Sunday, 26 August 2012

Raymond Blanc and the Vegetarian Cookery Course at The Fabulous Le Manoir Aux Quat’s Saisons in Oxford...

This was my final planned cookery course of the year. The most expensive by far, but I do have to say- also one of the most enjoyable and informative by far!

Le Manoir is owned by Raymond Blanc who is one of the worlds’ truly gifted and exceptional Michelin stared chiefs. I have followed his television programmes across the years and am currently reading his very interesting biography. 

I did enquire a few years ago about one of his cookery courses that appeared vegetarian, but decided against it upon finding out that they were inexplicably cooking a chicken dish it the middle of it-the lady I spoke to said if I wouldn’t mind participating in preparation and the cooking, they could still find me something else to eat... 

 I was therefore very pleased to hear about this new course which was said to be absolutely vegetarian...

 Though I do have to say some of the recipes did contain fish i.e. fish stock, anchovies and non-vegetarian cheese e.g. parmesan...On the actual day though, no fish products were used.

Le Manoir is set in the beautiful Oxfordshire countryside, just south of the actual City of Oxford.  The nearby village of Great Milton is very quaint and picturesque with thatched cottages and old stone walls.

I was very, very fortunate to be able to stay with a very old( but not in actual years of course!) and very dear acquaintance the night before who lives just outside Oxford and then travel the few miles then next day to the course situated at the little village of Great Milton..

For those of you that are thinking of staying at Le Manoir itself-and what a treat that would be, may I just draw your attention to the tariff...for the cheapest room and just breakfast it is £515...for one night...and I won’t even mention the prices in the restaurant for lunch and dinner...

Back to the Cookery Course...

The actual course was not unfortunately being taught that day by the great man himself as he was apparently away in the South of France filming for the BBC. Instead we had the chief tutor of the Cookery school, Mark Peregrine. Mark, I have to say was absolutely fantastic. He has been with Raymond from the beginning. He is himself, a very talented chef and one of life’s natural teachers. Right from the word go, he gently led us into the course and deftly demonstrated and encouraged us to lift our game and learn new techniques-even those of us that have been around the block one or two times!!

The cookery school itself is situated in the middle of Le Manoirs’s professional kitchen. On one side the windows open on to the glorious view of the gardens and on the other the glass fronted wall overlook the busy kitchen. The cookery school kitchen is based on a ‘normal’ kitchen and as such is not overly large and split into compact section with a hob and oven and cupboards all of which are laid out in pristine order. The very helpful kitchen staff took away our dirty dishes during the day and replenished our cupboards. Mark demonstrated the various dishes and then we cooked and ate our way through the day. 

There was just nine of us on the course and we started off with a very simple ‘breakfast’ dish to quickly satisfy us –plus I’m sure it gave Mark chance to get to know us and our level (or not) of expertise! NB all recipes are taken from the Cookery Course Notes and the photographs are of my attempts of the dishes on the day.

Poached Eggs with Tomato Fondue

A delicious breakfast or light lunch, which utilizes two simple techniques; poaching and stewing. The success of this recipe depends on the quality of the raw ingredients; the variety and ripeness of your tomatoes and the freshness of your eggs.

Serves (Yield):               1 Difficulty:          ●○○
Preparation time:       10 mins   Cooking time:10 mins
Special equipment:     Saucepan with lid.
Planning ahead:                 
The tomato fondue can be prepared two days in advance and the poached eggs can be cooked one day in advance if refreshed in ice water to stop the cooking then covered in the fridge.

For the tomato fondue:
15ml                                  Oil, olive
5g                                      Garlic, crushed
4g / 1 sprig                  Rosemary, finely chopped
4g / 1 sprig                  Thyme leaves, finely chopped
150g                                Roma plum or cherry tomatoes, roughly chopped
1g / 1 pinch                 Sugar
5g                                      Chives, chopped
1g                                      Sea salt
1g                                      Black pepper, freshly ground

For poaching eggs:
1Litre                             Water
10g / 2 tsp                   Vinegar
5g / 1 tsp                      Sea salt
55g / 1 medium          Egg, organic, free-range, fresh (*1)

In a small saucepan, on medium heat add the olive oil, garlic, rosemary, thyme and the chopped tomatoes, season with two small pinches of salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for two minutes, taste and correct the seasoning if necessary.
Whilst the tomatoes are cooking bring the water, salt and vinegar to the boil. Crack the egg into a small bowl. Stir the water with a spoon to create a whirlpool. Tip the egg into the centre of the swirling water. Cook for 3-4 minutes just on simmering point. (*2)
When the egg is cooked pour the tomato fondue into a soup bowl, and with a slotted spoon, transfer the egg onto the fondue. Add half a turn of pepper and sprinkle with the chopped chives. Serve while hot.

