Phil’s City Kitchen: Exploring the Deep-Southern Food Trend with Guest Chef Gwen Sampé

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Londoners are now no foreigners to cornbread, baby-back ribs and all things buttermilk (and butter!), thanks to an influx of Deep-Southern style restaurants and a fresh import of chefs, such as The Lockhart’s Brad McDonald, and Ollie Dabbous’s Barnyard.

The Deep-Southern attitude of kicking back, taking it easy, sipping a cool, sharp drink (Bourbon whisky, preferably) and tucking into some good home-style food, Londoners found irresistible. Pioneers of the barbecue, slow cooking, pickling, frying and the make-do-and-mend approach to cooking and to life, our fascination with the Deep South combines our favourite food trends of the moment in one vivacious and simultaneously mysterious culinary and cultural style.

My good friend, chef and improvisational jazz singer Gwen Sampé has her roots firmly planted in Louisiana, her family real Creoles – that specific, enigmatic mix of African, French and old-school Deep Dixie South. Gwen’s identity is made that bit more curious, due to her moving between Massachusetts, Texas, London and Paris, resulting in a spoken accent très particulier. 

The food we Londoners can buy and enjoy from the likes of Lockhart and Barnyard seem like excerpts taken from the imaginary darkly stained, big leather-bound book of recipes that Gwen’s family cook from. The following are some of Gwen’s favourite recipes – classics like sausage and shellfish gumbo, beans and rice, smothered greens and corn and barbecue shrimp, all with a sprinkling of classic Creole and Gwennie juju…magic.

Grilled Corn and Crab Salad 

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For anyone who thinks food from the Deep South is all heavy, this one will change your mind for good. Using only white crab meat, a light mix of salad vegetables and fresh herbs, it’s the kind of food you want to eat in the blazing Louisiana heat – this, and ribs.

Ingredients:
White crab meat (Cornish crab is excellent)
Corn
Pecans
Paprika
Chilli powder
Salt
Sugar
Cumin
Green peppercorns
Chives
Ketchup
Mustard 
Homemade mayonnaise
Worcestershire sauce
Fresh herbs
Salad vegetables: red pepper, red onion, etc.

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Method:
1.) Prepare the corn by grilling on the barbecue until some of the yellow corn is lightly blackened, as well as chopping any other salad vegetables you would like to include – red pepper and red onion goes well
2.) Prepare the spicy and hugely flavourful roasted pecans by baking them with paprika, cumin, chilli powder, salt and sugar – though you can improvise with your ingredients, of course
3.) Prepare the remoulade to go with the crab, a New-Orleans versions of mayonnaise, mixing: crushed green peppercorns, chives, a bit of ketchup, mustard, homemade mayonnaise and Worcestershire sauce
4.) Mix a small amount of the remoulade with the fresh white crab meat 
5.) Plate the dish, pudding the corn and vegetables in first, topping with the crab remoulade and finishing with the spicy roasted pecans and fresh herbs – basil works wonderfully 

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BBQ Shrimp with Roasted Sweet Potato 

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They’re called barbecue shrimp, but they’re not really barbecued, just marinated and then sautéed. ‘Leave it to people from New Orleans to get things mixed up!’ For anyone who likes shrimp, this is basically the Holy Grail.

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Ingredients:
Unsalted butter (and lots of it)
Fresh jumbo shrimp (shell-on)
Worcestershire Sauce
Paprika
Cayenne
White wine
Thyme
Bay leaves
Chilli powder
Lemon
Sweet potato

