave every event with five new people to stalk online, which can never be a bad thing.

Christina, Tiff and Alex. Never knowingly underfed.

Christina, Tiff and Alex. Never knowingly underfed.

If any of the recipes above sound as delicious to you as they should, you can find the cake under Adam Gray’s profile on the Great British Chefs website, plus a number of his other recipes, including a few other gluten-free options. It is all much more manageable than it might look (looks, I think, are half the problem; I’ll never manage presentation like that!) and the other lovely friend who accompanied me, Tiff, has already made the mackerel dish at home. My thanks again to Adam and the GBC team for another very enjoyable event, and for giving me the opportunity to again learn something new.

Edit: GBC has produced a guide including all the recipes which is right here! Handy.

Disclosure: If it’s not obvious, Great British Chefs invited me to the event.

Great British Chefs and #SMWFoodPhoto: Food photography, David Griffen & Marcus Wareing

Although I’ve never defined exactly what kind of blogger I am – parenting? Disney? Cat? – one of the things that has always been a big part of my writing is food. As a result I’ve been privileged to get to know some of the Great British Chefs team and community, and even blogged for them once or twice.

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During Social Media Week, the only thing that could rival the excitement of having been asked to speak in a panel myself was attending GBC’s free food photography workshop.

Not only would I get a chance to hear photography secrets and tips from the brilliant David Griffen – who is responsible for more than 50% of the imagery on the gorgeous GBC site – but I’d also get to go fangirl and be in the same room as a food hero, Marcus Wareing. The menu for the evening was to be provided by the team from his St. Pancras-based restaurant, The Gilbert Scott. As icing on the showstopping cake, it would be at Google’s London HQ, allowing me to tick off another square of my Social Media Bingo card (I need Twitter for the big-name hat trick).

photo 1So, what did I learn? Other than the fact that rabbit and prawn pie is not just a thing, but a very, very delicious thing and that gin and lavender cocktails are insanely gorgeous?

Well, how to take slightly better photos than that wobbly cocktail and popcorn one, for a start.

What I particularly loved about David’s presentation was that he focussed almost exclusively on photography with an iPhone or similarly app-happy smartphone. Since for the vast majority of those of us likely to whip out photographic equipment before eating this is going to be the most commonly used device, it was considerably more useful than fancy DSLR settings. It also focussed much more of the classic elements of photography, such as composition and lighting – because to be a better photographer you need an understanding of those much more than you need expensive kit.

David’s Top Tips

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Take photos where there is already good natural light. Unfortunately, for many of us this isn’t something we can control; David – quite justifiably – suggested doing your shooting at lunchtime, and simply enjoying your food at dinner time, but how often do you get to go to some great place more than once in order to do that? For many of us, we’re grabbing the opportunity to snap away for a one time only deal; but do try at least to remember the importance of the best lighting you can get.

Try some different apps. David recommend the (free) ProCamera, and it really is quite outstandingly awesome. My two favourite features are the ability to separate exposure and focus (so you can work with the best available light without compromising the composition you’ve chosen) and the rapid fire mode for action shots. The latter I’ve not yet applied to food – just to my daughter, dancing! – but I can see it working very well for cooking shots.

Try several layers of filters before you hit Instagram. I’ve recently become quite enamoured of VSCO Cam, and was pleased to see David rated it too. But his most valuable recommendation for me was Snapseed, a Google app I’d somehow missed entirely and which is absolutely brilliant for correcting brightness and white balance. His suggestion to use the Drama filter is one worth taking.

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There were many more points raised, but those were the ones that sank in, and that I’ve been trying to apply ever since. Not always successfully, I might add, but that is entirely my own fault.

Once David had imparted his hard-earned knowledge and Marcus had his say (more on this in a moment), we headed off into the canteen (left) to sample more delights and try out his tips, while the man himself darted around offering assistance generously.

