Cook the box with top chef Alexlouise Brown

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Alexlouise Brown (pictured) was trained by Michelin-starred chef Raymond Blanc, she ran her own pub-restaurant and her own catering company.

Now, she is sharing her passion for food by teaching people how to go back to basics and make delicious meals from scratch.

Once a month, the owner of Alex’s Supper Clubs hosts Alex Cooks The Box at her base in Pontypridd.

Riverford Organic Farms vegetable and meat boxes are the centrepieces of every session. The contents change every month – produce is seasonal and from Riverford’s network of farms.

Alexlouise, 35, has just a few days to come up with mouth-watering recipes which are simple enough to be demonstrated to and remembered by her visitors without a recipe.

Remember how our mothers and grandmothers created meals from available ingredients without ever looking at a recipe?

Alexlouise is taking cookery classes back to the future.

When I visit, the vegetables include wild garlic, cabbage, courgettes, carrots, rocket, cucumber, spinach leaves, purple sprouting broccoli, onions, potatoes, and mushrooms. The vegetables are supplemented by Riverford organic meats and organic free range eggs, milk, and cream. The only non-UK fruit and vegetable ingredients are bananas – which, of course, have to be imported.

Alexlouise’s philosophy is simple: cook using organic produce and cook from scratch.

“Food doesn’t have ingredients, food is ingredients,” she says.

We’re greeted with a glass of prosecco or her own kombucha, a fermented tea which is slightly sparkling. Alexlouise has added berries to the probiotic drink. It’s refreshing and good for the digestive system.

As she expertly slices the potatoes into wedges and sprinkles them with garam masala and cumin, we talk about the toll food processing can take on ingredients.

Alexlouise shows us how to spatchcock a chicken within minutes. Her cooking doesn’t require complicated kitchenalia – just a roasting tin or two, a frying pan,  a saucepan, one sharp knife, a sharp grater, and a hand mixer.

As the chicken and potato wedges roast in the oven, Alexlouise sets to making us her mouth-watering mushroom soup.

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Solid coconut oil is heated to become liquid, and onions fried until translucent. If no vegetarians like me attend, Alexlouise could use lard. Then, Alexlouise grates in the mushrooms. Water, rather than stock, is added, and the soup is seasoned. It simmers until ready for hand blending and is served in tea cups with a dollop of sour cream and a square of homemade rosemary focaccia. It’s fresh and delicious.

We all marvel at how much taste Alexlouise packs into a simple soup.

Our six courses include a home-made coleslaw with soft-boiled eggs which lives on a different planet from the runny affair we buy in tubs in supermarkets.

The grater is king – carrots and cabbage are grated, mayonnaise is added, and everything is seasoned to perfection.

We are also treated to linguini with a tangy lemon and chilli sauce and a crunchy topping of cob nuts, a salad of leaves topped with a balsamic syrup and Indian paneer cheese griddled in Indian spices, roasted, spatchcocked chicken and potato wedges, and Alexlouise’s pudding, a caramelised banana fool.

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We’re shown how to caramelise sugar correctly – never leave un-melted sugar grains – and how best to coat the banana slices. Cream is whipped and Alexlouise assembles the pudding in champagne flutes, topped with an orange physalis berry on the rim of the glass.

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At the end of the three-hour session, we’re enlightened, full, happy, and determined to put Alexlouise’s simple recipes into action in our own kitchens.

The atmosphere is friendly and relaxed enough to reassure even the most timid would-be cook. Vegetarians like me are welcomed.

It’s the perfect foodie night out with friends or family.

 

‘Everyone wants to order boxes after the event’

Riverford Organic Farms franchiser in South East Wales Janet Mier, who is also at the Alex Cooks The Box night, says the sessions have inspired visitors to order regular vegetable and meat box deliveries.

“Some people who come along are already customers and have heard about the events through us, but others are inspired by the recipes and the produce and sign up,” she says.

“They see the quality of the produce and taste how good it is. We’ve been involved in the nights for a few months now, and it’s been excellent.”

Janet serves customers from Penarth and Sully to the Heads of the Valleys and Monmouthshire border to the east, delivering around 850 boxes a week.

To learn more about Riverford South Wales, see their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/RiverfordSouthWales/ and to order boxes call 01633 867661.

 Alexlouise’s culinary career

At 15, Alexlouise went straight from school into a job in a kitchen after a work experience placement at 14. She washed dishes and prepared vegetables, but soon realised she could work her way up.

“If you stay in kitchens long enough and you learn, you will progress,” she says.

She went on to work in restaurants like those at the Celtic Manor, then worked under Michelin-starred chef Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons near Oxford. By the time she was 22, she was running her own pub-restaurant Y Draenog in Pontyclun.

A spell running her own catering company followed, then a move to Switzerland, the home of the hospitality industry.

Alexlouise catered to exclusive ski chalet clients like Prince Andrew, the President of Kazakhstan, the Saudi royal family, and billionaire businessmen and women.

When she returned to Wales, she began working at her other love, property development. Cooking went on the back burner for a while, but her love of food eventually drew her back to the kitchen.

She started her Alex’s Supper Clubs business, where a group of people visits her base in Pontypridd, each bringing an ingredient. Everyone cooks together.

Then came Alex Cooks The Box.

Now, Alex is also spreading her love of cooking by teaching families how to cook with affordable, fresh ingredients in Llanhilleth.

Maria Williams is a professional blogger, copywriter, and PR for small businesses. Go to www.wordsyoucanuse.co.uk.

 

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Welsh piemaker’s talent recognised at top awards

 

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Judging of the Speciality Pies Class at this year’s British Pie Awards.  ALL PICTURES: Mepics Photography

A North Wales delicatessen famed for its home-made produce has been highly commended at the British Pie Awards in Melton Mowbray.

Leonardo’s Delicatessen Limited in Ruthin was recognised for its lamb, coriander, and apricot pie in the lamb pie category at the prestigious awards.

Leonardo’s makes its own quiches, puddings, sausage rolls, patés, and ready meals, alongside its meat pies including chicken, leek and laverbread pies.

The deli was founded in 200 by Ceris Brunzel-Roberts and her chef husband Andreas Brunzel. It uses seasonal fruit and vegetables from the owners’ garden, Tyn y Celyn free range chicken, Welsh black beef from Bala, Mochyn Merllyn pork, and Coed Du Farm milk and cream. Other local ingredients used include Clyttir Farm free range eggs and Snowdonia cheddar.

The awards saw top honours given to a ‘Beef Skirt & Vegetable Pastie’ made by A.F. Huddleston Butchers.

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Chef Andy Bates (left) tries a pie during judging

The Cumbrian firm took home the title of Supreme Champion, beating 815 other pies to secure the coveted trophy. This pasty had the judges’ mouths watering for its even bake, beautiful glaze and well balanced flavours.

Matthew O’Callaghan, Chairman of the British Pie Awards and Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association, said: “I know many will be surprised to see a pasty winning the British Pie Awards, but the definition of a pie is a filling totally encased in pastry – pies come in all shapes including round pies, square pies and pasties.

“Pasties have been a feature of British cuisine for centuries ranging from the Forfar Bridie in Scotland through to the Midland’s Bedfordshire Clanger and down to the iconic Cornish Pasty. I’m pleased that we now have an award-winning pasty to shout about from Cumbria.

“The winning pasty was outstanding.”

British Pie Awards: Judging
Judges tasting the pasties

The eighth annual British Pie Awards took place in Melton Mowbray during British Pie Week for the first time in the awards’ history. On Wednesday, 816 pies were entered from 132 professional bakers, butchers, and chefs and judged by over 100 top pie perfectionists –  including leading food critic Charles Campion, chef Rachel Green and TV chef Andy Bates.

Turner’s Pies Ltd in Bognor Regis, West Sussex, had four entries achieving first place within their individual classes. These pies were – Steak & Stilton Pie, Highland Top Rump & Potato Pie, Chicken, Ham Hock & Stuffing Pie, and Steak & Ale Pie. If you think football clubs are all about meat pies, think again. Morecambe Football Club won the dessert pie category with its apple, sultana,and cinnamon pie, and was highly commended twice.

Judging at the 2016 British Pie Awards
Two judges taking their job very seriously

The Speciality Class at this year’s British Pie Awards encouraged pie makers to create showstopping pies fit for Her Majesty The Queens 90th birthday celebrations.  A Victorian Corset Pork & Chicken Pie produced by Walker & Son was crowned as the class winner.

A selection of judges from this year's British Pie Awards
The judges at this year’s British Pie Awards. From left to right: Pete Lawrence (TV producer), Andy Clarke (food blogger and TV producer), Rachel Green (chef), Stephen Hallam (British Pie Awards event organiser), Andy Bates (TV chef), Neil Broomfield of the Great North Pie Co (2015 British Pie Awards Supreme Champion) and Neil Davey (food journalist).