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Method:
1.) Prepare the shrimp by de-shelling them, but leaving the tails on
2.) Make a broth with the shrimp shells – with just water, to add a concentrated sauce to the mixture later
3.) Prepare a marinade for the shrimp by mixing white wine, lemon juice, thyme, bay leaves, lemon juice, paprika and chilli powder and then leaving the shrimp in the mixture for about an hour
4.) Prepare the sweet potato by cutting in circular, silver-dollar slices and grilling on a barbecue or roasting in an oven
5.) After an hour, sautée the shrimp in a big pan with plenty of unsalted butter 
6.) Plate the shrimp and the sweet potato and then make the sauce: mixing the marinade with the concentrated shrimp-shell broth, Worcestershire sauce and cayenne, the sauce should be a beautiful orangey-red colour
7.) Ladle the sauce on top of the shrimp and sweet potato and serve – then witness your guests’ delight

Ribs with Pickled Watermelon Rind 

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No Deep-Southern barbecue would be complete without ribs – and these are completely packed with flavour and extremely moreish. Paired with this unusual recipe for pickled watermelon rind, get ready to get your hands dirty.

Ingredients:
Pork ribs (Ginger Pig is a favourite)
Brown sugar
Sea salt
Ground cumin
Paprika
Mustard
Grated garlic
Grated onion
Worcestershire sauce

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Method:
1.) Dry rub the ribs with brown sugar, sea salt, ground cumin, paprika, mustard, grated garlic, grated onions and Worcestershire sauce, the marinade for at least three hours – overnight is best
2.) Then whack on the grill and serve with the pickled watermelon rind

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Hush Puppies

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Traditionally made up of scraps from whatever is frying in the pan, these little fried cornmeal balls were thrown to the yapping dogs to ‘hush the puppies!’ But then I guess someone decided they just tasted too good to give away, and they became a popular side dish in Deep-Southern cooking. Adding Parmesan and bacon, like we did, is not traditional, but typical of Gwennie’s traveller style. Also great with crab or shrimp! 

Ingredients:
Cornmeal
Flour
Parsley
Baking powder
Eggs
Buttermilk
Bacon
Parmesan
Chilli
Sunflower oil
Onion
Celery

Method:
1.) Make your batter by mixing the cornmeal, eggs, flour, baking powder, parsley, chopped bacon, chilli, onion and celery together
2.) Fill a large pan with olive oil and fry round dollops of the batter 
3.) When ready, place hush puppies on some kitchen roll so they don’t lose their crispiness, and serve

Oyster, Mussel, Sausage and Chicken Gumbo

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A real Creole dish, Gumbo is a dish originating from African slave culture: a rich broth filled with herbs and spices, meat and shellfish, it can be made with duck, chicken, crawfish, shrimp, crab, but never beef or fish. 

Gumbo is a Bantu word for okra – so this is always a prominent ingredient in the dish, as well as what they call the “holy trinity” as the ingredients are so often used in their cooking: onions, green pepper and celery. 

Ingredients:
Chicken (skin on)
Mussels (in shells)
Smoked sausages
Oysters (shucked)
Okra
Flour
Sunflower Oil
Garlic
Onions
Green pepper
Cayenne
Celery
Thyme
Bay leaves
Tabasco sauce
Filé or Gumbo Powder (a spicy herb made from the dried and ground leaves of the sassafras tree native to eastern North America)
Duck, chicken or shellfish broth
Jasmine rice (or whichever you prefer) 

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Method:
1.) First make the roux, a dark roux, by gently cooking the flour and oil until it becomes a dark brown – this should take about half an hour
2.)Then add garlic and the “holy trinity”: onions, green peppers and celery to the mix, stirring slowly
3.) Prepare the rice
4.) Next add the broth – whether it’s duck, chicken or shellfish doesn’t really matter – it just adds a bit of body to the mixture
5.) Then add the sausage and chicken – we used lovely free-range chicken with the skin still on for flavour – always add the meat before the shellfish as the shellfish cooks much quicker than any meat
6.) Add the rest of the vegetables, herbs and spices, and at the end add the oysters and mussels
7.) Serve in a bowl over rice, adding fresh sprigs of thyme on top and Tabasco sauce to the table for an extra kick 

Pit-roasted Pork with Smothered Greens and Refried Beans  

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This dish creates instant comfort – the well-seasoned pork, rich and thick refried beans and sticky smothered greens gives a real home-style warmth to whoever is tucking in to it. Good for the soul.

