Food: Rhodes works ahead for kids: Master of Modern Cookery

MASTERS OF MODERN COOKERY; Continuing our monthly series in which top chefs share their expertise and inspirations, Michael Bateman talks to Gary Rhodes who has strong views on children and their cookery; 3: GARY RHODES
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Gary Rhodes was born in south London, moving to Manchester before settling in Kent where he lives with his wife Jenny, and sons, Samuel and George. At Thanet Technical College, he emerged as chef of the year. He worked at the Amsterdam Hilton, and later at the Capital, Knightsbridge, before going to The Castle, Taunton as head chef. Returning to London, he made his name at the Green-house, redeveloping Great British Classics. His new restaurant, city rhodes, won a Michelin star in its first year. He is a veteran of five TV series and author of five books. Hazlewood Foods has just launched a range of his frozen dishes, Rhodes to Home.

GARY RHODES comes over as one of the least serious chefs in Britain. Such is the burden of television fame, for he is, perhaps, condemned to the end of time to live out his role of spiky-haired, grinning Cockney cartoon character. And that would do him less than justice.

His gravitas in the restaurant kitchen is recognised by the conservative Michelin guide, which broke with established custom by awarding his latest venture, city rhodes, a star in its first year. Michelin tends to turn a blind eye to the antics of TV cooks if the chef can prove rigid consistency in their work standards, and that is what Gary Rhodes does.

Now 38, this is the third Michelin star Gary Rhodes has picked off, each time in a different style of establish- ment. The first was at The Castle, Taunton, in Devon, where he explored a British style. The second was at the Greenhouse in Mayfair, where he re-invented British classics, faggots, oxtail, bread-and-butter pudding. And now he's in city mode at city rhodes.

But today we've asked Gary to explore his pet theme. Is there a more serious food subject than our children's well-being? Do we care if our children grow up to be gastronomic bimbos with no feel for food?, he asks. Does it matter that they are no more able to distinguish between one banal range of fast food and another? Is it not a matter of concern that a previous government was so contemptuous of food education, that it banished cookery lessons from school?

Gary is father of two boys, aged eight and nine, and he considers it is a disgrace they will never get a cookery lesson at school. "We have to get cooking back on the school curriculum," he says, "I'm prepared to fight for this. Even if it takes me the next 20 years."

The Prime Minister could improve the quality of life in this country at one stroke, says Gary. Indeed, as Tony Blair is committed to high standards himself, it might be the finest thing he could bequeath to this country, thinks Gary. Also, as a measure, it would be uncontroversial and popular, easy and cheap.

What more would you need than one class a week for children aged from seven to 11? "I don't mean taking home rock cakes," he says. "I mean teaching basics, such as how to poach an egg. They should be taught to fry an onion so that it's the best fried onion you've ever tasted, not something wet and half-boiled."

Only when children know the basics of cooking, can good food emerge on a national basis, he believes. "Bad food will not survive if children, when they grow up, can go to restaurants, to fast food outlets or to pubs, and say: `I want something better than this. This isn't good enough. This isn't how it should be done.`

"Within a few years we will build a better country. It will be better for us, better for tourists and visitors, too. This is how it is in France."

Gary committed himself to this campaign after doing his first children's television series last year, a 13-parter on BBC1, Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes. The title may have been jokey, but the intentions were serious. "I insisted on working with normal children, not actors. We had fun, but we didn't play with food."

At home he cooks with his own children, Samuel and George, at weekends, but doesn't push them. "They have to want to do it. We'll make pancakes and they'll mix the batter. They love them with golden syrup." Nor does he expect them to have unduly sophisticated tastes. "We do all the normal things, we go to McDonald's, it's part of growing up. I'm not going to say `You Can't Eat That.'"

The recipes opposite have been selected with children in mind. But first, the Masters of Modern Cookery Questionnaire. Gary answers 20 questions about influences on his life as a cook, and his likes and dislikes.

