Ever since discovering a passion for ingredients in the early 2000s, I have been incredibly fortunate to have spent time with numerous farmers, growers and food producers both in the UK and around the world; hearing their stories, discovering the challenges that they face and finding out what marks their produce apart from the rest. I am a passionate believer that the majority of the work that goes into a dish has been done in the days, weeks and months leading up to ingredients arriving on your plate and by those who have nurtured and tended to the plants and animals in the lead up to the kitchen and, ultimately, the plate. That’s not to say that chefs don’t add to this journey, however, I feel that the best chefs simply help ingredients along the way with a gentle nudge in the right direction; respecting the origins of each ingredient and honouring the hard work of the producer.
The UK has a rich history of producing wonderful ingredients; humble, honest and nourishing. Many of these have been catalogued in the Slow Food Ark of Taste; heritage varieties of fruit and vegetables, traditional meat and fish preparations, cheeses, breads and so much more. In September of this year, a sizeable delegation from Slow Food Scotland and the Slow Food Youth Network will join thousands of other passionate food activists, producers and chefs from around the world at Terra Madre/Salone del Gusto in Torino, Italy to join and take part in the discussions, tastings, lectures and classes that take place every two years in the home of Slow Food.
This year, I am delighted to be representing the UK at Salone del Gusto, having been asked to cook in the Terra Madre Kitchen- an incredible honour. I was asked to choose two recipes that honour Ark of Taste products from around the UK and set to researching ingredients from the ark, taking care to think about seasonality and suitability for the task. After a little time, the first dish that I have settled upon cooking is a Reestit Mutton Broth. Reestit Mutton is a wonderful product, with Shetland reared mutton traditionally being steeped in a brine before being hung for 10-15 days in the rafters (reest) above a peat fire. We’ve worked closely with Scalloway Meat Company in Shetland to source the finest mutton to take to Italy with us so many thanks to Neil Watt and his team. The soup will be served with homemade Shetland bannocks, using flour sourced from Voe Bakery Shetland and a good pinch of Isle of Skye Sea Salt. To finish, we will be preparing an Eve’s Pudding using apples gifted from Slow Food Ludlow from a variety in the Ark of Taste – these apples will be ripe for picking at the time of the festival, so it really is a perfect celebration of a seasonal Ark of Taste ingredient. Two wonderful dishes that are full of history, simplicity and flavour!
After 20 years of cooking, I genuinely look forward to this, my biggest challenge to date- representing the UK, cooking age-old produce, steeped in tradition in the kitchens of the home of Slow Food.
Wish me luck!
Steve Brown is an active member of the Slow Food Chef Alliance and a passionate food educator. Steve runs Edinburgh School of Food & Wine, as well as teaching freelance with We Are Pop (www.wearepop.co.uk)