Ingredients:
Pork belly or shoulder
White-wine vinegar
Garlic
Rosemary
Parsley
Pepper
Thyme
Chard
Erebette (or any field greens you fancy) 
Unsalted butter
Kidney beans
Sunflower oil
Onions
Celery

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Method:
1.) Open the piece of meat up and season very well with lots of garlic, rosemary, parsley, pepper and thyme – it’s best to grind these peppers and herbs with a pestle and mortar to completely saturate the meat with flavour
2.) Fold up the meat and marinade it in these herbs and white-wine vinegar for an hour
3.) Score it and then slow-roast on 180 degrees for about two hours
4.) Make the beans by cooking slowly in a pot with oil, celery, garlic, parsley and green peppers, and mixing in some pork fat for flavour
5.) Smothered simply means cooked in humidity, so to make the greens in this fashion, sautée the chard and erebette for a little bit first and then add just a small amount of water to the mix so that they go slightly brown, then cover it up and let it smother
6.) Slice up the pork and serve!  

Whiskied Peaches

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Whisky and plump peaches – a very Deep-Southern combination. A rather light end to an indulgent Deep-Southern banquet, if you’re feeling greedy pairing with some Angel-Food cake wouldn’t go amiss.

Ingredients:
Whisky
Peaches
Cloves
Sugar
Cinnamon
Vanilla ice cream  

Method:
1.) Put the whisky, cloves, sugar and cinnamon on a pot on the stove until hot
2.) Put the poaches in the pot with the whisky to let them poach
3.) After they have been cooked, skin the peaches and serve with vanilla ice cream 

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Created by Phil Owens & thrice logo web 2 Media for Bespoke Menu Design   

Trend Spotlight: Al Desko and the Food-delivery Revolution

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Salad and burrito selection from Poncho 8 and City Pantry

Many have marvelled the “anything, anytime, anywhere” attitude of America’s food-delivery scene; Chinese, Greek or pancakes, chicken wings, organic pizzas or neighbourhood Italian, “take-out” is as much a part of American culture as baseball or going to the mall. 

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Al desko: wraps and salads from Hiba Express and City Pantry

And London is catching on. Inspired by the city’s buzzing street-food scene, a key player in London’s food-delivery revolution is “online catering marketplace” City Pantry. Founded in January 2014, City Pantry creates appealing catering packages for clients and pride themselves on efficient usability – hungry customers can place an order in just 4 clicks.

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Al-desko baklava from Hummus Bros and City Pantry

With leading tech firms as clients, City Pantry packages prove popular, and are favoured by office managers who save themselves the task of having to painstakingly gather individual orders from each member of staff. 

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Hummus with steak and chicken from Hummus Bros and City Pantry

City Pantry really has the personal touch – Charlotte Mindel, their resident food curator, scouts out the best food in town to serve to customers, including rotisserie chicken from Le Coq, pimped out hummus from Hummus Bros, hearty healthy salads from customer-favourite King’s Kitchen and dishes from ‘great restaurants, street-food vendors and pop-ups.’  ‘For us, it’s not just about ordering food to your office at all, it’s about the whole food experience and being inspired by it.’ 

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Fuelling the food-delivery revolution: Cha Cha Moon from Deliveroo

Proof of the food trend’s seriousness, key player in the food-delivery revolution Deliveroo has announced that it has secured £2.75 million of venture capitalist investment, which will enable it to expand its offering to the rest of the UK. 

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Al desko done right: Greek dishes from 21 Bateman street and Deliveroo

Deliveroo’s identity is with its 10,000 vendors, most of which have an exceptional reputation of their own, and, unlike City Pantry and other food-delivery websites, Deliveroo do their own deliveries and also have a state-of-the-art tracking system which will undoubtedly be improved with their new funding.

