THE GAME-BRITISH & SCOTTISH CHEFS: ISAAC MCHALE
The Brits have been preparing for some time the after Gordon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White cuisine. Not that there is a british style but we can certainly say that the emerging chefs are pro-locavore and that they are sourcing the best products of the island of Albion. In the very cosmopolitan London, the influences of young chefs are many, which give them a unique culinary personality.
In this group comes Isaac McHale, a young Scottish chef who gives the mandate to highlight the vegetables left out, Game and British’s products from the Borough Market (local produces). Despite his internships with some the best creative chefs in the world (Best, Chang, Rezepi), McHale cites mostly the young chef emeritus Brett Graham (The Ledbury) as a strong influence in his cuisine and how to structure a high quality restaurant. Like Graham, McHale has a great understanding of flavors.
The art transmitted by Brett Graham (and others) is always to highlight the flavors and make a complex cuisine seem simple (ostensibly). Isaac McHale follows the same tracks.
Q+A WITH ISAAC MCHALE (www.thecloveclub.com ):
1-(Scoffier) How do you explain the philosophy behind your cuisine and what is it main characteristics?
IMcHale- There is a definite focus on northern European traditions and foods, especially the old varieties of vegetables and amazing wild game we are lucky to have in the UK. I am interested in vegetables and herbs playing a more prominent role in cooking, being the focal point of a dish rather than simply flavours to highlight and compliment a central, expensive protein. And being Scottish I am always trying to sneak oats, heather and whisky onto my menu.
2-(Scoffier) Elliot’s Borough Market is your first restaurant or concept. Can you describe Elliot’s? And it is the embryo of your future restaurant? What’s next?
IMcHale- The focus at Elliot’s will be to create a restaurant that is welcoming, gastronomic and is affordable. I want to create a restaurant that my friends and people my age will want to come each week, not just for a dress up, once a year, occasion. I want to give people a great experience without the price tag, food that tastes great, with a high level of skill involved but more modest ingredients, nothing flashy.
3-(Scoffier) Do you have a flavour or taste from your childhood that is again memorable?
IMcHale- Growing up in Glasgow in Scotland in the 80′s, there was no native cuisine, outside of history books and castle tours, so I don’t feel I have a culinary heritage. We have some of the finest produce in the world in Scotland, yet we have the worst diet in the world. As an 8 year old kid I wanted to know how to make chicken pakora. That is how I ended up cooking for a living, and I still love spices, but today they play a minor, supporting role in the food that I am interested in cooking.
4-(Scoffier) Do you have a particular foods (or products) that you often use in your recipes?
IMcHale- Old varieties of vegetables and ‘secondary cuts’ of vegetables are of great interest to me. Bolted lettuce stems, cabbage flowers, cauliflower leaves, garlic buds, mangold-wurzel, second year leeks and horseradish stems. Vegetables have replaced high technique as the most important part of the genesis of a dish.
5-(Scoffier) Do you have a mentor (chefs or anybody else) that inspires you in your cuisine?
IMcHale- The 3 weeks i spent in the kitchen of Noma was a game-changer, and René (Redzepi), Christian (Puglisi) and everyone were very welcoming, I will always remember that. Brett Graham has been a great influence and remains a great friend. In my 5 years at The Ledbury it has been a pleasure to be part of the team that gained one and then two Michelin stars, and only yesterday was voted Best Restaurant in Britain, and best service in Britain at the National Restaurant Awards. Brett IS The Ledbury and both awards are testament this maturing and growing from a talented cook into a brilliant chef with a style of his own into a great restaurateur.
I have learned so much from Brett and his long time Sous chef Nathan Thomas about what it takes to create and maintain a restaurant at that level. I still call Brett for advice.
6-(Scoffier) I know you have had several short experiments alongside top chefs (Best, Chang, Redzepi etc.), what were you looking for exactly? Soul, spirit…
IMcHale- You take different things from every stage. It could be an ingredient, the way a vegetable is cut, the way a fish is cooked or the way the food is put on the plate. It could be the service ware or the way the head chef briefs his team after a service. It could be the way they clean the kitchen, the use of an unusual herb, a technique you haven’t seen before. It could be the way the food is stored or the kitchen is organized or the height of the stools and their elevation in relation to the chef on the other side facing them. It could be the way the staff interacted with each other. I have taken all these things from my time in other kitchens, no matter how trivial they may seem to others, and I am grateful to the chefs you mention, and others, for allowing me to do so.
7-(Scoffier) How do you develop (your inspiration) your recipes and construct your menu?
IMcHale- I first look to the seasons and the best ingredients. The rest falls in behind that.
8-(Scoffier) I know that the chef Pascal Barbot (L’Astrance) take a lot of time choosing and picking his produces at the market. Do you spend as much of time to choose and pick your produces?
IMcHale- Yes, I am lucky to be opening a restaurant in Borough Market, London’s finest food market, so I will have the best of the best on my doorstep. Furthermore one of the stallholders, Chegworth Valley farm (http://www.chegworthvalley.com/) are growing rare varieties of vegetables for me. I am very lucky to be so close to the growers and suppliers who make Borough Market great.
9-(Scoffier) Do you use some elements from molecular gastronomy or new technology in your cooking techniques? If yes, which?
IMcHale- I use some modern techniques and equipment, but a KitchenAid and blender were new kit once. Puff pastry was a new technique once. Technique and equipment shouldn’t define the soul of a chef.
10-(Scoffier) Can you give us a detailed recipe (Signature dish or other) that is characterized the cuisine of Isaac McHale?
IMcHale- Recipe: Slow cooked Pheasant Egg with Smoked Fonduta and Cauliflower
11-(Scoffier) What is your goal (ambitions) as chef? Your Restaurant, a book, others?
IMcHale- I am a driven and ambitious person, and down the line Yes I would love to write a book. Right now my goal is opened Elliot’s and making it’s a success, and making customers really happy. As the restaurant grows my cuisine will become more defined. It’s going to be an exciting journey and I can’t wait to start. We will be doing another pop up, this time closer to home in Borough Market, from the 9th until the 24th of December. Details will be appearing on our website as they are confirmed.
RECIPE: Slow Cooked Pheasant Egg with Smoked Fonduta and Cauliflower (serves 4)
Ingredients and Progression Recipe
-1 garlic clove
-6 pheasant eggs (you have 2 extra eggs in case of breakages)
1. Mix the water and milk, place in a shallow container and smoke over oak wood chips.
2. Cook pheasant eggs for 25 minutes at 65 degrees celcius. Refresh in cold.
3. Prepare 12 nice florets of cauliflower, and blanch in boiling water until just tender. Refresh.
4. Slice gherkins on mandolin in to long strips. Gherkins should be the non-sweet kind.
5. Cut garlic in half and rub over inside of a small pot. Pour smoked water/milk inside and the diced fontina and warm gently.
6. When the mixture is warmed through but not boiling, blend until smooth. it should be the consistency of a thick puree soup. Check for smokiness and smoke this sauce again if necessary. Keep warm.
7. To serve, reheat the eggs at 58 deg for 10 min., warm the cauliflower in a pot with a little butter and water and pinch salt.
8. Arrange 4 warmed plates and, moving quickly, place 3 florets on each plate, crack the eggs into small rice bowls then lift one onto each plate, season the egg then nape with a ladle full of the smoked fonduta. Place 2 slices gherkin draped over cauliflower on each plate. Serve.
-The Clove Club/Chef Isaac McHale
Shoreditch Town Hall
380 Old Street,
London, EC1V 9LT
-Young Turks/Chef Isaac McHale (+ James Lowe & Ben Greeno)
1. (upcoming) Vogue UK, December 2010, http://www.vogue.co.uk/magazine/issue.aspx
2. Young & Foodish, June 2010, http://youngandfoodish.com/london/is-isaac-mchale-the-next-big-thing/
3. Borough Market (Video), http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ertwOSe4mF4&feature=related
4. The Scotsman, Januray 2011
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