Monday, 13 June 2016

London Produce Show 2016

London's Grosvenor House Hotel was the host for this year's London Produce Show 2016, a place where both British and international fruit and vegetables were brought together in a celebration of food, drink, cooking in and eating out. 

I was invited by the organisers to check the show out and to attend their media masterclass of food issues and cooking. Feeling I had a real opportunity to see what's good, what's new andwhere the next big thing may be coming from, I couldn't resist. 

I began by watching a cooking demonstration by Chef Michael Dutnall MCA, who showed us how to cook an asparagus, scallop and broad bean risotto. 

This was no ordinary risotto, despite being cooked initially by the conventional method. 

What was unique was that it was topped with luxurious scallop roe and the scallops themselves were pan fried, rather than cooked in the risotto itself. This helps to maintain their texture and avoid overcooking, as well as give them a little toasted caramelisation. Decked with a parmesan crisp, the merest wafer thin cheesy crispy biscuit, the dish was a superb mix of flavours, textures and cooking techniques. 

Next up were Toast Ales. One key message of the show this year is the need for everyone to avoid food waste. A message I believe in strongly, having been brought up never to waste food. Very fitting given the problems of food distribution and starvation which exist in the world.

Toast Ales are a brilliant business who take all the wasted bread from supermarket sandwich operations, sandwich and lunch outlets and delis and use that raw material to brew a wonderful 5% amber pale ale. 

Brewed in London's Hackney, this beer addresses some of the awful waste created as a result of retailers' desire in providing perfectly square sandwiches. I bet you have, at home, made sandwiches which weren't totally square - curves, angles, dips. Did we complain? No! So why should 4 slices of bread be wasted AT EACH END of a loaf of bread (yes, that's 8 slices per loaf) to give us square sandwiches? This beer is an answer to a major conundrum. One slice of bread makes one bottle of ale.

Next was Love Beets new products showcasing the much maligned beetroot. I used to believe that I didn't like beetroot. Those jars of pickled beetroot, despite my intense taste for the sour, didn't appeal to me. I thought this was a dislike for the beetroot itself. I have since discovered that my distaste was for the spirit vinegar used for pickling. 

Love Beets make two Beetroot juice drinks, one plain and unadorned, the other flavoured with forest fruit red berries, providing a vegetable high in antioxidants. The plain beetroot juice is for those with very savoury tastes, and I enjoyed this drink a lot. The berry and cherry blend is sweeter and more mainstream in its appeal. Currently available in health shops, this is a very good product which should be more generally available. 

Another producer who caught my eye was Neame Lea Nursery from Spalding, Lincolnshire. This nursery intially specialised in flowers and bedding plants. However, their passion for plants has now crossed over into some wonderful culinary produce. 

The pea shoots "windowsill" pack is a product I hope to see available soon. Fantastically designed for the reality of urban foodies and their lives, the pack is compact, but packed with a good density of young pea plants, in a small tray which will fit on a kitchen windowsill. Easy to care for, to water and pick from, its a way of achieving a little bit of cheffy cooking at home!


Another of their products which I hope will be up and coming are their "microgreens". 

These sprouted seedlings bring out the intense flavour of an obvious aromatic such as basil, but also less expected plants; beet (beetroot) and radish. The combination with the more neutral, leafy sunflower seedlings is balanced and full of fibre and nutrients. A great base for salads. 

My next fascinating discovery was The Sweet Potato Spirit Company. They make a colourful range of handmade, small production distilled spirits and liqueurs from sweet potatoes in Evesham, Worcestershire. 

This selection of highly innovative booze will appeal to a very wide range of drinkers. The beautifully red raspberry liqueur is slightly sweet, and to my mind perfect for making Summer sunshine Kir style cocktails with sparkling wine. Think a Bellini, with a raspberry liqueur base. The Moonshine packs a punch, which will appeal to whisky drinkers. The Spiced Rum is strong, for dark rum lovers. The Orangecello is an orangey spin on Limoncello, sweet, citrus, lightly fruity. Great for Christmas celebrations, as we embrace more varied traditions for the Festive Season. Currently available online and for sale in Harrod's, this is a quality, single distilled product which is worth searching out. 