This was delicious! The aim had been to make a flavour packed dish very quickly. It was deliberately served without any carbohydrate to keep it light although we all agree it would be marvellous served on top of toast or a bowl of pasta or simply with chunks of crusty bread to mop up the very, very tasty sauce and runny egg yolk!

A small point though about cooking a perfect poached egg. I hate to disagree with R.B. on this but personally I prefer Heston Blumenthal’s technique-though I’ll say this very quietly in this Post...

Heston suggests bringing to the boil, a shallow saucepan of salted water.
Using a slated spoon first thoroughly drain each egg allowing the extra loose white to fall away and then gently slide into the boiling water. Boil very gently for 3.5/4 minutes then again using the slated spoon remove and dry on some kitchen paper to get rid of excess water before placing on hot buttered toast or your choice of dish. This method ensues all the excess white is removed and a perfectly cohesive poached egg is the result and without the light ‘tang’ of any vinegar.

We made about 12 different dishes during the day so it was very much full on and, thank goodness, we had the air conditioning up to maximum as it was one of the hottest days on the Summer outside. Mark and our little kitchen ‘brigade’ made sure we were well supplied with hot and cold drinks and, if we were not eating enough already, the professional kitchen would send little nibbles in for us too!!

We made three soups including Watercress, Puree of Coco Beans and the amazing Pistou Soup. Pistou is what some may call the French version of pesto.

However, never say that to a Frenchman...especially to a certain M. Blanc.

The French claim to have had ‘their’ version first...

Pistou as opposed to Pesto, does not have pine nuts or parmesan cheese in it.
The quality of this soup relies on freshly picked vegetables which should be used when at their best and in season. For M. Blanc, seasonality is crucial and as such this soup is a boon to keen gardeners to extol their vegetables. You also do not need much of any one kind so can pick your way around your plot with what is looking good on the day...

The incredible flavour comes from the cooking technique used. Mark taught us what he had been taught by Raymond. In order to capture and intensify the wonderful flavour, the vegetables are steamed, sweated and sweetened. This is achieved by using a large wide pan or skillet with a lid, a little stock already hot in a nearby saucepan and a few knobs of unsalted butter. The small amount of hot liquid together with the unsalted butter and the chopped vegetables in the covered pan, creates a temporary emulsion which cooks and seals in the flavour. I have to say this simple method is extremely effective and I have since used this time and time again and my ‘testers’ have also remarked on the intense flavour this achieves.

Mark also demonstrated the difference blanching the basil leaves first make to the final colour and attractiveness of the dish-another tip I shall remember. He also said that blanched basil can be stored in the fridge for up to 5 days.

Another tip when including tomato, was the part of the tomato used should be depending on what was required for the dish. The pulp is sweet, the seeds bitter and the skin is a combination of bitter and sweet and also adds colour to the dish.

Onions should also be chosen according to their known flavour. It was definitely a case of ‘knowing your onions’ i.e. Spanish will add more of a ‘sweetness’ etc. He also talked about the various ‘tricks’ to stop your eye person had heard of putting them temporarily into the freezer which Mark strongly vetoed as this will change the texture and resulting flavour. He simply suggested not cutting the root until the end as that is where most of the irritant vapours are stored.

Finally, the Coco Bean Soup is simply all the items in the ‘Ingredients for the coco beans section’ but with a few generous ladles of vegetable stock to loosen it up. Absolutely incredibly delicious and we all marvelled at the flavour, texture and taste and wanted more-and that saying something when we were eating all day!

Just need to now find some coco beans...

Coco Beans are officially known as Le Coco de Paimpol and have protected A.O. C. Status. Very similar to borlotti beans, they have a wonderful melt in the mouth feel. They are traditionally grown in Brittany and therefore traditionally used in French dishes but are less well known and thus not so easily obtainable here in the UK.