TWENTY QUESTIONS

Who was the first big influence on your cooking?

My mother. She was a good cook, but when I was 13 she went to work, so I used to cook for myself and my younger sister. I cooked Sunday lunch every week.

What did you cook?

Steamed sponges and upside-down puddings. By the time I was 15 I knew I wanted to be a cook.

Who was the first chef to inspire you?

Alain Chapel. I read about him in Great Chefs of France by Quentin Crewe and Anthony Blake [published 1978]. It was a book that completely changed my life. Alain Chapel had a three-star restaurant at Mionnay in France. I never met him or went to his restaurant but when he died I was very sad.

You looked up to French chefs?

My biggest influences have been Albert Roux, and his brother Michel. They revolutionised restaurant cooking in this country.

And others?

Another chef to impress me was Italian, Gianpaulo Barrancini, chef at the #Amsterdam Hilton. The first English chef was Brian Turner (only the second English man to win a Michelin star). He took me on at the Capital in Knightsbridge. He's a wonderful man, he did an awful lot for my career.

You've won a Michelin star three times - is Michelin your yardstick?

I worked for a short time with Jacques Lameloise in Chagny who has three Michelin stars. He served a strawberry millefeuille with a puff pastry. He had made it from Day One and every day it was perfection. I have never tasted anything like it. I believe getting a Michelin star is nothing more than achieving perfection, and then maintaining that consistency.

Do you despise popular foods, then?

No, I love a bowl of Heinz tomato soup. With lots of crusty bread. But I also make my own.

What's the worst food you remember eating?

Lumpy custard with thick skin at school.

What other foods do you dislike?

I hate kiwi fruit. I remember when it was introduced, in 1979, only 20 years ago, that's all. The first time I saw it I said "Wow", then chefs started putting it with every dish. I've never seen the point of it.

Is there anything you can't eat?

I seriously don't like tripe. But there are things I haven't tried, I have never eaten sauteed python.

So what do you like?

Cheese. I love great Cheddars. Montgomery's. But there are so many good British cheeses now.

What else?

I love a well-poached, new-laid egg, the orange yolk showing mauve through the white, firm and tasty. Most eggs from supermarkets are tasteless and runny.

Chicken?

I'm still searching for the perfect chicken. When I was in Devon there was a man called Ginge, you'll never guess what colour his hair was, who used to bring us corn-fed chickens. But I buy corn-fed chickens now and they don't have the flavour he produced.

What is your favourite restaurant?

Xian in Orpington High Street, run by Danny and his son Victor (they must have anglicised their names). I've eaten there nearly every fortnight in the last two years. It's wonderful Chinese food, as good as the Oriental at the Dorchester, I love the crispy squid with chilli. And the sizzling sole with black beans.

Do you like Japanese food?

Yes. I was in Japan for the first time last year. There's marvellous simplicity to their cooking.

And other international styles?

I like Italian food. When I worked in Taunton I used to take the kitchen staff to Capriccio after work on a Saturday nights. Andrea and his Canadian wife Kathy would keep the dishes coming till two in the morning. I remember the melanzine, marinated aubergine with tomato sauce, grilled with mozzarella cheese.

What sort of restaurant do you dislike?

I don't hate their food, but I hate the queues outside the Hard Rock Cafe because people are queuing up to experience the theme and not the food.

What is your favourite restaurant dish?

Marco Pierre White's pigs' trotters (which he adopted from Pierre Koffmann). I've eaten at Marco's five times, and each time I've ordered it. Nothing can touch it. It blows my mind. Such richness. Such depth.

Depth?

I often eat food by top chefs and the food is cooked to perfection, it's tender, it's melting, but it lacks depth. I begin to question my palate. I've tried to take the richness and flavour to absolute extremes.

What is the dish you most like to cook?

My absolute favourite meat dish is Pierre Koffmann's slow-cooked pot roast of lamb (gigot de quatre heures) with white wine and herbs cooked in a casserole till it's so soft you can eat it with a spoon. It's like lamb butter.