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Mixed souvlaki from 21 Bateman Street and fresh Greek salad

Our favourites are from Egyptian/vegetarian hole-in-the-wall Koshari Street and souvlaki house 21 Bateman Street. The food offering at Koshari Street, created by Middle-Eastern food legend Anissa Helou, is simple but done exceptionally well; including hearty Koshari, Egypt’s national street-food dish made of vermicelli, rice and lentils and topped with a spicy tomato sauce, chickpeas and crispy onions, plus punchy herb-packed tabbouleh and vegetable crudités with brilliant hummus and a colourful and spritely flavoured beetroot dip. Smartly packaged and feels healthy but filling, Koshari Street is perfect al-desko dining.

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The food-delivery revolution: Greek salad in its packaging from 21 Bateman Street

21 Bateman Street, too, translates well with delivery: nicely seasoned lamb, chicken and pork souvlaki skewers, juicy wild-boar sausage, plenty of fluffy pitta and super-fresh chunkily cut Greek salad with great hunks of tangy feta cheese. Nothing about their food delivery is fridge-y – just balanced and fresh, another al-desko champion.

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An Al-desko favourite: beetroot dip from Koshari Street

The food-delivery revolution is growing, and will likely move beyond luxe al desko lunches to delivering to homes, as cities continue to grow and kitchen space and the desire to cook diminishes.

But not all food-delivery services are created equal – at present, customers must be savvy about the vendor they order from, as food becomes a different beast after delivery. We suggest staying away from warm salads – the leaves wilt and depress the dish. Also, portion size varies as does ordering structure: at City Pantry all orders are placed in advance and are usually for groups of 10 or more, while Deliveroo delivers within 30 minutes to feed as many or as few as you like.

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Koshari, crudites and dips: perfect al-desko food from Koshari Street

What we’d like to see? Vendors tailoring food-delivery options to ensure that the dishes travel well, and also incentivising purchase by creating something just a little bit special for the al-desko or at-home customer.

Created by Phil Owens & thrice logo web 2 Media for Bespoke Menu Design   

Favourite Forks: London’s Best Summer Eats

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On-trend slushies at Rita’s Dining pop-up in Oval Space

Rita’s Dining Pop-up at Oval Space

Rita’s Dining pop-up at Oval Space is a haven for heat-suffering Londoners, and is for sure one of London’s best summer eats. By the stark and somehow stunning old gas works, and removed from the Hackney hubbub, resides lively Rita’s – fitted with flowers and vintage pieces, blue and white-striped deck chairs, good music, and a seriously summery vibe.

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Rita’s Dining’s outrageously good buttermilk fried-chicken bun

Their singular food offering is strikingly simple and exceptionally executed: buttermilk-fried chicken with sriracha and garlic mayo and lettuce in a brioche bun. On-trend, fantastic quality and served with real generosity. Their drink options are a hoot, too; including their Dark and Stormy, punchy Aperol Spritz and, their most popular drink, the Frozen Margarita. Everybody loves a slushie – a drinks trend certainly on the up. 

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A real sun spot: Rita’s Dining pop-up in Oval Space

Lima Floral

Peru’s Independence Day is on Monday, July 28th, so what better way to celebrate than with a cool, refreshing sea-bream ceviche? Their national dish and one made for the summertime.

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Sea-bream ceviche at the new Lima Floral

Lima’s new restaurant on Covent Garden’s Garrett Street embraces traditional Peruvian cuisine with their signature contemporary techniques. Lots of citrus, avocado, corn and tiger’s milk enjoyed in their welcoming and laid-back space.

Their citrusy ceviche is definitely one of London’s best summer eats, and I would recommend their unusual roast black quinoa, too. Served with an egg, sweet yakon reduction and avocado, it is an unexpected umami hit. Best paired with an ice-cold Margarita. When in Rome… 

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The perfect summer tipple: a Margarita at Lima Floral

KERB at Southbank

KERB has dramatically and unapologetically returned to Southbank on select weekends over the summer – sending our Instagrams into a street-food-related tailspin.

