This week has been the first time all year when spring has seemed more than just a distant promise. The snow has finally melted, the sun has made a convincing appearance and the temperature is creeping up above freezing. It is fortunate, then, that this was the chosen week for The Turk’s Head to host their spring cookery demonstration.
The award winning pub and restaurant is a little gem, tucked away in the village of Hasketon. With the traditional rural pub, as the Turk’s Head once was, disappearing at an alarming rate owner Jemima has diversified and achieved what many hope to; a village location with enough draw to keep people coming back. An inventive, seasonal menu and events across the calendar mean that the appeal endures.
And so, on the first day of Spring I find myself sipping a welcome coffee with a group of fellow foodies, ready to learn.
We are presented with a booklet of today’s recipes and take a seat in front of a very simple set up: two tables with a couple of gas camping hobs and a range of ingredients. I flick through the little book of recipes – surely there must be more involved in the making of these dishes? I settle in with interest, expecting that some sort of Blue Peter ‘here’s one I made earlier’ trickery must reveal itself in time.
What unfolds next is a thoroughly enjoyable 2 hour tour de force of food. Chef Mauli, rather than walking through each dish singularly, as many amateurs in their own kitchens would have done; attacked the entire menu at once, as a chef would do. The result was that we gallop through the menu at a rigorous pace, switching between dishes as we go. Far from being difficult to follow we are all, rather raptly, swept along for the ride (and more than a little bit awed by the impressive multitasking on display.)
One of my favourite things about The Turk’s Head has always been the staff. Their warmth, efficiency and passion for what they do is difficult to beat. Hosting days like the cookery demo means that these qualities are thrown into the spotlight. Mauli, with a 2 hour monologue, was perfectly placed to convey his personality, passions and great hosting skills. He didn’t disappoint.
One moment he is giving tips on the best way to de-bone a Sutton Hoo chicken or where to forage wild garlic, the next we are transported to India to reminisce about recipes he cooked at the start of his career and the next he is very sincerely (and thoroughly) answering a question on the use of semolina in European cooking. It seems that even after an expansive career in food; he finds nothing mundane. The result is that neither do we, his audience.
I was not sure what to expect before arriving but had some vague anxiety about the level of audience participation. Happily no-one was called the front to have their chopping skills put to the test, rather we were left to absorb as much knowledge as possible. Whilst I was glad of the above my only small criticism would be that, having sat in the back row of seating I felt somewhat detached. Whilst it was a relief to know I could sit undisturbed in the audience I couldn’t help but feel that I wanted to be closer: To see more, smell more, feel more involved in the processes. In short – I wanted to make the absolute most of watching Chef Mauli at work.
With the dishes all coming together swiftly we are invited to sample a little piece of everything before being ushered through to the bar for a drink whilst the tables are set for lunch. At this point I feel supremely confident that I could definitely knock out each of the dishes demonstrated with ease back at home and discuss plans for who I can invite over to impress with my new skills.
By the time we are all seated at the communal table, merrily passing around the dishes to pile appreciatively onto our plates I am more than ready for lunch. The food, as you would expect, is delicious. The beauty of the menu and demonstration lies in the simplicity – the ingredients are local, easily obtainable. The cooking is possible using two camping stoves if necessary and yet everything is absolute perfection. A doubt creeps in that I could not possibly achieve this at home. I think regretfully about the notebook I forgot to bring and of the assiduous people I saw making notes on their booklets and wonder if I should have been taking it all more seriously, rather than merely enjoying myself….? Time will tell; it’s risotto primavera for dinner on Sunday and the proof of the pudding, as they say….
Realistically, even if my attempts are a disaster, the experience is still a winner. Great value, thoroughly entertaining, and (hopefully) useful – I cannot wait for the next one.
On the menu:
- Risotto Primavera with sprouting broccoli, foraged nettles & wild garlic,
- Pizza Fritti with basil and heritage tomatoes and parmesan
- Pan fried seabass, cucumber carpaccio, new potatoes and pernod butter
- Chicken Saltimbocca with Aspall cider sauce
Ingredients from the following local producers: