Month: June 2017

An Unexpected Oven Repair

I’ve had to fix a few ovens in my time as a chef.

However, the last place I thought I’d be fixing one would be on a farm deep in the Highlands.

After an uneventful drive from Dundee, Jeremiah and I had arrived at Darnford Farms. Fresh faced from his full meal,  3 pints and a nap, Jeremiah was clearly excited to have reached his destination. As we passed rows of fields filled with strong looking cross-suckler cows, his nose was practically pressed against the window, trying to get a better look at the specimens. Trundling over the last stretch of the long beaten track leading up to the farm house proper, it felt like we were suddenly surrounded by the beasts. They dotted the landscape for what felt like miles around, in truth, I found them a little intimidating.

I tried to imagine them as steaks on my plate back in Cornwall, but balked at the idea of my sirloin mooing at me.

As we pulled into the drive outside a fine looking, wide-built Victorian farmhouse, a perplexed looking farmer emerged from the front. I knew he was perplexed because he was scratching his head and biting the lower corner of his lip. I knew he was a farmer because he was wearing faded blue dungarees, wellington boots and a checked shirt. I’m not usually one to stereotype but I felt that these markers were pretty much a dead giveaway and, as it turns out, my suspicions were correct.

Mr. Watson was scratching his head because, as he was about to fire up his gas hob to cook prepare us some of his award-winning steak, the oven had inexplicably stopped working.

A large land owner and successful business owner, you could hardly call him a man with few talents, however this particular set back had surprised him. The confusion had remained as he’d heard our van pulling in. Still rapt with perplexity, he’d come to greet us with the expression fixed on his face.

Thankfully, fixing an oven is something I’ve done before and the task proved not too difficult. Of course, if I were at home in Cornwall, cooker repairs would be a job for an outsourced company. But, being in the middle of nowhere, I thought it best to pull my sleeves up and get on with it myself. With the help of Jeremiah, I pulled the beast of an oven away from the side of Mr. Wastson’s delightfully retro kitchen. No wonder he was having problems with the thing, it looked about 30 years old. After some tinkering around with a few loose wires, we soon discerned the problem and got the hunk of junk working again.

Finally, both of us had the opportunity to try out the Scottish beef that had won so many awards, as well as my heart. But before this, the farmer was keen to show us his land as well as how he ensured that his beef was the ‘best for miles around’, which would have been a boast if it weren’t for the miles of empty fields around his own holding. As he proudly strode through the land that his family had owned for decades, he pointed towards the ground, claiming it to be his secret ingredient. Jeremiah looked a little crest fallen. His hope of eking out the secrets behind the rich taste of Scottish beef had ended somewhat flatly – however, he wasn’t completely disheartened.

Upon our return to the farmhouse, Mr. Watson pulled out a selection of freshly hung steaks and a well-used griddle pan.

This journey might not have been wholly educational, but it had given me a chance to meet new people, broaden my horizons and get the wind in my hair.

In other words – a perfect few weeks away.

Read More

Heading Through The Hills

Over a hundred miles lay between us and our destination, but the Texan didn’t appear like he was in any hurry.

The man earned thousands of dollars every year.

His time, presumably, was worth a lot of money (more than mine at least).

Still, in his own quiet way he seemed to be revelling in the foreign climes that he had found himself in. Although he’d made the mammoth journey for the sole purpose of learning how the Scottish farmers of Darnford Farm produced their award-winning beef, he practically begged to take the scenic route. For the one of the most successful of business owners I’d met, he seemed awfully keen to kick back and enjoy the scenery.

Although by this point, I’d spent hours driving through the roads of Scotland, I had no problem with acquiescing to my passenger’s demands.

As we wound our way through mountainous passes and past glittering lakes, I could tell my passenger was beginning to drifting off. We’d kept up polite conversation for the first hour, but the duration of the flight, in addition to the jet lag, appeared to be finally taking their toll on him. The soft lull of Radio 4 was the final nail in the proverbial coffin. As soon as Woman’s Hour kicked off, the dulcet tones of well-spoken English ladies took him to the land of nod. By the time we were leaving the small town of Perth and heading onto the A90 to Dundee, Morpheus had him well and truly in his grip.

It was nearing 2pm by the time we reached Dundee: the city perched on the edge of the River Tay.

For an hour or so, I’d been at risk of falling asleep myself. The quiet traffic, hazy sunlight and gentle snores of my travelling companion were having their effect on me and I desperately needed to get some fresh air. The relative still of the countryside slowly gave way to the hum of a city centre, gently bringing Jeremiah out of his slumber. Wiping his eyes, he declared his hunger, more or less to himself and started scouring the passing streets for a place to eat.

Luckily, for him, this wasn’t my first time in Dundee and I knew just the place to take a starving Texan looking for a shot of Scottish culture.

The Beer Kitchen might well be a part of a chain, but it’s a particularly Scottish one. Owned by craft beer brewing company, Innis & Gunn, the Dundee location of the bar/restaurants is a modern take on Scottish pub culture. The decor blends traditional pub features and modern sensibilities, with a similar style applied to their exceptional food menu. As far as drink goes, the beers on offer are what the the company has made it’s money on: a selection of unique brews that couldn’t be anymore Scottish.

The company initially came to prominence when a famous whiskey manufacturer wanted to use a beer to flavour their casks. The job was done and the whiskey was made, but there were reports of an interesting by-product to the process: the beer tasted good.

Buoyed by their efforts, Innis & Gunn was formed around the concept of beers flavoured by the barrels of distillers. Within a few years, the craft beer company had taken Scotland by storm. A few years later and the beer had broken Canada, becoming the country’s most popular British beer. With the money made by their ventures at home and abroad, they invested in the bar industry, thus The Beer Kitchen was born.

Although they’d taken a fair few influences from the States for their food menu, the ingredients and style of cooking can still be considered to be very much Scottish. Scottish beef rules the menu here, much to the appreciation of my travelling partner. He’s initially puzzled by the beer, however after a couple of flights he appears to warm to it. Over piles of meat, we discuss our mutual love for good farming and well sourced food, until suddenly its 5pm and Jeremiah is starting to look a little sleepy again – apparently this beer is a little stronger than the brew he has back in the States.

With my charge safely snoozing in the passenger seat once more, we set out on the final leg of our journey.

Read More