So, here we are again, my second column for The Journal Taste section.
Most of you will hopefully know who I am now, but if you missed my last article, I’m James Close of The Raby Hunt restaurant near Darlington, which has been awarded a Michelin star for the second year running.
As the head chef I’m obviously delighted that we’ve retained the coveted accolade, but what I guess you will all want to hear about is the food and how to achieve fine dining and Michelin star quality dishes at home.
What has influenced my cooking and helped shape and mould me as a person and a chef, has been the fact that I’ve been extremely lucky throughout my life to have the opportunity of not just eating abroad, but to have dined in some of the world’s most amazing restaurants.
There was one defining moment, however, when I knew my future lay in the kitchen, and that can be summed up in three simple words: mustard ice cream.
They probably weren’t the three words you were expecting to hear! But I was fortunate enough to experience this unusual flavour combination in the El Celler de Can Roca restaurant in north east Spain, which holds the prestigious top spot in the world’s 50 best places to eat.
I tried the full tasting menu, but the steak tartare with mustard ice cream blew me away. This was a defining moment for me. I wanted to be able to create that sort of impact with food.
That was when I knew I wanted to be a chef.
Having no formal training as a chef it is these fantastic dining experiences that have helped me develop and improve. Fellow chefs are my tutors and other kitchens my classroom.
That’s why every year I and a few of my fellow chefs at The Raby Hunt, take a working holiday to other restaurants across Europe.
That’s where I am now and why The Raby Hunt will be closed until May 15.
After a long ferry journey I dropped my sous chef Ryan at Pure C at the Strand Hotel in Cadzand-Bad, the southernmost seaside resort in the Netherlands, and my junior chef, Maria, at the ‘t Zilte in Antwerp in Belgium.
Both these restaurants offer Michelin star fine dining experiences in two phenomenal locations, but also have value for money at their heart.
Myself? I’m at the De Librije in Zwolle, again in the Netherlands.
Hopefully we will all go off and learn and experience elements of cooking we may never have seen before, and be inspired to create some of our own.
Most importantly, Ryan, Maria and I will be bringing our combined experiences back to the North East and to The Raby Hunt. If we can all pass on a little of what we have learnt and bring that European fine dining knowledge back to County Durham, then we will have achieved what we have set out to do.
But enough about my wanderings; let’s get back to the food and the fabulous season we are now in.
Winter and autumn bring with them big, bold, rich flavours, but then comes spring which is all about gorgeous fresh produce.
This time of year always makes me reminisce about the bustling, colourful fresh food markets I wandered around in France as a child with my family.
At The Raby Hunt we will be sourcing the best fresh produce from local suppliers, some of which I have not cooked with for nearly six months. These are ingredients that are a world away from much of the typical produce you will find on supermarket shelves.
I strongly believe the quality of the ingredients you choose can dramatically change the dimensions and dynamics of a dish.
At The Raby Hunt we will literally search out the best ingredients in the area to guarantee a high quality meal.
This principal is designed to give the customer a multi-sensational experience, because to truly create an impact through food, the taste is just one element to consider.
To me, it’s about creating something that tantalises and excites all the senses; ingredients that add texture and are a joy to taste and herbs and spices that smell enticing, presented like an edible work of art that will be a feast for the eyes.
So bearing that in mind, this week’s recipe is a fantastic little spring time favourite.
:: James Close is head chef at the Michelin-starred Raby Hunt Restaurant, Summerhouse, County Durham, DL2 3UD; 01325 374237; www.rabyhuntrestaurant.co.uk . Open Wednesday-Saturday 12pm-2pm and 6pm-9.30pm. Spring closure until May 15.
Recipe - Pan Fried Sea Bream with Potted Brown Shrimps and Cauliflower Puree
2 large fillets of de-scaled and pin-boned sea bream (ask your fishmonger to do this)
250g brown shrimps
20ml olive oil
1 pint full fat milk
1 pack salted butter
1tsp grated nutmeg
Zest of whole lemon
Score the fish fillets with a sharp knife with 2cm incisions diagonally across the skin side at 5mm intervals. Cover and place in the fridge.
Pick the cauliflower florettes off, place in a small saucepan and cover with the milk. Cover the pan with baking parchment to form a lid and cook on a medium heat until the cauliflower is soft enough to break with a fork.
Get a clean bowl and pass the cauliflower ingredients through a sieve, putting the milk to one side.
Place the cauliflower in a blender and add enough milk very slowly to give a puree texture that is solid enough to hold its own weight. Add two knobs of butter and set aside.
Pour the oil into a frying pan and cook the fish on a high heat for approximately two to three minutes skin side down until golden and crispy. Take the pan off the heat and turn the fish over. Leave it to cook flesh side down off the heat.
Do not be tempted to baste any of the cooking oil over the skin - this will make it soft again.
Melt half a pack of the butter in a pan and add the grated nutmeg, pinch of cayenne and lemon zes. Once hot add the brown shrimps and stir - this should only take moments to heat up.
Place some cauliflower puree on the plate, the sea bream on top and drizzle the brown shrimp butter over the dish.
You may have noticed from my picture that I have added some potatoes and also some extra bits of cauliflower. That is a dish from The Raby Hunt. If you are feeling confident experiement using some Jersey Royal potaotes, roast some bits of cauliflower and maybe as a final finishing touch tempura some cauliflower to give the dish a different dimension.
I look forward to seeing how you get on with this. Why don’t you tweet myself and Auckland Castle your pictures @rabyhunt and @aucklandcastle