With the January blues banished and Spring starting to make a tentative appearance, February is always a busy time for our kitchens. Menu development is in the works and, with Fairtrade Fortnight approaching, we’ve been spending time with our Executive Chef, Ben Smith, to see what he’s cooking up for The Duke and The Clifton next month.
Seasonal produce is a huge driving force when it comes to developing the food for both the pubs and our chefs are always looking to purchase incredible ingredients at their peak to put on your plates. “In February we are coming out of Winter and into Spring,” Ben tells us. “Which is my favourite season. Growing up in rural Wales, Spring always brought a bit of joy and colour to the community.”
Throughout February you can expect to see us cooking with more cauliflower, celeriac, parsnips, sprouts, blood oranges, clementines, venison, mackerel and scallops. You may not even realise that some of these ingredients are so seasonal because they’re available all year around – all we’d say is come and try them this month and you’ll realise how truly perfect they can be at their prime! We’re already serving up an amazing Dark Chocolate Frangipane Tart with Clementines at The Clifton, and a new menu is also in the works for The Duke.
We are really proud to work with some of the UK’s best suppliers, including small growers and producers who run decades-old family businesses. We spend lots of time getting to know our suppliers and their products inside out, so you can feel confident that the money you’re paying for our food goes back to supporting a strong British food system.
We look at quality, price and availability of course, but we also look at provenance and where the ingredient comes from. If we know a supplier respects the origin of the ingredient then we know the producer is also being looked after. That’s what Fairtrade Fortnight is all about – showing how important it is to provide growers and farmers with better pay and working conditions. Ultimately, it all translates to what’s on a diner’s plate, and the happier the producer, the better the food will be.
After carefully selecting our suppliers, we then take a lot of care in choosing the individual ingredients that make their way into our kitchens. The first thing we look at is if it’s in season in the UK and if it grows here naturally, or has been introduced to us through selective breeding.
One of our favourite suppliers is Ben’s Fish, based in Mersea. “It’s such a joy to work with them,” Ben tells us. The quality of their fish is simply second to none. “I start by checking the colour of the eyes to make sure they’re clear, not cloudy or bloody. This tells me the fish is fresh but also tells me it was respected, during the catch and after. You can really tell when a fresh product has been handled with care instead of being thrown into a big pile and treated like a number.” We only look for ingredients that have been handled with love.
We’re lucky to have a team of extremely talented chefs, who not only enjoy what they do, but really appreciate the quality of the ingredients they’re doing it with. It’s important for us that our chefs know and understand every bit of produce they handle and want to learn more about unique ingredients and how to plate up the most perfect dish. “I don’t look for people with 20 years of knowledge, like me,” says Ben. “I just need to see that desire in them to keep learning about food. That I can work with.”