BUBBLE-AND-SQUEAK

CHILD'S PLAY

Bubble-and-squeak is a strange name for a vegetable dish, but I believe it's so called because of the noises the vegetables make while being fried in the pan, writes Gary Rhodes.

As you can see in the recipe below, I have given one or two alternatives. This is because bubble-and-squeak can really be your own invention, and either mashed or cooked potatoes, sprouts or cabbage will do the trick. I prefer mashed potatoes as this gives me more of a cake consistency, but if you're using plain boiled potatoes just peel them and cut into thick slices. The dish is usually made from left-overs so the sprouts or cabbage should be boiled or cooked. The sprouts can be sliced.

There are so many variations to a bubble-and-squeak. Half cabbage and half sprouts can be used, and any additions can be made: garlic, smoked bacon, leeks, herbs and so on. But as I've always said: "Get the basics right first, then move on!"

Serves 6-8

2 large onions, sliced

50g/2oz unsalted butter

900g/2lb potatoes, cooked or 750g/1lb 8oz left-over mashed potatoes

450g/1lb Brussels sprouts or green cabbage, cooked

salt and freshly ground white pepper

50g/2oz vegetable oil or dripping

Cook the sliced onions in half the butter until softened. Mix in the potatoes and sprouts or cabbage and season with the salt and freshly ground white pepper. Pre-heat a small frying-pan and add the remaining butter and the oil or dripping. Fry the bubble mix for six to eight minutes, pushing it down with a spatula to create a potato and vegetable cake.

The pan should be kept hot, as this will create a crispy base. To turn over the bubble, cover the pan with a plate, invert the pan so the cake falls on to the plate, then slip it, uncooked side down, back into the pan and repeat the cooking process. The bubble- and-squeak is now ready and can be cut into six or eight wedges before serving or left whole as a cake.

ONION GRAVY

MEMORIES OF CHILDHOOD

I use this simple gravy to accompany home-made pork sausages. It's also good with calves' liver and mash.

Serves 4

8 onions

2 tablespoons water

600ml/1 pint veal jus or bought alternative

Thinly slice the eight onions, then place them in a pan with the water and cook very slowly, stirring all the time. The sugar from the onions will slowly caramelise and become brown and sweet-tasting. The process will take between one-and-a-half to two hours.

Add the veal jus and simmer for a further 30 minutes. The gravy will now be even richer in taste and colour with a lovely shiny finish.

FOUR-HOUR LAMB

Based on a classic recipe by the top chef Pierre Koffmann.

Serves 8

For the vegetable Mirepoix:

2 onions, diced

2-3 carrots, diced

1 leek, diced

2-3 celery sticks, diced

For the lamb:

1 leg of lamb

fresh thyme sprig

1 bayleaf

65g/212oz butter

100g/4oz garlic, tied in muslin

1 bottle of white wine

cooking oil

900ml/112 pints chicken stock

salt and pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 350F/180C/Gas 4. Soften the Mirepoix vegetables, thyme and bayleaf in 15g (12oz) of butter in a deep ovenproof braising pan. Once softened, add the bag of garlic cloves and the bottle of white wine. Bring the mixture to the boil and reduce the wine by three-quarters.

While the vegetables and wine are cooking, season the leg of lamb with salt and pepper and brown all over in a hot frying-pan with the cooking oil. Once coloured, add the lamb to the braising pan. Add the chicken stock and top up with water, so that the lamb is half-covered. Return to the simmer and cover with a lid. Cook the lamb in the oven for four hours. Turn the lamb over after two hours, so that it cooks evenly.

After four hours, remove the lamb, which will now be very tender. Leave to rest. Strain and reduce the liquid by half or more. Taste the stock for strength: a really good, strong stock will give a better finish to the sauce. About 300ml (10fl oz) of well-reduced stock should be plenty. Take the almost pureed garlic from the muslin bag and press the cloves to a smooth paste. Add this paste as a thickener to the sauce and then whisk in the remaining 50g (2oz) butter. The sauce is now finished. Carve the lamb or break it into chunks. Spoon the sauce over and serve.

