Forks in a field

James Wellock tells us about a ground-breaking experiment to bring together the chef, the farmer and the field to create ultimate al fresco lunch in the fields of Chailly-en-Bière.

This event brought together the best that Scotland, two Michelin starred chefs Martin Wishart and Graeme Cheevers and married this with the best from France. Joining us on the trip were Steven and Karen Halsall, Helen Colley and Allison Hill who between them donated £8,000 to charity to be part of this very special weekend, so a big thank you to all of them.

Martin and Graeme created a menu around Scotland’s finest produce including Shetland squid, stone bass, razor clams and shellfish. We then looked to Charmilles in particular, which is part of France’s protected cultural and gastronomic heritage, for the finest squab pigeons and foie gras.

We took a quick early morning trip to Rungis to taste some melons, Marie des bois strawberries and white asparagus. Then to the fields for amazing summer cabbages, cauliflowers, fennel and herbs. Our basket was now full and it was over to chefs to pull it all together. The prep was done in a local hotel’s kitchen and then it was off to the most beautiful setting and to cook on was a Mighty Green Egg barbecue!

Julien and Sonia Beausse, the speciality herb and baby salad growers were our hosts, and they helped us find a beautiful ancient tree to park the harvesting machine – our restaurant for the day. The vibrant stripes and vivid colours from the baby salads were the centre piece of an amazing 360 degree, panoramic view of the region.

A Beetroot macaroon and horseradish cream was enjoyed with Champagne as everyone, guests and growers, took our places on the special veranda. The wine was poured and the stage was well and truly set.

First off the Green Egg, was the freshly made bread. Just smelling the charcoal coupled with French unsalted butter had our taste buds tingling before a starter of cucumber soup, avocado whip with Shetland squid, marinated in kiwi. The pork jowl sat on the creamiest cauliflower purée with slivers of razor clam really was a revelation, the flavours of three cheap ingredients brought together with such expertise made us realise we were indeed in some serious company. Fennel and stone bass nestled on a bed of the most flavoursome creamy spelt, surrounded by bouillabaisse, topped off with a slither of Bellota ham.

The food was coming at a pace now and just how well the guys were managing with the rustic set-up was a real testament to their expertise, there was none of the modern day kitchen trappings. This was all about the ingredient and extracting the fullest flavour possible.

Next up was the pigeon, rare and tender sitting alongside foie gras which had been pan fried to a delicious crust which only enhanced the texture of this delicacy, add to that some white asparagus and truffle that made this one of the most decadent mains we had ever eaten. Of course it had to be macaroons for dessert! But these ones were sandwiched with a crème fraîche and surrounded by seasonal berries – gorgeous.

The Scottish stone bass, a fish Martin is championing as it fits this approach for all his restaurants to have not only the best but also sustainable stocks too.

Freshness cannot be beaten and this was the real consensus of the day, as flavours from the simplest produce, grown with amazing pride and passion were brought together and matched perfectly by two of the finest chefs I have worked with. It really was the perfect day with ‘perfect ingredients.’

September 2014