After exploring the show, I had the chance to attend an event for media and press. First up was Tristram Stuart of Feedback, whose mission is to cut food waste. Tristram obviously wanted us all as individuals to waste less food; it makes no financial sense for UK homes to throw away unused food. However, his message was more far reaching and radical. 

One of the major causes of food waste is not home consumers. It is, in fact, the large retailers who make demands for produce to confirm to certain standards and reject tons of perfectly good produce every day for non-compliance. One example he gave was two tons of parsnips which were thrown away because of their size and shape. Surely they could have been made into soup, I asked myself? Why bin the lot?

I agreed with his message and mission. Do we really need all of our French beans to be of a certain length so that they fit into a pre-moulded plastic tray? Why should Kenyan farmers lose revenue because the big supermarkets have an inflexible view of what is acceptable? 

Next was Oli Blanc. If any of you know anyone with small children, chances are you know how hard it is to get them to eat fruit and veg.

Oli wants to change that and intends to do so using the medium that children know and understand - a smartphone or tablet app! Henri Le Worm is his creation, a French food loving worm (which Oli admits is based on his father, Chef Raymond Blanc!) who just loves to make wonderful food using fresh fruits and vegetables. Using games, music and beautifully colourful visuals, Henri and his family and friends will entertain and educate children.

Voiced by the inimitable and wonderful Simon Pegg (I am a big fan of Spaced!), Henri Le Worm is a joyous creation, underpinned by careful research and sound methodology. 

This was followed by the final treat, a cooking masterclass and 3 course meal cooked by Dick Middelweerd of iconic double Michelin starred restaurant Treeswijkhoeve. 

Dick was passionate about Dutch produce, its variety and quality. His three course vegetarian meal sought to highlight the best products and cooking/preparation techniques which can be used to create amazing results. 

Sweet and sour snack tomatoes with creamy Ruurhoeve cheese, basil oil and striped aubergine compote

This modest photograph does not do this tangy and refreshing dish justice. The vinegar-reduction marinated tomatoes were a mix of fruity, sweet and sour whilst keeping their integrity. The creamy, emulsified cheese was indulgent, a great contrast to the tomato. The basil oil highly intense in herbal flavours. The baked aubergine compote was soft and yielding, bringing all the other elements of the dish together. 

Terrine of Westland Vegetables with roasted sweet Palermo pepper puree and juice of Salatrio root ball lettuce

This carefully layered terrine was made from roasted aubergine, roasted peppers, sliced courgette and peeled roasted tomatoes. Each vegetable is prepared and cooked separately, and then the terrine is built with layers of gelatine. The roasted sweet Palermo pepper cream is vibrant and flavourful, enhanced with paprika. The lettuce juice made from a pack of lettuces (three different types) sold with the roots attached for freshness, with cucumber and sushi vinegar is fresh, vibrant and full of chlorophyll flavours.

For the next dish, we had a few unexpected ingredients. The first were roasted yellow beetroots. Maybe you have seen these before, but they were new to me. Roasted low and slow for 6 hours, these beets were sweet and soft and a different planet from sour pickled beetroot which puts so many of us off this vegetable.

The other unexpected ingredient was "popcorn shoots". These were early shoots of sweetcorn plants, grown without much light, in the same way as beansprouts. The sweet and easy to eat shoots are great for salads.

BBQ Beets with pineberries, goat's cheese and red pearl barley

This gorgeous, colourful dish was put together from yellow, red and white roasted beetroots. At the top of the dish is an audacious beet meringue made from egg white and purple beetroot juice stuffed with goat's cheese cream (coloured and flavoured with pineberry and purple beetroot juice). Pearl barley cooked in beetroot juice and seasoned with lime, white balsamic vinegar and horseradish provides substance with intense flavour. Cute pale pineberries give sweetness and freshness to the cooked elements. A beautiful dish for the eyes and the tongue and a great expression of what Treeswijkhoeve are trying to achieve with innovative ingredients and cooking techniques. 

The London Produce Show was an eye opening look at what I hope will be some new trends and products to become more available in the months to come. Treeswijkhoeve are a restaurant I would love to visit one day.

Snigdha attended the London Produce Show 2016 as a guest of the organisers. I thank them for inviting me. Snigdha has not received any incentive, financial or otherwise for posting this review, which represents my honest impressions and opinion.

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