Nothing beats browsing those stalls in the sunshine – the KERBanists, or vendors, are anything but safe – fusing and oozing with great produce, global influences and a lot of love. 

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Popular cocktails at the bar at KERB Southbank

Bao London serves great little treats, like their classic milk bun Gua Boa, with slow-braised pork belly, home pickles, peanut powder and fresh coriander, and soya milk fried chicken and pomelo crunch. Annie Mae’s pimped out mac ‘n’ cheese has emerged as a firm favourite, as well as the “London via Jamaica via Atlanta” Miss P’s Barbecue, serving Georgia-style BBQ pulled pork with homemade slaw, served either in a sandwich or “skinny” – on its own.

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The classic Gua Boa at KERB Southbank. Photo credit: Leyla Kazim

Wapping Market

Describing themselves as ‘taking most of the Brockley Market Traders and plonking them in Wapping on Sundays,’ the one-month-old Wapping Market proves to be winning over London’s hungry inhabitants.

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New to town: Wapping Market. Photo credit: Wapping Market

Created by the people who are behind the beloved Brockley Market, Wapping Market boasts an impressive list of varied vendors: from Little Greenwich Smokery and their creatively smoked fish, to indulgent Crosstown Doughnuts, Mother Flipper’s legendary burgers, and lots of local farmers’ produce. 

One of London’s best summer eats for a lazy Sunday, browse at your leisure their ‘locally sourced seasonal fresh fruit & vegetables, meat, fish and poultry, plants and flowers, ice-cream, award-winning coffee, artisan bread, cakes and weekend treats, quality breakfasts & brunches, charcuterie and cheeses.’

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An irresistible selection of Crosstown Doughnuts. Photo credit: Crosstown Doughnuts

Trend Spotlight: London’s Rebirth of the Tasting Menu

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London’s rebirth of the tasting menu: sea trout suringashi, Jersey Royals and wild pea shoot at Koya

Tasting menus: critics hate them and chefs love them. But for the diner, it can be a mixed bag. Often impossibly long, arduous affairs, tasting menus can make the diner feel as if they are a prisoner to the chef’s ego, and paying a high price for the privilege.

With the added Michelin fussiness, tasting menus may have been perceived as the pinnacle of fine dining, but with fine dining itself dying out, where does that leave the loved, hated and much-debated tasting menu?

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Boar belly, wild flowers and wild spinach at Koya’s tasting menu The BackBench

Perceptions, and expectations, have shifted. Chefs seem to have shed their egos and become infatuated with the foodie buzz-word of the moment – sharing. Linked to London’s now prevalent sharing-plate culture – Spanish, Indian, French and, of course, Middle Eastern, (see our recent piece: Favourite Forks: London’s Food Scene is Having a Middle-Eastern Moment) this sharing of food, of ideas, of stories, seems to have hit home. Cue London’s rebirth of the tasting menu.

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Carp, peppers and Scottish girlies from head chef Junya Yamasaki at Koya’s tasting menu 

Take Koya, one of Soho’s most-loved eateries, and their contemporary interpretation of the tasting menu. On a monthly basis, five guests can join The BackBench and accompany head chef Junya Yamasaki on a culinary adventure ‘beyond the blackboard’. 

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Koya’s head chef Junya discussing his dishes at June’s BackBench tasting menu

Fork Talk attended last month’s BackBench, on a sticky-hot June Monday. Ushered to the bar space directly in front of the kitchen, Junya shared nine courses of super-seasonal Japanese fare, all created in his signature adventurous style. 

The astonishingly clean and creative flavours coming from the likes of his cherry tomatoes with shiso dashi (tomatoes picked that day) and chilled sea trout suringashi with wild pea shoots perfectly summarised not just the mood of the season but of this particularly hot day.  