 

THE RESULTS:

Award
Supreme Champion Beef Skirt & Vegetable Pastie –

A.F. Huddleston Butchers

Best Overall Small Producer Steak & Ale Pie – The Wheatsheaf

 

Class Class champion Highly Commended Highly Commended
Class 1 – Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Melton Mowbray Pork Pie – Dickinson & Morris Melton Mowbray Pork Pie – F. Bailey & Son Melton Mowbray Pork Pie – Leesons Family Butchers
Class 2 – Pork Pie Tesco Finest Extra Large Melton Mowbray Pork Pie  – Walker & Son Pork & Egg Pie 440g  – Walker & Son Pork Pie – Keelham Farm Shop Ltd
Class 3 – Steak & Kidney Pie Steak & Kidney Pie  – Wessex Pantry Steak, Kidney & Ale Pie  – Proper Pies Limited Steak & Kidney Pie – Turner’s Pies Ltd
Class 4 – Beef & Any Flavour Combination Pie Steak & Stilton Pie  – Turner’s Pies Ltd Beef, Venison & Red Wine Pie – The Outdoor Pig Company Steak Mushroom & Truffle Oil Pie  – Turner’s Pies Ltd
Class 5 – Beef & Ale Pie Steak & Ale Pie  – The Wheatsheaf Steak & Ale Pie – Tom’s Pies Steak & Ale Pie – Chef’s Kitchen
Class 6  – Meat & Potato Pie Highland Top Rump & Potato Pie – Turner’s Pies Ltd Meat & Potato Pie  – Morecambe FC Steak & Potato Pie – Middleton-in-Teesdale Fish & Chip Shop
Class 7 – Lamb Pie Lamb, Mint & Rosemary Pie – Robert Bowring Farmer & Butchers Lamb, Coriander & Apricot Pie – Leonardos Delicatessen Ltd Braised Lamb, Rosemary & Roast Potato Pie – Dunkleys
Class 8 – Chicken Pie Chicken, Ham Hock & Stuffing Pie – Turner’s Pies Ltd Chicken Pie – Plenty Pastry Ltd Chicken Pie – Robert Bowring Farmer & Butchers
Class 9 – Chicken & Vegetable / Herb Pie Luxury Chicken Pie – Nice Pie Chicken & Leek Pie – Thomas the Caterer Chicken & Leek Pie – Robert Bowring Farmer & Butchers
Class 10 – Chicken & Other Meat Pie Chicken, Bacon & Mushroom Pie – Walker & Son Chicken Pie – Plenty Pastry Ltd Chicken, Ham Hock, Maderia & Wild Mushroom Pie – Proper Pies Ltd
Class 11 – Speciality Meat Pie Game Pie – Mud Foods Ltd Venison Pie – Plenty Pastry Ltd Game Pie -Madaboutpies.co.uk
Class 12 – Savoury Pie Pork & Apple with Layered Turkey & Sage Crust – Roberts Country Fayre M&S Fluted Oval Pork & Chicken Layered Pie – Walker & Son Tesco Ultimate Pork Pie 440g – Walker & Son
Class 13 – Fish Pie Posh Stargazy with Prawns Pie – Fuller, Smith & Turner Smoked Salmon & Caviar Pie – Katherine Walmsley Fine Foods Salmon & Cream Cheese Pie – Cossack Cuisine
Class 14 – Vegetarian Pie Lentil & Sweet Potato Pie – Sandersons UK Limited Spinach & Mushroom Pie – Sanderson UK Limited Saag Pie – Pieminster
Class 15 – Pasty Beef Skirt & Vegetable Pastie – A.F Huddlestons Butchers Pork & Apple Pasty – The Outdoor Pig Company Traditional Cornish Pasty – Warrens Bakery
Class 16 – Dessert Pie including Bramley Apple Pie Apple, Sultana & Cinnamon Pie – Morecambe Football Club Bramley Apple Pie  – Morecambe FC Traditional Apple Pie – The Rutland Pie Company
Class 17 – Pub Pie Chicken, Brie & Cranberry Pie – Kentish Mayde Ham Hock & Smoked Chicken Pie – Kentish Mayde Highland Top Rump with Kidney – Turner’s Pies
Class 18 – Football Pie Steak & Ale Pie – Turner’s Pies Ltd Steak & Ale Pie – Kentish Mayde Steak & Stilton Pie – Turner’s Pies Ltd
Class 19  – Free From Pie Gluten Free Goats Cheese & Spinach ‘Heidi’ Pie – Pieminster Gluten Free Beef & Ale Pie – Pieminster Moroccan Spiced Vegetarian Pie – The Biddestone Arms
Class 20 – Speciality Class: Pie Fit For The Queen Marks & Spencer Victorian Corset Pork & Chicken Pie – Walker & Son A Royal Stamp of Approval Pork Pie – Walker & Son Three Tiered Regal Pie – Walker & Son

 

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Judging the pork pies