I have though, found one supplier whose products are in many UK Asian grocery stores and on line

And now on to this soup itself-which comes, as you will have gathered by now, highly recommended!

Pistou Soup

A truly wholesome and wonderfully delicious peasant soup.  It combines all the fresh vegetables in a flavoursome broth providing many valuable nutrients.

Serves (Yield):                               2                      Difficulty:              ●○○
Preparation time:                     30 mins            Cooking time: 15 mins
Special equipment:                         Blender                                                                    

Planning ahead:
The pesto and the coco beans can be prepared 1 day in advance and kept cling filmed in the fridge. The soup can be prepared a few hours in advance and finished at the last moment with pesto.

Ingredients for the pistou sauce:
30g /1 handful          Basil leaves, blanched for 5 seconds and refreshed (*1)
5g /1 clove                  Garlic, puréed
100ml                               Olive oil, extra virgin 
1g /1 pinch                  Sea salt
1g / 2 pinches            White pepper

Ingredients for the coco beans:
200g                                Fresh coco beans (*2) or haricot blanc (if dried soak for 12 hours and discard water)
30g / 2tbsp                 Olive oil
50g / ¼                          Onions, roughly chopped
5g / 1                              Garlic clove, whole, peeled
1                                         Bouquet Garni (1 bay leaf, 2 sprigs of thyme, a few stalks of parsley strung together)
400ml                               Water
4g / 4 pinch                 Sea salt
1g / 2 pinches            Black pepper

Ingredients for the soup:
30g / 2tbsp                 Olive oil (*3)
30g / ¼ small              Onion, chopped finely
45g / ½ medium        Carrot, peeled and chopped finely
25g / ½ stick              Celery, peeled and chopped finely
45g / 1/6                     Fennel, chopped finely
60g                                   Turnip, peeled and chopped finely
400ml                               Water, boiling (*4)
30g / 2tbsp                 Peas, fresh
25g                                   Broad beans
25g / ½                          Courgette, finely diced
30g / 2tbsp                 Fresh cooked coco beans or soaked dried beans
50g / 1                           Tomato, vine ripened, diced
5g / 5 pinch                 Sea salt
½ g /1 pinch               Freshly ground white pepper 

To Finish:
50g                                   Fresh pesto sauce
20g                                   Grated parmesan
20g                                   Croûtons (optional)

Making the pesto sauce:
Purée all the ingredients in the liquidiser, taste and season with salt and pepper, reserve. Keep in the fridge until required.

Cooking the beans:
Sweat the onions, garlic, and bouquet garni in olive oil for 4 minutes.
Add the beans and continue to sweat for a further 2 minutes. Add the water, bring to the boil; season to taste and simmer gently for between 40 minutes and 1 hour until the beans are tender. Allow the beans to cool down in the cooking liquid.

Making the soup:
In a large pan sweat the vegetables (*5) except the peas, courgettes and tomatoes in the olive oil, for 4 minutes. Add the boiling water, season with salt and pepper, and simmer (*6) for 10 minutes.
At the last moment add the peas, courgettes and the cooked beans; cook for a further 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, taste and correct seasoning if necessary.

Serve in a large warmed tureen, pour in 50g of pesto sauce and serve to your guests. Place parmesan and croûtons on the table so guests may help themselves.

Chef’s Notes (*):
Blanching the basil retains its vivid green colour.
This variety of bean has a wonderful texture but can be replaced by haricot blanc beans, flageolet, butter beans or borlotti beans.
When you cook olive oil most of the molecules of flavours go away, so use a good but inexpensive oil. Only use extra virgin olive oil for dressings or added at the last moment to finish your dish.
I use boiling water to shorten the cooking time, which preserves the vivid colours, nutrients, clear flavours and textures of this soup.
The sweating process will bring the sugar out of the vegetables and enhance the flavour of the soup.
Cooking too aggressively will destroy the texture of the delicate beans; they will burst and be very powdery.
Any summer vegetables such as broad beans, spinach, or young cabbage could be added to this soup. 
These beans would be lovely if used for a salad; dressed still warm with shallots and a mustard dressing.
The addition of 20g parmesan & 5g pine nuts would give you a pesto sauce.

