From Camembert to Kinder, How the UK Are Preparing Their Food Supplies

Written by David J Constable

As Britain prepares for a No-Deal E.U. Exit, fears of food shortages have people concerned over the imported foods that have, for many years, been part and parcel of British culinary life. As the possibility of a no-deal Brexit increased after a proposed deal by Minister Theresa May was rejected by the U.K. parliament, many are making preparations by stocking up on necessities imported from the E.U. After all, what is Great Britain without Nutella, Magnum ice creams and macaroni cheese?

A frustrated country has become a panicked one. Can the U.K. import, will they import, will other E.U. countries even allow them to import? This has created food anxiety at home. My goodness, where will all of the Camembert, chicken Kievs and boxes of Ferrero Rocher come from? Will Britain ever see a Kinder Egg again?

Camembert

Many are taking action, bulk-buying and stockpiling, filling fridges, freezers and basements with essentials and their favourite go-to snack. And, while I haven’t taken hoarding foods (yet), I fear for my balsamic vinegar and Piedmont wines. The gravity of the situation is becoming very apparent.

Currently, the import versus export position of the U.K. is very unbalanced. To put this into perspective, in 2015, the country imported £38.5 billion of food and drink, but only exported £18 billion worth of food. Things are already difficult, and the uncertainty of the future is quite rightly confusing. If indeed, a deal can be agreed and foods allowed to continue their importation, it will, very likely, be at a higher cost to the U.K. public. The likes of Nescafe (14%), Marmite (12%) and Mr Kipling Cakes (5%) have already seen a price increase within the last 12 months.

Magnum Ice Cream

Last month, Unilever — the British-Dutch transnational consumer goods company — admitted to stockpiling Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and Magnum bars ahead of the UK’s departure from the European Union. The firm’s Leeds factory, which makes Sure, Lynx and Dove, supplies the whole of Europe, while its ice creams are produced on the continent.

The political uncertainty has been reflected in the increasing sales of “Brexit Boxes” – a care package, worth €330, containing dozens of tins of macaroni cheese, pasta bolognese, chicken tikka, sweet and sour chicken, and beef and potato stew, as well as a water filter and a fire starter. The boxes are being sold by James Blake who set up the company Emergency Food Storage U.K. in 2009 with the aim of “making emergency preparedness as simple as possible”. Blake began selling the “Brexit Boxes” in December and is now selling around 25 a day.

Emergency Food Pack

Staffing issues have already been affected with many E.U. nationalities worried about their status and leaving industry jobs — kitchens, cooks, the front of house — to return home. As for the ingredients itself, a positive spin could be a more inherit approach to sourcing and cooking, with chefs forced to be more creative with the application of U.K. only produce. A good thing, surely. No more watered-down Danish bacon. Goodbye to Polish mushrooms. See ya later squishy Spanish tomatoes!

All of this begs the question: what will happen to the famed English Breakfast, a meal of incomparable gut-busting perfection, and often assembled via a list of imported E.U. ingredients. It is adaptable, catering to all tastes; the great interchangeable meal with an abundance of choice, the Marilyn Monroe of breakfast — as potent for a hangover as a litre of Alka-Seltzer.

English Breakfast

For eggs and toast, the U.K. will be fine. The British egg industry can produce enough for the country to be entirely self-sufficient in eggs. For bread, 85% of the wheat used by U.K. flour millers is homegrown. The flour produced is also from the U.K. with only 2% exported. As for sausages, bacon, tomatoes the news may not be so good. British farmers currently produce only 40% of the pork eaten in the U.K. The other 60% comes from E.U. countries such as Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. Baked beans are mostly US imports, but tomatoes grow mostly where it is hot, immediately cancelling out the U.K. — although glasshouses are used.

With the great English Breakfast seemingly under threat and Magnum ice creams about to vanish, the full effect of Brexit is put into a new light. It doesn’t bear thinking about.

ACHIEVING HAPPY EQUILIBRIUM

Written by David J Constable

Photos by Sofie Delauw from Cook_inc. 22

The long and complex menu doesn’t bode well. For starters, it’s late in the winter evening and took me over three hours to get here for dinner, plus I’m tired and can hear the repetitive tip-tap-tip-tap-tip-tapping of child’s feet running around me as a four-year-old slides across the polished restaurant floor – way past his bedtime. It’s a cosy Italian ristorante though, and I’m a greedy Brit in Tuscany, so shuffle my lardy arse comfortably into the chair and look forward to plate after plate of crostini and a gargantuan Lampredotto sandwich.

Gianluca Gorini

Woah, but hang on, this is 14-courses, plus all of the surprise appetizers, amuse-bouches and added accompaniments. Gianluca Gorini’s menu is a litany of lavish ingredients, but even I, from time to time, am guilty of unwarranted snobbery. The restaurant da Gorini in San Piero in Bagno, on the Tuscan-Romagna Apennines, presents fabulous and inventive food in his own style – light rather than heavy, but still full of robust flavours. It wasn’t what I was expecting, but it was exactly what I wanted. The customary lineup of Italian ingredients are all evident – salsiccia, radicchio, Parmigiano cream, winter chestnuts – convincing me that I was in very safe hands, but these are paired alongside kooky catches that have no place appearing on such a menu in inland Toscana. Creations are both classic and contemporary, a difficult balance to pull off successfully in a time when outlandish chefs are all wanting to wow the diner.

Amuse-bouches
photo by David J Constable

As the winter daylight falls, I find myself tucked away in the corner of the restaurant, seated among friends, the family of Gorini – including his wife, Sara Silvani, and boisterous son – emerge from the kitchen with plate after plate of striking creations. First, a few light and delicately designed dishes such as Fallow deer tartare with a citrus sting of bergamot, chestnut honey and robust grated coffee, followed by “Mandorlato” of cod with rosemary. Then, a plate of Roasted artichoke with artichoke sauce, capers and a sprinkling of dried matcha tea – “an absolute masterpiece, probably the most interesting of the year”, as proclaimed by Identità Golose in their 2019 guide. For me, it was the only duff note of dinner, a tandem clash of artichoke spiked with piquant capers as salty as a marathon runner’s jockstrap and the lingering vegetal taste of powdered matcha difficult to shift.

Tagliolini al burro di genziana, pecorino e scorza di bergamotto candito
photo by Sofie Dalauw from Cook_inc. 22

It’s when the pasta courses arrive that things kick into gear and Gorini’s talents flourish. Robust tubes of Rigatoni come with a smoked Parmigiano cream, mace, coconut and shards of dried sausage. It’s a bowl of food that demands to be mopped up and a show in smart innovation, with the mace offering a tinge of citrus and cinnamon while the addition of shaved coconut adds a Southeast Asian twist to proceedings, melting nicely with the cream for a release of milky gamma-octalactone. A light-textured trio of Ravioli stuffed with shallots, salted goats’ cheese and withered chicory was a design of such simplicity, such straightforward craftsmanship of envelope-thin pasta, that it was one of the evening’s most outstanding courses. Meat courses follow in the form of Local roe deer with orange cauliflower and carnation, then Grilled pigeon with aromatic bay extract, and a skewer of pigeon offal – the delicious organ pop of a little heart and lung. The ripeness of the deer and the acidity of the orange dance happily. What’s striking is the way the meat has been adequately rested before reaching us. As a result, the deer has softened up, and I clear my plate immediately.

Semifreddo al raviggiolo, amarene sciroppate, croccante alle noci e vermut
photo by Sophie Delauw from Cook_inc. 22

Everything is sophisticated and delicate, wild when needed but never steering away from Gorini’s roots. It’s his roots, heritage and family that are so important to the framework of da Gorini; the household atmosphere of the restaurant creating a warm and open environment – deliberately family-friendly – and a continuation of the hospitality Gianluca encountered after growing up in a family of restaurateurs. From the go, it’s clear how important food and family are to Gianluca, and how he uses these as fuel to thrust himself forward. Gianluca has managed to create a happy equilibrium between family and business, running the restaurant with his wife and receiving a helping hand in front of house from his son. A special mention also to sous-chef, Filippo Tura, and cognoscente wine recommendations by Mauro Antonio Donatiello – many organic and biodynamic from the region. In all, it’s a masterful balance, a whiz-bang in culinary creativity that, as is always the way with Italians, comes back around to family. I’d go back weekly if I could, for all 14-courses… and some more.

