Desert island dishes

With Nick Smith, head chef for Vacherin and the current National Chef of the Year...

Pâté en croûte, clementine cumberland and pickled walnut
It would have to be a pork pie of some kind as I just love them. My wife always buys them for me and they barely last a few minutes in our house. Elevating classical cookery is what I enjoy doing most and at Christmas we served this up at Ashurst and it went down really well. Our customers do enjoy our adaptations of traditional dishes.   

Cod cheek, peas, pink fur and sauce paloise 
In the National Chef of the Year second stage, Paul Ainsworth asked us to serve up a dish that summed us up in just a few bites. I did this as it reminded me of my childhood. My grandad was a fishmonger; we spent a lot of time there as kids and always enjoyed his skate cheeks. It’s a family thing, I think, as my dad still has a dream of opening his own fish and chip shop.

Mulligatawny, fowey mussel and butternut
Indian curry is something I enjoy eating and cooking and we’ve introduced a lot of them at Ashurst. One of my favourite chefs is Rick Stein and I watch his show on iPlayer. I remember an episode where he travelled to India and talked about mulligatawny. It’s a very 70s dish, but I am passionate about taking classics from decades ago and adding a modern twist. We added a mulligatawny, fowey mussel and butternut dish to our menu and it was really popular.

Chicken chasseur
For this one I am thinking back to my chef training of which classical cookery played a huge part. Although I hadn’t heard of it until then, chicken chasseur was one of the first dishes I did at college and I have loved it ever since. In my first National Chef of the Year final, our brief from Clare Smyth was to create a chicken dish and I made creedy carver chicken, heirloom tomatoes and tarragon. It included humble ingredients and I could put my own spin on it.   

Burford brown ravioli, devilled Isle of Wights, brown crab and celery
Thinking about ingredients, you can’t get much more humble than an egg. At Ashurst we’ve had an egg yolk ravioli on the menu for a while, so when Gary Jones announced he wanted us to create a ‘perfect egg starter’ for National Chef of the Year, I knew what I’d serve up. It includes brown crab mascarpone inside as I like to use bi-products and under-utilised ingredients to reduce waste. This particular dish led to some amazing feedback from the judges, to the point that it makes me feel quite emotional now looking back.

Sticky ox cheek, mushrooms on toast and watercress
Reducing food waste is something that’s always been important to me and I absolutely love beef. When using secondary cuts of meat it’s good to think creatively and I slow cook the ox cheeks. I create mushrooms on toast and watercress to go with it.  

Classic lemon tart and chantilly
If you were stuck on a desert island you would absolutely want something sweet, and I would pick a dish that takes me back to earlier in my career as a commis chef. I loved the book White Heat by Marco Pierre White and it has a lemon tart recipe in it. When I started working in a restaurant on Greek Street in Soho, this was one of the first dishes I cooked. I was shown how to make the perfect lemon tart by the pastry chef and I will always remember his method.

Pina colada, rum, pineapple and coconut battenburg
Me and my kids love Battenburg. I felt frustrated in lockdown and used the time to do a lot of baking. You don’t often see variations of battenburg, so I had go at experimenting with different flavours. I would take the pina colada one if I was going to a desert island, as it is one of my favourites and the flavours work so well together.

What one book would you take with you?
I am not a massive reader so it would have to be a cookbook and, as I love to cook Indian curry at the moment, I would take the Dishoom one. It inspired me to try making new dishes at home in lockdown. It includes some of the dishes they serve in the restaurant and my kids love them.  

What luxury item would you take with you?
This may sound really boring but it would have to be my phone so I could listen to music, catch up with Great British Menu on iPlayer, check Instagram and Twitter, and keep in touch with family and friends. If I could have one more thing it would be the new pizza oven I bought last year and have had fun with in lockdown.

Finally, if you were only allowed one dish which would you pick?
The battenburg. The reaction I got when I first posted this on Instagram was incredible. It’s a dish full of nostalgia and I love adapting it and trying out new flavours.

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