Do give this soup a go-you will not be disappointed and it is a great showcase for your veggies from the garden-just use what you have available on the day-that way it is absolutely seasonal-just as Chef requires!

Back to the cookery course...

As I might have mentioned, we did not go hungry at any point during the day...
As Mark demonstrated dishes, we were strongly encouraged to taste, taste, taste...
We also had a very nice glass of white wine introduced by one of the young Sommeliers when we sat down and ate at lunch time.

And a quick but highly enjoyable stroll around the grounds...

Including the fabulous vegetable gardens...

I hope everyone has enjoyed this as much as I did on the day. I do have some more recipes and glimpses of the day if anybody is interested...

Until then, eat well and heartedly!

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

The Levi Roots Cookery Course-More On The Man, His Faith And Its Link To The Beautiful City Of Bath And Of Course, Delicious Caribbean Food...

I am delighted that people have enjoyed my post about the wonderful cookery day with the charming Levi Roots. As promised, here is a little more about my visit to Bath and, of course, some more recipes...

Bath is a wonderful place to visit-especially arriving in the early morning peace and quiet before all the hordes of tourists flock in...

And on the day I visited, there was an added buzz in the air as The University was about to hold a Graduation Ceremony and gradually more and more people in gowns started to appear...

For those people who have never visited Bath, I would earnestly recommend a visit.
Not only is it full of gorgeous Georgian architecture but there are some hidden gems down the little streets and alleyways...
If you look upwards you can spy glimpses back to bygone days now mixed with the modern...

I was intrigued with one wall,

As I paused to ponder, a passing older lady stopped as well and remarked that she was so grateful to the old hospital who she felt had saved the life of her husband many years ago.

 She then went on to say that the hospital had a very interesting history...
It was established in 1738 as The Mineral Water Hospital and is still known locally as The Min. Using the Spa water for which Bath is of course famous for, it has treated patients throughout the centuries. Well known for treating rheumatic disorders, skin problems etc., I was however intrigued to learn that the Hospital and its Spa waters were particularly well known in past times for curing a type of paralysis known as Devonshire Colic or West Indian Dry Gripes. This disorder which was prevalent in the 17th and 18th century, seemed to affect mostly farm workers and was actually caused by lead poisoning. Many farm workers at that time were paid in part by pints of Cider for which the West Country was and still is famous for. Unfortunately the cider presses at that time, used lead lined chutes and this resulted in the cider being heavily contaminated with lead. This was actually positively encouraged as the reaction of the lead with the acetic acid of the fermenting apple juice gave a sweeter taste to the cider-in fact some cider makers even hung a lead ball in the vat to increase this effect! Unfortunately it was not realised that people could then suffer from lead poisoning and the resulting paralysis. Poor farm workers were treated at the Hospital as charity cases and after prolonged immersion in the water did seem to miraculously is now known that long immersions in water be it spa or ordinary water does speed up the body’s ability to excrete lead...

Luckily for today’s cider drinkers, the cider making process is now lead free!!

I was very grateful to that passing lady for taking the time to give a stranger a quick history lesson!

But back to Levi Roots.

To start with Levi himself, he is, by his own account a very intuitive cook. Very keen to expand people’s awareness about Caribbean cooking but at the same time make it accessible using ingredients that can be obtained in the UK. I was interested to hear that for a time his Reggae, Reggae Sauce had been produced very near to me in Newport, South Wales. It has since been relocated to production in the north of England and his ready meals are now made in Poland. The Readymade meals produced in distinctive Rasta packaging are now found in a well known British supermarket which has exclusive rights for the first six months for each of his new products. Levi, described how difficult it had been initially to get ‘the men in suits’ to agree to the distinctive Rasta colouring of the packaging and how proud he is now when he walks in to one of their stores and sees his products in all their colourful glory on the shelves.

We asked him to tell us more about the Rastafari way of life and I was intrigued to hear that regarding food, many are vegetarians and some are vegans. Other will eat some fish and meat at certain times only.
For more information about the Rasta way of life see

Levi also told us that the City of Bath is very important to those that follow the Rastafari way and many will make a pilgrimage and visit as the most famous person for their faith; Haile Selassie spent his exile years (1936–1941) in Bath at Fairfield House, which he bought.

