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James Close: Not so bad to go global occasionally for top quality ingredients

Top chef James Close of the Raby Hunt Restaurant talks local produce and shares his very special venison recipe

Local venison with Provence figs, baby artichokes and elderberry vinegar
Local venison with Provence figs, baby artichokes and elderberry vinegar

What are food miles? People are always asking me how I source my produce and how local everything is. I guess everyone’s perception is that local food is best.

I tend to agree with that in principle but in reality, when I want to give our customers the best produce, it’s hard to stick to it in practice.

We try whenever we can to support local business and ‘shop local’. But let’s think about those ideals for one minute.

I attempted, some years ago, to make my own beer and it would have involved almost zero food miles – but was it any good? No, actually it was awful!

So you will not be seeing a Raby Hunt home brew vintage 2009 on a drinks list near you anytime soon, and nor should you.

The same applies to food. If the best spinach in the world comes from Outer Mongolia then that’s where I will get it from. Why should you, as a customer, suffer less than top quality just to satisfy trendy ideas of self sufficiency.

Don’t get me wrong. The North East is a wonderful place for most things and, as I have said before, we get what we can from our local suppliers – but don’t be afraid of compromising a few viewpoints to ultimately satisfy your taste buds.

So this week, for my recipe to try at home, I’m going to mix good local produce with a few things from further afield.

We are very lucky to be situated near Raby Castle where, for years now, Lord Barnard has been breeding and cultivating some of the best venison on the market.

It’s great sight when driving past the castle, as a do on my trip home every night. Often the deer are peering over the wall and you can see hundred of pairs of eyes glimmering – quite spooky the first time you see it!

Three years ago we were fortunate enough to be awarded a Michelin star and we have just found out that we have retained it for another year – again making us the only Michelin-starred restauramt in the region.

In the orginal guide book the main course recommendation was my venison dish – so with a nod to the past and also to combine local with worldwide produce, here is the recipe for a wonderful Michelin restaurant-standard dish.

Local venison with Provence figs, baby artichokes and elderberry vinegar

You will need:

350g venison loin (see your butcher)

2 Provence figs (sometimes called black figs)

4 baby artichokes (sometimes called globe artichokes) – you can get pre prepared artichokes from all deli counters if you want to save time.

400g elderberries (loads of these currently growing wild)

200ml cider vinegar

90g sugar

How to make:

For the elderberry vinegar, first boil the vinegar and pour it over the elderberries.

Remove from the heat and cover with clingwrap for seven days at room temperature – you can also keep this in a kilner jar if you wish.

After the seven days, sieve the elderberries and lightly press the juice through. Add sugar and combine in a pan over heat, reducing the mixture by half.

You can keep this vinegar for up to six months in an air-tight container. You could mix it with a bit of oil to make a great salad dressing.

Now peel off the outer leaves of the artichokes (assuming you are not buying them from a deli, ready prepared) to reveal the hearts.

Cook them whole or in halves in a pan of water with lemon and a pinch of salt.

As artichokes vary in size, just test their readiness by pinching them to make sure they’re tender.

Now (whether fresh or deli-bought) place the artichokes face down on a griddle and sear for a few minutes either side.

Take the venison and season it well with salt. Then, starting in a frying pan, caramelize the outside. Once it is completely brown, place it in the oven to finish off for about eight minutes at 180 degrees.

Rest well, for about 10 minutes, and then place all the juices in a pan with a little beef stock and reduce to form a sauce.

Turning to the figs, rub one with a little bit of the elderberry vinegar and slice it in half. Then place the other one in the oven for about four minutes at 180 degrees and halve that too.

To prresent the dish, slice the venison into four thick pieces, season again and place in the centre of the plate. Place the grilled artichoke and figs on top.

Finally, drizzle some of the elderberry vinegar around the plate and sauce the dish with the reduced pan juices.

Serve this with some dauphine potatoes and fresh veg.

* Raby Hunt Restaurant, Summerhouse, Darlington. Tel. 01325 374 237

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