I thought I'd write a quick post as I'm currently having a 6 week break in my underground restaurant 'The Walled Gardens'. I use this time to do some creative work on new dishes & ideas and to work on other projects before I am super busy with prep and various deadlines again soon. I’ll put some of the last menus recipes up on here soon I hope.
Small homemade service pieces made of iridescent glass that I cut and sanded then built small bases for. I use these small plinths to serve one of the early courses in the tasting menu on.
One of the projects I've enjoyed in the past is making some of my own service pieces. This is partly out of financial necessity - I don't have the budget of a restaurant to get the sort of interesting service pieces I might like to buy. But also because I think it adds an extra element to the meals for me to serve some dishes on pieces that I have made myself. A dinner at The Walled Gardens should feel very personal I hope. I cook and serve all the food myself, and using various homemade service pieces feels like an interesting way to add to that senses of connection between myself and the guests aswell as making the evenings a touch more unique.
Bergamot and Juniper Chocolates served on a simple homemade service piece made from a slate base and iridescent plastic.
I also like the fact that this plays to the strengths of working on as small scale (serving just 8 guests a night). I always strive for the food I serve to be of the highest possible standard and it is very often favourably compared by guests to Michelin starred restaurants they have dined at. There are always things that would be easier for me to do in a larger restaurant with dedicated trained staff but that is part of the challenge. And one benefit of being small is that I can do some things that a larger restaurant would just find impossible - the chef meeting every single guest and personally serving them, being able to allow people to freely walk into the kitchen anytime they feel during the meal to ask questions or watch what is going on, and having all the food made by just one pair of hands. And I like the fact I can extend this to being able to serve some courses on service pieces, however simple, that I have made myself.
Dish using a cork as its base with a small hole drilled into it so I can place herbs into the cork and then stand a small one bite dish within the herbs. This allows an interesting way to add aroma to a dish from the herbs as well as a visual clue to the flavours within the dish. Here we have apple infused with calvados and thyme, topped with caramelised soy milk puree and blueberry glass.
This is an aspect of The Walled Gardens I really enjoy and that keeps things creatively interesting for me - learning new skills and augmenting the uniqueness of the experience. And this DIY personalisation is something I decided I wanted to explore further by trying to build myself a set of my own chefs knives. I’d read a blog post by Allen Hemberger (who wrote the excellent Alinea Project blog & book) where Allen describes making his own knife from scratch and this inspired me to look into it myself.
Initially I was very ambitious and wanted to try cutting my own knife blade from a square piece of Damascus steel billet, then shape and heat treat it before building my knife. But after more in-depth research and some first basic attempts I decided this is essentially beyond my skills if I want to make something high quality that I will genuinely use as one my main tools in my kitchen. So I’ve decided to try my hand at a simpler version.
My stabilised wood, cut and ready to make the handle for one of my knives
In the end what I have opted to try to do is to build my own knife set but do this using the easier option of buying high quality, Japanese hammered Damascus steel blade blanks. So I don't have to cut or temper my own blade but I will get to make my handles from stabilised wood which I will cut, afix and shape until I have something I can feel I constructed with my own hands but that should be in the same class of quality as the professionally made Japanese knives I already own.
The Yaxell Ran Chefs knife I was kindly sent to test
In the mean time I have been generously sent a beautiful Yaxell Ran Chefs knife to try by the people at Steamer Trading Cookshop (www.steamer.co.uk). They are the sole UK retailer of Yaxell and it was good timing to give this knife a go as I’m a fan of Japaneese knives but hadn’t used Yaxell before. It is a high quality Japanese Damascus steel knife, made in Seki Japan by craftsmen from a sword making tradition. The Ran chefs knife actually has more of a western chefs knife feel than most of my other Japanese knives and this 25.5cm version is a little larger than what I would usually use, especially for fiddly work, but I've found it great for larger jobs and it has been perfect for times I've needed to make batches of things. It's super sharp as you'd expect and sharpens well on a ceramic steel so I’m sure I’ll get good use out of it for a long time. My own knives I’m building are set to be a little smaller but using the Yaxell at the moment sets the bar nice and high for the quality I want to achieve with my own handmade set.
I’ll check back in here with progress I make on this and other projects and hopefully write more about some of the projects behind the scenes like this that make up part of the experience eating at The Walled Gardens. I’ll also try and pop some recipes from the last menu on here soon.
Thanks to Steamer Trading Cookshop for sending me the Yaxell to to try.