And now to the recipes –again taken from Levi’s wonderful course at the Bertinet Cookery School...

Rice and Peas

Rice and Peas is one of the most traditional and well known dishes of Jamaica. However it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I realised that the ‘peas’ mentioned in the title are not actual peas but instead are red kidney beans.

Levi is very much an advocate of using dried beans and not to use canned beans which could contain preservatives and other additives.  

This of course means a bit of forward planning...

175g dried red kidney beans
1 whole coconut
3-4 tsp salt
Knob of butter
1 whole scotch bonnet chilli
1 spring onion-chopped
1 sprig of fresh thyme
1 garlic clove
1 tsp all-purpose seasoning
500g basmati rice

The beans need to be rinsed in cold water and then put in to a large bowl and covered with 1 litre of cold water and left to soak overnight.

Next day, drain the beans, but the important thing that Levi emphasized is to not to throw away the soaking water as that will aid the wonderful red colour of the finished dish.

Rinse the beans under cold running water and throw away any damaged ones.

Bring the retained soaking water to the boil and add the beans. Bring back to the boil, cover and boil vigorously for 10 minutes to get rid of the potential poisonous toxins found in red kidney beans. Then reduce the heat and simmer for a further 35 minutes until the beans are really soft-to test give them a gentle squeeze.

The coconut milk will also need to be prepared beforehand.

To make the coconut milk, piece that one hole on the top with a sharp knife which gives way easily and drain and save the liquid.

Once empty, hold the coconut with the holes uppermost and crack smartly on a stone step-I was so pleased I wasn’t going to be resorting to a machete! The coconut will crack easily around the midline.

With a sharp knife carefully run it around between the shell and the white inner flesh. After a couple of circuits you should feel the coconut flesh loosen and fall out in one piece. Repeat on the other half.

Grate the white flesh-at home when I repeated this dish-I used my food processor rather than to do it rather laboriously by hand.

Place the grated coconut in a large bowl and pour over 1 litre of boiling water and stir well.
Add the retained original coconut water. Place to one side for 1 hour.

After an hour add some more boiling water-I added another litre at home. Allow to cool until it is comfortable to handle. Then gently squeeze the coconut pulp in the warm water. Do this for about 5 minutes. I have to say this is wonderfully soothing and your hands will be incredibly soft and coconut scented at the end!

Once you have squeezed away then do one final hard squeeze and remove the pulp and discard. The resulting coconut milk can then be used in cooking. So much better and cheaper than the usual cans of coconut milk!

For the Rice and Peas use about 1 litre of the coconut milk.

Add the litre of coconut milk to the pan of cooked and softened beans together with the salt, butter, whole chilli, spring onion, thyme, garlic and all-purpose seasoning and boil gently for 15-20 minutes with the lid on. For less chilli heat carefully remove the whole chilli at this point. The cooking should have boiled the chilli to release its fruity flavour but by keeping it whole the membrane and seeds which contain the real ‘heat’ of the chilli have not come in direct contact with the rest of the ingredients and will not be eaten. It will still be ‘hot’ but not extreme.

Now to the basmati rice. Rinse twice under cold running water-Levi explained that in Jamaica it is a real insult to your guests if you fail to do this or even mention that you failed to do so.

Add the rinsed rice to the cooked coconut and red kidney bean mix. Make sure the water is 2.5cm/1 inch above the level of the rice.

Cook for another 20-25 minutes on a really gentle heat until all the water is absorbed and the rice is tender. Do not lift the lid during the cooking because you will release all the moisture.

When the rice is cooked, put Clingfilm or foil over the top to seal and cover until ready to serve.

The finished dish should have lovely colour and add a spicy hit to the meal!

And finally...

Levi’s Juicy Jerk Seasoning

This was the spicy and hot seasoning which was added to the griddled vegetables served with the rice and peas and to the chopped and oven roasted vegetables which went into the Veggie Patties. Be warned-it is very hot indeed and a little goes a long way but you could adjust the chilli content to suit.