A detail from one of the dining rooms
photo by Sofie Dalauw from Cook_inc. 22

daGorini

Via Giuseppe Verdi, 5

47021 San Piero in Bagno (FC)

Tel: +39 0543 190 8056

www.dagorini.it

Written by David J Constable

Photos by David J Constable – Cover photo by Francesco Tommasi (from Cook_inc. 20)

Occupying a space on one of Lucca’s famous cobblestone palazzos (Piazza del Giglio), Ristorante Giglio carries a list of stylish Italian aperitivi — vermouth, prosecco, Campari, Aperol — but it’s their impressive list of over 600 “ethical” organic and biodynamic wines and beers that have made them celebrated amongst the local, youthful beatniks.

A rustic institution, much loved by its regulars, Ristorante Giglio gained a new cult following last year when Benedetto Rullo left the smog and graffiti of the capital for Lucca, joining friends Lorenzo Stefanini and Stefano Terigi. Two became three, and a new kitchen trio was born.

A detail from the dining room ceiling

The restaurant already had a history of kitchen collaborations and generational torch-passing, having opened in 1979 under Franco Barbieri, Giuliano Pacini and Loredano Orsi, the reigns were handed to Paola Barbieri in 2000, before her son, Lorenzo, got in. The injection of youthful creativity presented a new contemporary dimension for the restaurant. Menus evolved, moving effortlessly from the rural traditions of Lucca and Mantua to a more diverse gastronomic identity in which foreign influences — particularly Asian — are present, without abdicating the Tuscan region.

Pinzimonio: raw vegetables with goat’s curd

In a time when international Italian food appears mostly in a bastardised, commercial form, three young chefs have put their travels and experiences to use, taking only minor poetic leanings and drawing on their Italian heritage to create new plates of fresh eating with the nonsense, pretension and snobbery left out. To oppose the age-old proverb, too many cooks do not spoil the broth, in fact, they improve and define it.

Without pontificating all of the guff of organic and biodynamic wines, the three friends are more understated, recommending, in a subtle nudge-nudge-wink-wink persuasion, their suggestions to diners. The food meanwhile is all that is good and true of nonna’s kitchen table. No dish has the dull, monotonous colouring of creamy pasta or dank garlic bread; this is all vibrant stuff, carefully assembled after months of research, discussions and recipe testing. Plates slap you with their freshness and psychedelic colouring, willing you to pull out your phone and photograph.

Tortellini with cream and soy sauce

Pairings that on paper look disastrous are in fact majestic creations that dance on the tongue, creating an accomplished and surprising menu laced with achievements. Take, for example, animelle (veal sweetbreads) with pumpkin and the citrus-sting of grapefruit; and Smoked hare with red cabbage, tempered in a light pine-nut milk and rabbit innards pie. Chicken liver with eel and pomegranate is a marriage as unlikely as Donald Trump and Angelina Jolie, but it works perfectly. Raw cuttlefish and citrus dashi have its roots in Japanese cuisine, while Tortellini with cream and soy sauce packs a punch. Thai spicing is used to marinade a locally-sourced Shoulder of baby lamb that, if the world was to end tomorrow, would very likely be my last chosen meal. A final mouthful of succulent, fatty, full-on-flavour, euphemistic mutton before a fireball of fury explodes the Earth.

A special mention for the bread. This is some of the best-unleavened bread I have ever eaten, bread that deserves a bombastic paragraph of celebration all to itself. By sticking to their principle of threes, three grains — rye, spelt and an ancient variety of wheat called Gentil Rosso — are blended and allowed to rise slowly, increasing in size as if blowing hot air into a balloon. I guiltily stuff my face, pulling away fist-fulls of warm dough and dipping it into puddles of golden olive oil, soaking up the local liquid like thirsty sponges.

Last year’s Michelin star was a reward in persistent refinement for Ristorante Giglio as they continue to strive and evolve. Even though the chefs have their own lives and families, they remain united as a creative culinary trio, each dedicated in their duty to bring their bespoke piece of genius to the table, just enough so that each part of the puzzle creates a whole.