BREAD-AND-BUTTER PUDDING

12 medium slices white bread

50g/2oz unsalted butter, softened

8 egg yolks

175g/6oz caster sugar

1 vanilla pod, split, or a few drops of vanilla essence

300ml/10fl oz milk

300ml/10fl oz double cream

25g/1oz each sultanas and raisins

To finish:

caster sugar

Firstly, grease a 1.75 litre (3 pint) pudding basin with a little of the butter.

Remove the crusts and butter the bread. Whisk the egg yolks and caster sugar together in a bowl. Put the vanilla essence or split vanilla pod in a pan with the milk and cream. Bring the milk and cream to a simmer, then sieve on to the egg yolks, stirring all the time. You now have the custard.

Arrange the bread in layers in a prepared basin, sprinkling the sultanas and raisins in between layers. Finish with a final layer of bread without any fruit on top as this tends to burn. The warm egg mixture may now be poured over the bread and cooked straight away, but I prefer to pour the custard over the pudding then leave it to soak into the bread for 20 minutes before cooking. This allows the bread to take on a new texture and have the flavours all the way through.

Pre-heat the oven to 350F/180C/Gas 4. Once the bread has soaked, place the dish in a roasting tray three-quarters filled with warm water and place in the pre-heated oven. Cook for about 20 to 30 minutes in the pre-heated oven until the pudding begins to set. Because we are using only egg yolks, the mixture cooks like a fresh custard and only thickens; it should not become too firm.

When ready, remove from the water bath, sprinkle liberally with the caster sugar to cover, and glaze under the grill on medium heat. The sugar should dissolve and caramelise and you may find that the corners of the bread start to burn a little. This helps the flavours, though, giving a bittersweet taste, and certainly looks good. The bread-and-butter pudding is now ready to serve and when you take that first spoonful and place it into a bowl you will see the custard just seeping from the dish - it's delicious!

PANCAKES

A good one to make with your children.

Serves 4

225g/8oz plain flour

a pinch of salt

2 eggs

600ml/1 pint milk

50g/2oz unsalted butter, melted

vegetable oil

2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley or other herbs (optional)

Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Beat the eggs into the milk, then whisk into the flour. Add the melted butter and whisk into the mixture, which can now be used for sweet pancakes. For savoury pancakes, add the chopped herbs.

To cook the pancakes, pre-heat a 20cm (8in) or 15cm (6in) frying-pan; I prefer to make smaller pancakes. Lightly oil pan and pour in some of the mixture, making sure the pan has only a thin layer of mix. Cook for 10 to 15 seconds until brown, turn over and cook for a further 10 to 15 seconds. The pancake is now cooked. Keep warm while you make the remainder. Three small pancakes or two large will be enough for one portion.

Pancakes can be filled with anything you like - fruit or ice-cream for the sweet, seafood or vegetables for the savoury. Pancakes to be filled can, of course, be prepared in advance and then simply microwaved for one to two minutes to heat them through.

APPLE PANCAKES

I'm using apples for these pancakes, but pears or other fruit can be used.

Serves 4

1 quantity sweet pancakes (above)

6 ripe apples

50g/2oz unsalted butter

50g/2oz icing sugar

Peel, core and chop two of the six apples and cook in half the butter and sugar until pureed. Peel and quarter the remaining apples then cut each quarter into four or five slices. Melt the remaining butter and toss the apple slices in this for a few minutes until just softening. Add the apple puree and bring to the simmer. The filling is now ready.

Allowing three pancakes per portion, divide the puree between the pancakes either fold them in half or in quarters. Sit them in bowls and sprinkle with the remaining icing sugar. They can now be glazed under the hot grill to give a crispy topping. You can serve them with clotted or double cream.

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