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Remarkably clean and restorative: chilled cucumber udon, an old monks’ recipe, served as part of Koya’s tasting menu

In his rather centred, Zen way and soft timbre, Junya explained the seasonal, historical and emotional stories behind each dish – the chilled cucumber and sesame udon an old monks’ vegan recipe, the wild flowers and spinach served with the boar belly foraged himself from East-London pastures.

DRINKS
Not part of Dock Kitchen’s sharing menu, but dapper drinks indeed: Eastern Standard (with watermelon) and Damson in Distress

But Koya is not the only one to embrace London’s rebirth of the tasting menu. James Knappett’s Kitchen Table tucked away in the back of Bubbledogs typically serves 12-14 courses to 19 guests per evening, with the guests seated around the chef, ‘to make them feel like we’re cooking for them at home’. The Clove Club, Lyle’s, The Typing Room, Rotorino, Dabbous and Pollen Street Social all have modern, imaginative tasting menus, and Stevie Parle’s Dock Kitchen in Ladbroke Grove has a regular, themed sharing menu for whole tables to enjoy together.

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Hummus with fried chickpeas, moutabal and fattoush salad from Dock Kitchen’s Lebanese sharing menu

Changing every three weeks, Dock Kitchen’s sharing menus are based around a book, a place, an idea, or whatever grabs their fancy. From now until July 25th, the sharing menu is very on-trend Lebanese cooking – bursting with fresh summer flavours from their moutabal and fattoush, mackerel in vine leaves, fried aubergine with tatatoor and za’atar and grilled squid with tomato and coriander.

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Grilled quail, lamb chops, peppers and tomatoes with tahini sauce, sumac, chilli, lemon from Dock Kitchen’s sharing menu

We turn up on a Monday, when their sharing menu is condensed and costs about half the price – they even throw in a glass of (good) house wine too – so it feels far from scrimping. Authentic, inspired and dripping with real spice and exotic flavour, the grilled quail and lamb chops with tahini, sumac, chilli and lemon is an unfussy feat, and the broad-bean and borlotti pilaf is one of the best rice dishes I have ever tasted.

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The open kitchen hard at work at Stevie Parle’s Dock Kitchen

‘I just love Lebanese food… I love the grilled food they do, things like moutabel, really punchy hummus – the Lebanese always make it with a lot more lemon. I love the use of sumac and pomegranate molasses. They’re some of my favourite ingredients to use, so it was quite a straightforward, easy thing for me to write, because it was the food I love,’ says Eliot Thomas, Stevie Parle’s sous chef at Dock Kitchen, one of the main people responsible for crafting the sharing menus.

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A favourite: borlotti beans and freekah pilaf from Dock Kitchen’s sharing menu

Next will be Sardinian, and Polynesian will come after that, and there has been a Chinatown menu, as well as a truffle and an olive-oil one, too. The well-travelled kitchen often visits their place of inspiration, so have a personal connection to the food. Eliot’s familial roots are Polynesian, so the upcoming menu with plenty of coconuts and fresh fish sounds like a must-try.

In this rebirth of the tasting menu, what keeps harking back to me is how honest and with meaning these menus seem to be. In an eating age when authenticity matters more than most other things, here’s hoping these new tasting menus that push discovery instead of showiness and personality instead of pretension, are here to stay.

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A beautiful finish: roasted stone fruits with mastic and molasses with cardamom and rose shortbreads at The Dock Kitchen – London’s rebirth of the tasting menu

Created by Phil Owens & thrice logo web 2 Media for Bespoke Menu Design   

Latest Posts

Phil’s City Kitchen: Exploring the Deep-Southern Food Trend with Guest Chef Gwen Sampé

Trend Spotlight: Al Desko and the Food-delivery Revolution

Favourite Forks: London’s Best Summer Eats

Trend Spotlight: London’s Rebirth of the Tasting Menu