Tom Kerridge & Nathan Outlaw Masterclass, 5 December 2011 (photo courtesy of David Griffen)
Monday night in winter in Rock and second-home-syndrome means you’d be more likely to catch a glimpse of a flip-flopped zombie in a ghost town than walk into a restaurant buzzing with life, a film crew and three of the UK’s top chefs (Paul Ainsworth was a guest). But this is exactly what greeted us as we stepped out of the north coast cold and into …
… the St Enodoc Hotel, the epitome of high-end seaside chic.
The Nathan Outlaw Master Class series this year has seen the Rock chef pairing up with his mates (Angela Hartnett, Mitch Tonks, Michael Caines, Mark Hix and Paul Ainsworth) to offer food demos, a bit of chat and a six-course tasting menu with appropriately paired wines. Unmissable if you can part with a fat sum of £165.
These two giants of the food world – Nathan as the world’s only two-star Michelin seafood restaurant and Tom Kerridge as the world’s only two Michelin star pub – chatted frankly about life behind the swinging door. For Tom: “You have to love burning yourself and no sleep”, for Nathan, the passion in the kitchen is “like a drug really.”
It was undeniable passion that drove the two chefs to put together a masterpiece menu in association with Davidstow on Monday 5 December, featuring: Port Isaac crab and scotch egg, truffle pork terrine, char-grilled monkfish tail, shin of beef, a cheese course with an unbuyable five-year-old Davidstow Crackler and a vanilla crème brûlée to finish.
A big highlight of the night was the shin of beef with a carrot and shin sauce. This involved a split shin bone with the meat taken off, cooked with the marrow and put back into the bone, covered with a fat/potato casing. Initially looking like an elongated haggis as the dish flew out of the kitchen, the taste was akin to seeing a masterpiece in a gallery for the first time: new, exciting, intellectual even. The creamy marrow clung to the slender feathers of shin meat, adding an unexpected strata of delicacy to what was essentially meat in a bone. It was as Tom had promised: “a proper main course with none of that tasting menu stuff or extra fripperies.” Indeed, the lone caramelised carrot sprinkled with sea salt was far from a frippery.
With the cheese course came my first taste of Camel Valley sparkling red served cold– more a rosé masquerading as a red. Hints of brambles and blackberry and an absence of tannins lifted, rather than drowned the cheese. To finish – the crème brûlée with beer – an Innus and Gunn Original – was a delight. The brûlée was suitably understated after the meat, not particularly sweet and made with whole eggs, not just yolks and it was exactly this clean refreshing creaminess that made pairing it with the beer so clever; any sweeter and it wouldn’t have worked.
The evening drew to a close with Mark Pitts- Tucker – Davidstow’s very own head cheese grader and taster of between a phenomenal 500-700 cheeses a week. Rarely to be found without his seven-inch tasting tool in his pocket, he talked us through the basics of cheese tasting. First – the body and the texture of the cheese are assessed, then the intial aroma which reveals the most about a cheese, then the balance of the flavour style and the flavour level.
The five-year-old Davidstow Crackler on the master class menu is not even on the tasting scale and will subsequently never be commercially available. The sad truth of Cheddar is that customers demand consistency despite the variables of grass, time of year and weather. The good news is that cows here in Cornwall spend more time out of doors than any other cows, and despite being one of the largest consumers of milk the Cornish remain, essentially, artisan producers of cheese. Two huge reasons for never allowing the horror of concrete farms to cross the Tamar or indeed the borders of the UK.
Despite Jay Rayner’s rantings that Michelin stars doled out by “self-important and self-appointed inspectors” are “a complete irrelevance”, Nathan’s two stars have undoubtedly brought customers to Rock all year-round and given recognition to the quality of not only his cooking, but the local produce. Tom’s own two stars have bucked the stuffy trend of Michelin, therefore informalising the system and giving overdue credit to quality pub food.
I’m not too bothered by the stars, more by the sheer quality of everything – the love, the ingredients, the location and the company of two very down-to-earth chefs whose passion for good, nay excellent food made it one of my best ever eating experiences. An indulgent night out that finally brings the real stars out of the kitchen.