The bread – photo by Francesco Tommasi (from Cook_inc. 20)

Ristorante Giglio

Piazza del Giglio, 2,

55100 Lucca – Italy

Tel: +39 0583 494058

www.ristorantegiglio.com

Written by David J Constable

Photos courtesy of Chef Darren Teoh

As chefs make a conscious effort to move away from the importing of luxury items, turning their attention towards the sourcing of more regional, “local” ingredients, it seems almost inescapable nowadays to find a restaurant that isn’t pushing, poking and promoting the local label. At a time when competitive chefs are striving for our attention, bombarding us with Instagram photos and popping up on our television screens, they continue to implement what they can for their fifteen minutes of fame. Others, however, in this time of overwhelming media deluge have chosen a different pathway; choosing instead to visit the exact source and revert to the student; open and accessible to new knowledge. More importantly, they appear to have given themselves over to education from those who know far more than they do.

Temuan chocolate with jaggery ice cream

In Malaysia, food has long had a convoluted appearance, influenced by the country’s multiethnic cluster of people whose pallets dance between the traditions and practices of the indigenous Sabah and Sarawak people to the Peranakan and Eurasian creole communities, as well as a significant number of foreign workers and expatriates. In fact, what one would perhaps call “modern Malay” cuisine, can be boiled down to a melange of traditions from its Malay, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian and ethnic Bornean citizens, ineffable and impossible to categorise. This has made Malaysian food challenging to define, which is precisely why Chef Darren Teoh of Dewakan in Kuala Lumpur seeks to put endemic produce – or ingredients which are either native or naturalised to the land – on the dining table.

The dining room at Dewakan

The menu at Dewakan is a geographical journey through the biodiverse layers of the Malaysian habitats, a culinary run through of all that is good from the land, the sea, and the verdant jungles of Peninsular and East Malaysia. As a country split into two regions – separated by the South China Sea – it means an ultra-diverse ecosystem thrives, supported by both land and sea. Peninsular Malaysia shares a common history with Singapore, therefore, it is not uncommon to find the same version of dishes, such as chicken rice and laksa; however, because of its proximity and historical migrations with Indonesia, expect also to see the likes of rendang and sambal. Where Darren comes in, is somewhere more panoptic, bringing his experience from the kitchens of Les Amis in Singapore and his education in haute cuisine-style cooking and presentation, to incorporate a catalogue of ingredients from in and around his Malaysian home.

“The restaurant began with a simple idea,” Darren explains, “to use local ingredients. But then, just stopping with the ingredients revealed a missing piece of the vocabulary. We needed to apply local technique, as well, and, because I was trained in the European style, it occurred to me that I needed to step back and look at how I could use native produce to their full potential”. By visiting communities in all corners of the country, Darren and his team have re-energised many lost or forgotten ingredients, such as ulam raja microgreens, buah kampung, and chocolate made from foraged cocoa beans by the Temuan orang asli community, who are indigenous to western parts of Peninsular Malaysia.

Prawn umai with bunga kantan and ketumpang air

“It’s no longer a novelty to source these types of ingredients, but necessary to support these communities and utilise local produce”, says Darren. “If using these new ingredients means re-training our palates, then so be it, a lot of cooking and being creative is about challenging yourself.” Challenging indeed, not merely in the procurement of such items – the research, field-trip visits and driving over an hour and a half to collect ingredients – but when diners have certain expectations and require convincing that these rare ingredients are worth paying for. “Sure, that can be difficult, but my team and I are there to educate and transfer that message of humanism”.

Darren continues, “The previous government suppressed the lives of many people, especially those Malaysians in the countryside and forests. They were robbed of their ancestral lands, forced to live in poverty. We can’t talk about sourcing these products from such places for a fancy restaurant, without talking about these people. Dewakan is a celebration of the people and everything that’s great about our land”.

Dewakan

Lower Ground Floor
KDU University College,

Utropolis Glenmarie
Jalan Kontraktor

U1/14, Seksyen U1,
40150 Shah Alam, Selangor,

Malaysia
Tel: +60 35 565 0767
dewakan@kdu.edu.mywww.dewakan.my