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World Chefs: Say Cheese pop-up plays with notions of English food

Source: Reuters - Tue, 25 Mar 2014 08:00 GMT
Author: Reuters
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By Simon Falush

LONDON, March 25 (Reuters) - Ellen Parr's photographer father Martin is famous for a 1995 book that showed British food for what it was - greasy, heavy, unhealthy and, more often than not, fried.

Now, at a pop-up restaurant in a community hall in east London, Ellen Parr and partner Alice Hodge are serving dishes that may resemble the food Parr's father so graphically portrayed in "British Food". But they are given a few twists to make them healthier, more international and trendier.

Served at communal tables, the dishes at the Say Cheese pop up play with conventions of Englishness.

The meal starts with three humble radishes - the stalwarts of British allotments, or communal vegetable patches - served on a doily.

This is followed by a more conventional selection of raw vegetable crudites served with taramosalata and anchovy sauce.

The quintessential English scone with jam and clotted cream gets an international twist: The cake is infused with cumin and topped with labneh, a type of goats-milk yoghurt and served on a plate hand painted by co-chef Hodge.

A spicy Thai beef and coconut Massaman-style broth is served into china teacups from a teapot clothed in a tea-cosy, a distinctly British covering used to keep the tea piping hot.

Chicken roasted with vermouth comes with spring greens. It is served in an unassuming foil container, typically used for Chinese takeaways, but the quality of ingredients and depth of flavour makes the dish anything but ordinary.

Desert is a lemon curd mousse served in a jam jar with a cardamom and crunchy sour cherry biscuit.

All this with decorations - in case anyone need be reminded of the dark ages of British cuisine - that include a stuffed ferret, royal memorabilia and copies of the mass circulation Sun newspaper from the early 1980s.

Chart hits from period pop acts like Spandau Ballet and Human League, plus the senior Parr's photographs of greasy English fried breakfasts - sometimes called heart attack on a plate - help set the mood.

Parr and Hodge talked to Reuters about their pop-up:

Q: How does cooking in a pop-up differ from working in a conventional restaurant?

Parr: You get to control the whole event. I still work at Sam and Sam Clark's Moro where I picked up a lot of my skills. This is more fun, but it's really hard work! Some people are doing it as a dress rehearsal for opening a restaurant, but we are much more into the event side of it, doing something new each time.

Q: Why do diners go to a pop-up rather than a conventional restaurant?

Hodge: People who go to pop-ups are open to new experiences, and meeting new people. At a recent event we served ox heart, which people were reluctant to try, but many did and we got very positive feedback, so we're able to challenge people.

Q: What other locations have you worked in?

Parr: We're doing a series of events with (conservation charity) the National Trust. We did one at Ham House which was on the theme of servants, so we cooked peasant food, but refined it and served it in brown bowls and on wooden boards.

Q: What's next?

Parr: We're going to do an event at Osterly House, which was owned by a family whose wealth was built on trade with Asia. We're designing a menu that will encompass food from the region and looking at creating an oriental setting.

Q: What is the connection between food and art?

Hodge: People often say that you eat with your eyes. When food comes out, people make a visual interpretation of what's in front of them, so how it looks is very important when we're designing our menus.

Recipe:

Say Cheese 'Tea' recipe. Ingredients The stock 4 Portobello mushrooms roughly cut 250g beef off cuts 2 carrots 2 onions peeled 2 sticks celery 1 leek 1 bunch coriander 20g cane sugar The paste 1 shallot 3 inches of ginger 10 cloves garlic 3 teaspoons of cumin seeds 3 teaspoons of coriander seeds 4 Thai cardamom pods 6 coriander roots 10 dried Thai red chillies 1 piece cassia bark 1 carton of coconut cream To finish fish sauce tamarind sauce limes salt

(Reporting by Simon Falush; Editing by Michael Roddy and Toby Chopra)

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