The first subject to catch my eye for practice photography was this member of the TGS team, assembling the moreish oxtail sliders that were probably the most praised of the evening’s treats. On the right is one of the original photos (sadly I accidentally deleted the same one, but as it was taken within a few seconds, conditions were extremely similar). On the left, it’s been taken through Snapseed’s Drama filter, had the saturation tweaked and then been run through one of VSCO Cam’s more cinematic filters.

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Next I set my sights on the elegant rabbit and prawn pie; the softness of the rabbit, firm bite of the prawns and flaky gorgeousness of the pastry were all nearly enough to make me put down the damned phone and eat, but I managed to get a few shots in… of which this, again tarted up with Snapseed, was probably my best.

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As we all plunged into a shared bowl together, I was quite taken by the look of the plundered dish afterwards, and this time managed to save the original shot, the one after a VSCO Cam filter was applied and then the final one after it had been put through Snapseed (yes, Drama again).

A beautiful Dorset crab, spiced pear and cobnut salad followed, but sadly I wasn’t happy with a single shot I took of that. I focussed my efforts then – photographic and gastronomic – on the Snow Egg dessert.

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Having wanted to try this floating island-esque confection since reading about it when the restaurant opened, I was not remotely disappointed by it’s light yet substantial deliciousness. Though I still don’t feel I did it justice, lighting-wise.

And what of Mr. Wareing? Well, he’d admitted with frankness that in anyone less renowned for speaking his mind, would have seemed disarming, that the initial rise of food blogging had taken him by surprise and had scared him. At one point, cameras had been banned in the dining rooms, a move that he now concedes was completely wrong but at the time was meant to try and preserve the atmosphere of fine dining that to him is such an essential part of the experience.

He is not, he confesses, at all interested in street food trends or fun little side projects; he is in the business, first and foremost, of flavour, but also in providing the very best experience he can and constantly overseeing his profitable restaurants. For example, he found the canteen environment quite odd for serving the food his team were providing, because to him the restaurant setting and its menu are so inextricably linked. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t try to draw a Disney parallel in there somewhere, but honestly I think it’s apt; if Walt’s devil was in the detail, so is Marcus’s.

marcusWhat was really interesting was how much he was willing to answer and be completely honest about – and he asked questions too, so that at one point I found myself explaining about professional bloggers and blogger outreach (I’m amused to find this made it into GBC’s own account of the evening!).

I left on an absolute high, calling my husband from the street and babbling at him so inanely I’m sure he thought I hadn’t had just one cocktail. But this was the very essence of what such an event should be: fun, educational, memorable and interesting. Hats off and many thanks, as ever, to the fantastic Mecca and the GBC team.

Great British Chefs: Summertime, Action Against Hunger and Blogging!

I’m really very excited, as my very first post for Great British Chefs has appeared on their blog today! Being me, I managed to combine social media and food in a post, asking about the future of food programming and the role of platforms like Twitter in developing the competition and campaigning side of things.

I consider myself extremely privileged to have now appeared on four sites I regularly enjoy reading (BitchBuzz, Bea Magazine, The F Word and now GBC), talking about all my favourite things.

And speaking of GBC, campaigning and privilege, have you downloaded the new Summertime app yet? You should, because it’s ace.  One of the things I really love about GBC apps is the emphasis on really beautiful design; I don’t think I’ve ever actually made anything from Feastive which is not a failing of the app’s, but entirely my own; still, I could look at it all day. Plus I think I’ve mentioned before – about four million times – what a Wareing fangirl I am, and his recipes appear on both. But what’s really special about Summertime, apart from its current relevance, is that it was developed in partnership with Ocado which has allowed GBC to donate all the proceeds to Action Against Hunger. It’s priced at £1.99, of which at least £1.20 goes to the charity. Just £36 can provide a month’s supply of therapeutic nutritional products (such as Plumpy’nut, for example) to nurse a severely malnourished child back to health. That’s maybe thirty app downloads – and of course there’s nothing stopping you heading to their website to donate too.

Food! Technology! Non-profits! Blogging! It’s a Christmassy day in August. And now I’m off to write a review of Brave for BitchBuzz, which means two more of my very favourite things in the world: reviews and Disney.

Bloody hell, I’m a lucky woman.