4 Scotch Bonnet chillies, deseeded and chopped-even Levi used gloves to prepare these chilli-even thoroughly hand washing afterwards can still leave it impregnated into your skin and many’s a chap who has very painfully found that fact out later after a trip to the loo...
1 Spring onion
1 onion, chopped
2 tbsp ground Allspice
2.5cm fresh root Ginger, peeled and grated
2 garlic cloves, crushed
3tbsp mixed dried herbs
1 tbsp dried Basil
1 tsp fresh ground Nutmeg
1 tsp ground Cinnamon
2 tbsp fresh Coriander leaves
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp coarse ground pepper
500ml tomato ketchup
Put all the ingredients except the coriander, salt, pepper and ketchup into a food processor and whiz until smooth. Tip into a large bowl then add the fresh coriander and salt and pepper and ketchup and mix well with a spoon. Allow the flavours to mingle well before using.

 NB the spice mix can be stored in an airtight jar in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
If you do find yourself in uncomfortable pain from a seriously hot chilli then Levi recommended peanut butter as the high fat content will help absorb the chilli heat.
And finally, finally...

I couldn’t finish without showing you one of the fine cheese shops to be found in Bath-appropriately enough called The Fine Cheese Company and just some of its mouth-watering selection...

They very kindly opened up early for me to nip in and buy some of their delicious cheese on the way to the cookery school!

Friday, 3 August 2012

Levi Roots’ Caribbean Cookery Course In The Picturesque Georgian City Of Bath...

I recently had the wonderful opportunity of joining a cookery class at the Bertinet Kitchen Cookery School in Bath, where the visiting Guest Chief was the lovely Levi Roots, famous for his enthusiasm for Caribbean cookery and his own Reggae, Reggae sauce.

Levi first came to prominence on the BBC programme ‘Dragons’ Den’ when he took on the Dragons in order to secure backing for his business venture Reggae Reggae sauce...

For those readers not familiar with the programme, this is a popular series where prospective businesses come before an inquisitorial type panel in order to try and secure backing for their business ventures. 

Interestingly Levi says that his children thought he was mad to go on the programme as they were aware how difficult it would be, but Levi himself thought his business had nothing to lose and therefore wanted to give it a go...

For a recap on his story from the Dragon’ Den see

To begin with Levi and his family were producing the sauce inspired by his Grandmother in the family home. 

After appearing at a food fare he was spotted by BBC researches and asked to appear on Dragon’s Den.

Levi has risen from selling his sauce at Notting Hill carnival to be a multimillionaire businessman in just five years...

I had met him once before when he attended the Abergavenny Food Festival and thought he was an amazing and inspirational man. So when I heard that Levi was to be a visiting chef at The Bertinet Cookery School then I jumped at the chance to attend.  

Levi has just brought out a new Caribbean Cook Book based on Caribbean Deserts, called Sweet.

The Bertinet Cookery School is an excellent place to attend a cookery course, and I have never been disappointed with their courses. 

Set up by the charismatic French baker, Richard Bertinet, in the picturesque Georgian city of Bath, this small and unpretentious cookery school has some amazing cookery courses with some of the very best of the UK chiefs.

 I have had the greatest pleasure in attending some of these courses in recent years and I would highly recommend the school.

The several courses that I have attended have included the fantastically talented Michelin starred Indian chef Atul Kochhar, the lovely Valentine Harris on Italian family inspired cooking and pasta making and, more recently, modern vegetarian cuisine with the delightful Celia Brooks Brown.

However Richard’s own bread making courses are out of this world and his bread making method is very, very different...Places are few and far between to get on his courses nowadays...but if you get a chance  I would very strongly recommend it if you are into bread making...

The cookery school is slap bang in the middle of Bath amidst the beautiful old Georgian buildings that were once so familiar the author Jane Austin.

As such nowadays, it can be rather full of tourists visiting the Roman Baths, The Royal Crescent and the Georgian Pump rooms, built in 1789 and seen here.

But back to my visit.

Bath is about an hour’s drive away from me in South Wales, so I set off early and crossed the Severn Bridge into England. Parking is a major problem in Bath so I take the back roads and park on the outskirts and use the Lansdown Park and Ride. There you get free parking and for just £3 for a return ticket into the centre of Bath. The ride down on the double-decker bus is also fantastic and rather picturesque as it hurtles down the very, very steep hill into Bath itself. I noticed a couple on the bus who were clearly not used to the experience-the clue was in the way they clung on with white knuckles to the backs of the seats in front...The regulars simply braced themselves and carried on reading their morning newspapers...

