I'm blessed that the career I chose to follow allows me to travel and participate in some amazing projects around the world. Cooking is something I've dreamt about from the age of four and many years on I'm happily living my dream as a chef.
This Spring I had the great fortune of being invited to cook at the International Gourmet festival in Thailand organized by the Amari hotel group in Pattaya; where I spent a week cooking alongside three international chefs from France, Australia and Hong Kong.
I was assisted by two wonderful Thai chefs, both eager to learn; to me there's no greater pleasure than sharing skills and knowledge with others.
Day one we all set about preparing our four course a la carte menu's that would run the course of the festival. I decided I'd make mine completely vegetarian, full of fresh flavours, light and summery- it is after all bloody hot in Thailand this time of year! Plus it cheekily complemented promoting my first book, The Modern Vegetarian. I also wanted to use, as much local produce as possible and my menu was sure to do so.
My last visit to Thailand was 15 years ago-myself and a backpack! It was an incredible eight weeks and a culinary discovery of Thai food. I met the most amazing people and fell in love with Thai food, educating myself at cooking school and cooking local produce in as many backpackers as I was allowed.
I jumped at the chance of going back, not only to cook but also to have the chance to devour such beautiful balanced food again. During the week the restaurant hosted several wine dinners to celebrate the festival. Each chef was given a course and told the wine it should match. We each came up with an idea and thus the menu was born! Remarkably each menu ended up being incredibly balanced.
A few highlights from the week...
I had the middle course one night for which I made my signature chargrilled radicchio and strawberry risotto. I served this with a Cote du Rhone which ended up being a great match, rich in berries with a pinch of pepper; a perfect combination.
My risotto caused a bit of a stir, some finding it outrageous that I could serve strawberries as part of a savoury course. I'm an outside of the box kinda chef and to me I just go with what excites my taste buds. I like the controversy, after all sweet and sour pork is made with pineapple!
My risotto combines the bitterness of radiccho - whose flavour is extenuated by chargrilling; an element of sharpness is added by drizzling with balsamic. The neutral risotto base is then built upon, a touch of creamy mascarpone, a hint of lemon to freshen, a bite of saltiness from grated Parmesan and the radicchio adding a pact of punch. The strawberries scattered on top are gently warmed by the risotto and bring an elegance and sweetness to the 'party'. A smattering of finely chopped chives add flavour and colour and the piece de resistance a drizzle of reduced balsamic vinegar to add a little of an 'umami' effect.
The recipes in my vegetarian book so you can try it for yourself, I'd love to hear your comments. I served the dish at Joe's, almost got it trending on twitter!
Anyway, I digress (something I'm great at!)
For the finale dinner I cooked the main course. For this I thought I'd go a little bit Greek seeing as half of me is.
I chose to go 'head to tail' with rabbit. The legs confit'd and made into baklava (I did say I'm an out of the box person eh!) flavoured with cinnamon, oregano, and butter beans. Served on a parsnip skordalia with a chard salad, The carcass was made into a stock which formed the base to the 'stifado' (a stew!) along with red wine, allspice berries, bay, orange zest and rosemary; to which saddles were marinated in then pan fried. The marinade was reduced to a rich aromatic sauce all served on a Kalamata potato puree. To lighten the meal I made some delicate lavoush crackers- which I flavoured with anise and drizzled with honey and sesame seeds- my take on traditional Cypriot bread. I topped them with a Greek inspired rabbit rilette and a few slithers of ripe fig to garnish.
I was proud of my dish and it was an honour to be invited. Thus was the Pattaya gourmet festival and my tasteful adventure.