The Chefs Forum Lunch, UCB, Birmingham

Some things are worth knocking off work early. A nativity play or Sports Day spring to mind, but I don’t have any children of my own and ‘borrowing’ them is apparently illegal in the eyes of the law. Mealtimes are my baby, all 8lb 9oz of it, and I am never one to turn down an opportunity to mingle with the big guns of the industry. Offer me a chance to have a lunch cooked by some of the UCB’s success stories and I am going to snap your hand clean off. Tell me two of those have just finished on Masterchef The Professionals and I’ll have that annual leave booked so quickly Google wont have time to tell you about the time I got in trouble for ‘borrowing’ a child. It was for a Sports Day. I enjoy the competition.

The premise of the lunch is to fund raise for The Chefs Forum Education Forum, a rather marvellous foundation that helps to alleviate some of the financial worries of young people training within the industry. We get four courses from five chefs, each associated with the college, or foundation, in some way. It’s a line-up that attracts the finest of the industry; restauranteurs, suppliers, chefs. It’s a privilege to be involved with something so worthy.

The food is a success from start to finish. Masterchef finalist and chef at The Wilderness, Louisa Ellis, works with little more than a cauliflower and yeast to pickle, roast, and purée the vegetable into a layered dish which is rich and, dare I say it, meaty. Head chef of Opus, Mark Walsh, dusts butter poached halibut with a tarragon powder that seasons with a subtle anise. Discs of kohlrabi cloak cubes of swede, whilst cockles nestle around a buttery Jerusalem artichoke purée. There is a lot going on, but it’s all held together by a burly chicken dressing. A sorbet appears from Alicias – a new company that I suggest you keep a firm eye on.

We get pork and smoked eel from the Modfather of culinary Brum, Luke Tipping, and his Masterchef disciple, Leo Kattou. It tastes like pork wrapped in smoked bacon, with leek and nuggets of squid ink dyed tempura pumpkin that I’m nicking for home. All presented in that clean and attractive manner that anyone familiar with Simpsons will easily identify with. Dessert is from The Edgbaston’s Olivier Briault, a dark chocolate cremeux sitting on a dacquois and feuillentine base, which is a posh Kit-Kat to those that don’t have a slight obsession with classic Ducasse desserts. I do. The addition of blood orange is not only seasonal but clever as it brings enough acidity to stop this and the cognac ice cream being too rich.

The triumph of the day is two fold; good money is made for the foundation and the UCB shows off the future of the industry. Not a beat is missed in service from those still in training. Glasses are topped-up regularly, every dish plated at the same angle. We finish on a roll call of the chefs and the students to much applause. Chefs never seem to be able to take ovation; it’s not in their nature. They work mostly out of sight with the desire to feed and nothing else. It’s what I admire about them and it’s what the students look up to. It is clear the foundation is doing great things and long may that continue.

This was a pay what you want event and I made a sizeable donation to the foundation.

Transport was provided by A2B Radio Cars. Download the app here; http://www.a2bradiocars.com

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