The cookery course was obviously based on Caribbean Food. A little daunting was the initial sight of the whole coconuts-images of me with a machete sprung to mind, plus the two dozen or so hot Scotch Bonnet peppers that we would be using...

However, Levi himself was completely calm and chilled about the whole day. He started by sitting on a stool and strumming his guitar singing his now famous Reggae Reggae song albeit to alternate  words that would have not possibly made it onto the BBC nowadays...

And no I am not going to record them here...

Throughout the day, Levi was completely accessible and with us throughout the cooking giving us hints and tips and the lowdown on his time in The Dragon’s Den and what is happening to him now.

I have to say I was really rather impressed! He is extremely humble and grateful about his good fortune and very, very approachable and enthusiastic about how to cook Caribbean food. 

It was a fantastic day and I am so, so glad I went on the course.

The food we cooked was superb! Not for the faint hearted as the chilli content was ‘quite’ high...I think we used at least two dozen Scotch Bonnet Chillies between a dozen of us to cook and eat the dishes...

However what we learnt was great...

  • Scotch Bonnets are very, very hot but have the best fruity flavour of the chillies
  • Pop them whole into cooking dishes so that the heat ‘boils’ the insides and releases the flavour but then remove them whole before the end of cooking so the chilli heat will still be hot but not over intense
  • Never use canned coconut milk but use a real coconut which sounds juicy when you shake it.
  • Use a sharp knife to piece one of the three coconut eyes-it will give way easily.
  • Drain out the coconut juice and then crack on a stone step and the shell will fall open easily in half...the coconut can be easily extracted, grated, hot water added and wonderful fresh coconut milk is the result. I’ve since done it at home and have got 2 litres of coconut milk from one fresh coconut.

This is just some of the knowledge we gained...If you ever get the opportunity to go on a cookery course with Levi then I cannot too strongly recommend that you go!

We had such fun cooking,

And, at the end of the fun packed day we sat down with Levi for a fabulous meal.

We made various delicious dishes on the day including...

Rice and Peas,

Ackee and Saltfish,

Veggie Patties-by my request

Levi’s Jerk Seasoning

Jerk Veggies-by request from me

Pecan Pie

Tamarind Balls

Now I am happy to write about any of the above if requested, but until then, here is Levi’s family recipe for his Caribbean Pecan Pie and remember that to have a sweet such as this, according to him, must mean a party is going on!!

Levi’s Pecan Pie

Serves 8

For the pastry:

100g cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
200g plain flour, plus extra for flouring
85g icing sugar

For the filling:

5 free-range eggs
250g light Muscavado sugar
200g golden sugar
Pinch of salt
70g unsalted butter melted
6 clove, crushes
½ tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp plain flour
200g pecans, half roughly chopped, the rest left whole
Crème Fraiche sprinkled with nutmeg, to serve

To make the pastry, rub the butter and flour together in a large bowl with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. 

Mix in the icing sugar, and then add the egg and mix to combine. Bring the dough together into a ball with your hands. 

Wrap in Clingfilm and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Roll out the dough on a light floured surface and use it to line a 3ocm (12 in) diameter fluted loose-bottom flan tin. 

Patch up any tears in the dough with the trimmings, pressing these into the case firmly to prevent any of the filling leaking out later.

 Place in fridge for 30 minutes to rest.

Line the pastry case with non-stick baking paper, fill with baking beans and bake blind for 15 minutes.

 Remove the paper and beans and bake for 5 minutes more.

 Remove from the oven and reduce heat to 190c.

Meanwhile, make the filling. Beat the eggs in a bowl, then whisk in the sugar, golden syrup, add the melted butter, cloves, nutmeg, vanilla extract and flour. 

Stir in the chopped pecans.

 Pour into the pastry case and arrange the pecans on top. Bake for 30 minutes or until just set.

 Serve with crème Fraiche sprinkled with a little grated nutmeg.

Until next time may I leave you with some tantalising pastry images from Richard Bertinet’s own shop in Bath-and boy does that man know how to bake!

Until the next time, enjoy your Sweet Delights,