Gourmet surfing: Hold the pinny, there's a big wave coming
A new weekend trip in Cornwall offers the rare chance to mix cooking with riding the breakers
Sunday 12 September 2010
Surfing has been good to me. Or rather, writing about surfing has been good to me. In the name of surf journalism, I've bagged trips around the world. I've written about contests and have interviewed legends of the sport, such as big-wave supremo Laird Hamilton, former world champion Tom Curren, and women's ace Stephanie Gilmore. I thought I'd seen everything – then, I heard about Global Boarders' new weekend breaks – Gourmet Surfing.
I knew about Global Boarders – it's a multi-award-winning, much respected surf-travel company in west Cornwall. But what could gourmet surfing be – one in which only the most desirable of waves would be surfed? If this were the case, surely it couldn't be happening in Cornwall. Even die-hard local surfers would struggle to argue that Cornish surf is the best one can find.
Mod Le Froy, co-founder with husband Ed of Global Boarders, put me right. "Gourmet surfing is unique in the UK," Mod told me. "We combine cookery masterclasses with private surf experiences using lifeguard-qualified coaches and luxurious accommodation. You'll learn to cook a three-course meal – and then go surfing."
The course runs from Friday to Sunday, with groups of up to five, to prevent too many cooks, and to ensure that each guest gets some quality surfing tuition. Saturday is spent in the sea, Sunday in the kitchen.
There was just one problem. Not long ago I'd had an operation on my neck to avert the risk of paralysis caused by advanced cervical myelopathy, itself caused by my passions for boxing and, yes, surfing. I underwent "anterior cervical discectomy and fusion", which meant that now, nine months post-op, I had a metal cage holding my neck together. I'd returned to surfing, but was tentative, to say the least, in the water.
"Our head coach, Chris Brown, is one of the best in Britain," said Mod. "I'm sure he'll be able to work with you, taking into account your neck."
The luxury accommodation selected for Global Boarders' gourmet surfing weekends augured well. Guests stay at Ennys, a five-star country manor house set in utter tranquillity near St Hilary, a little-visited village five miles from St Michael's Mount. There is a grass tennis court, a pool, and landscaped gardens. Rooms are state-of-the-art with digital TV and Wi-Fi access, and many have exquisite views to the River Hayle.
My gourmet surfing weekend was off to the best possible start, but the business of cooking was sure to prove more taxing than merely idling in a luxurious setting. How would I fare under the tutelage of the real deal, highly rated, up-and-coming Marazion chef Ben Prior? Ben's Cornish Kitchen may only have been open since last October, but his restaurant is as busy with locals as it is with tourists. Would he tolerate my ineptitude. More to the point, would I learn anything?
First up was something I'd never done – baking bread. "Never trust a thin chef," said Ben, as he showed me how to mix 500g of strong white flour, a pinch of salt and three tablespoons of fennel seeds, to which was added oil and yeast and a good splash of water. Kneading the dough proved strangely satisfying, but better yet was the taste of the bread we retrieved from the oven a little later.
The starter – pan-fried mackerel fillets with a broad bean sauce vierge – was given an added allure by the decidedly visceral act of filleting the mackerel, freshly caught off the coast at Marazion. "Let the mackerel relax in the pan," said Ben, as I fried it over a medium to low heat. His sauce vierge, a blend of shelled broad beans, shallots and peeled tomatoes, with some choice extras, was zingy and zesty – the perfect accompaniment.
By now I was enjoying my newfound chefdom. Ben steered me through the steps to producing a delicious twice-cooked lemon and garlic chicken (with Moroccan spices and butternut and apricot couscous salad), and a dessert of strawberries with vanilla marshmallow.
Suitably engorged, I met up with Chris Brown, Global Boarders' surfing guru who confirmed that he coaches surfers of all levels. "Even advanced surfers can still learn things," says Chris.
I explained that I'd surfed for about 25 years but that I'd had a neck operation which had made me slower to my feet when catching waves and less mobile. Chris advised that I should always look for an angled take-off and keep a reasonably high line once on the wave face. "And remember: look where you want the board to go before you start to turn," he added.
There's nothing like a bit of back-to-basics advice, especially if you've got a titanium cage holding your neck together, and, thanks to Chris, I enjoyed my best surf in ages.
But will other surfers go for this unusual blend of cookery and wave-riding? Mod says there's been plenty of interest "especially from active travellers from the UK, Holland and Germany, up to fairly advanced surfing standard".
But the venture is best suited to novices or intermediate surfers with a yen to cook rather than seasoned surfers. Those who rip will be far too busy, well, ripping, but maybe even they should take time out for a culinary session in Ben's Cornish Kitchen.
After all, if there's one thing my neck op has taught me, it's that there's more to life than surfing.
How to get there:
A two-night Gourmet Surf Trip with Global Boarders (01736 711404; globalboarders.com) costs £495 per person, based on two sharing, including B&B accommodation, lunch at the cookery school, surfing and cooking tuition.
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