Flourish Graduates Hold their Own

5th July 2016

So today I took the daunting decision to postpone Father’s Day and head to Norwich for a few hours to volunteer at the Norfolk Food & Drink Festival event at The Forum, “Battle of the Bangers.”

Having spent the day before cooking up some locally sourced burgers and hotdogs at the wonderful fund-raising event, ‘Purple Picnic’ I hadn’t left much time to prepare for the cooking demonstration showcasing the quality of our Flourish Employment Academy graduates. The picnic really was a fantastic and touching event, arranged by local charity Nelson’s Journey. It was inspiring to be amongst so many people keen to support children affected by bereavement.

So, foregoing my Father’s Day breakfast in bed, I headed into a stunning, sunny city to prepare ingredients before heading to the Battle of the Bangers where I was supporting Coxford’s Butchers by helping to cook a few sausages to dish out to connoisseurs.

I met with Rob, one of our Flourish Employment Academy graduates to run through the demonstration to calm my own nerves as well as elevating some of his!

As I have quoted on many occasion to the Flourish Employment Academy members, we needed to remember ‘The 7 Ps’:

Prior

Planning

Prevents

Pitifully

Poor

Performance

This was instilled in me by my late father on a regular basis, for which I am now truly thankful as it has helped me to become the person I am now.

After a quick run through and a few tweaks to the dishes, we headed down to The Forum to do a little late shopping at some of the food producer stalls. We visited Fresh Approach for some super fresh asparagus, beetroot and cherry vine tomatoes. All I can say is that these producers and butchers must have been up really early, as they were already set up and cooking sausages for the hordes due to descend on the Battle of the Bangers in just a couple of hours’ time.

We took our ingredients back to the kitchen, and marinated them in some spices and lime juice. I then had to rush back to The Forum to assist one of our food champions, Coxford’s Butchers with cooking sausages for the public.

When I got there, they were already in full swing, so after having banter thrown at me for being late we began the momentous task of cooking twelve stone of sausages in just a few hours. During this time I had the opportunity to tell the story of The Feed and LEAP to Mustard TVs very own Polly Guy (of Polly’s Pantry fame), a food lover and passionate reporter. After numerous photos and interviews, it was time to wish Johnny and Jason from Coxford’s good luck with their judging and head off with The Feed posse to grab the ingredients from the kitchen and take to the stage.

After a dash across the city centre it was time to rock and roll! Having watched the last ten minutes of an outstanding cookery demonstration by Charlie Hodson (Executive Chef of The Great Hospital & Patron of The Feed) and Steve Thorpe (formerly Head of Norwich City College’s Hotel School and my previous lecturer), we donned our crisply ironed whites and microphone headsets. As we walked onto the stage, we busied ourselves trying to look organised and set out our ingredients ready to cook. At this point I have to say that the staging and kitchen was amazing with its brick effect backdrop, built-in appliances and stunning wooden kitchen surface. Well done Charlie!

As I stood on stage looking out at the growing audience, I noticed a few  familiar faces and avid supporters of The Feed, including Sam (The Delicate Diner), my family, Stephen Plume, (aka the Sausage King), and members of the Norfolk Food & Drink Festival committee, to name but a few. Charlie Hodson introduced us, and then it was down to Rob, Louis and myself to impress and showcase The Feed and LEAP to a great audience.

Louis kicked off the demo in style, showing how we make our quesadillas and describing exactly what they are and where they originally come from. He also gave a detailed description of the fresh local ingredients he was using. Despite having a few issues with the induction hob Louis held his own and started frying off the quesadillas, managing to multi-task by answering questions about how he has benefited from his involvement with The Feed and its Flourish Employment Academy.

To make our quesadillas, we use flour tortillas half-filled with lovely homemade beetroot and ginger relish, topped with fresh Norfolk spinach and layered with caramelised red onion and feta cheese. They are then lightly seasoned, folded in half and shallow fried before cooking in the oven for a further six minutes. To be honest, with the heat from the lighting we could have cooked the quesadillas on the stage itself!

Rob then started on his dish, busily chopping an onion and sealing the deliciously marinated pork fillet. This was placed in the oven before prepping some local cauliflower. At this point I want to mention that we have a passion to char ingredients as well as infuse them with lime – this has now become known as #limegate!

With the pork fillet in the oven, I talked about the pitfalls that some of our LEAP clients may face when trying to get back on their feet to lead a fulfilling life of their choice and become a participating member of society; it’s all about empowerment.

In the meantime, Rob had started to char the cauliflower florets ready for the next stage. I really have to buy a bigger blow torch – it would certainly speed up the process! After charring, he put a good glug of rapeseed oil in a pan and started frying off the onion, cauliflower, broccoli florets, cumin, mixed spice, ground coriander, smoked paprika, sea salt and black pepper. After a couple of minutes, a good squeeze of lime juice and a couple of shakes of the pan, Rob added the asparagus spears. I have got to say I was given a quick glare from Rob as I kept giving the sautéeing pan a shake or two – too many chefs and all that!

We then talked about what Rob was aiming for and his goals in life. He said that he wants to pursue his career in teaching and described how The Feed is supporting him in this.

Back to the food… Earlier in the day, Rob had prepared some asparagus, courgettes, radishes and red onions by thinly slicing and marinating them in – yes, you guessed it – lime juice (#limegate). He had also added some roasted garlic and pickled cauliflower; it’s all about texture as well as flavour.

With the spiced vegetables nearly done, Rob took the pork from the oven and allowed it to rest. This is vital to ensure the highest quality of a finished dish. Whilst waiting, he started to plate up and finish the spiced vegetables with some chopped cherry tomatoes.

Not wanting to leave Louis out, at this stage I gave him the microphone to ask some questions himself – after all, it’s all about empowerment! At this point I would like to say he must have rehearsed this questions as there were no quick answers. He asked me to explain clean cooking and allergens; not wanting to take the LIMElight from Rob finishing his dish I paused and congratulated him on his beautifully plated dish.

So after a round of applause for Rob, I explained how within the Flourish Employment Academy training course we demonstrate how to manage allergen awareness and clean cooking. (This is a process of not adding unneeded additional ingredients to cook a dish, thus making it suitable for more people). I described how we encourage our trainees to use this approach both within a commercial kitchen and in their own lives.

Whilst people congratulated our Flourish Employment Academy graduates and sampled their tasty dishes, we hurriedly served up some homemade lime & ginger sorbet to complement the savoury dishes the guys had cooked.

Charlie then came back on stage to thank all the chefs for taking part, and the audience for attending and watching so intently. He then introduced the judges and members of the Norfolk Food & Drink Festival to announce the eagerly awaited results of the Battle of the Bangers.

What I hadn’t realised until this point due to the dazzling stage lights, is that a huge audience of people had gathered in The Forum to catch the last ten minutes of our cooking demonstration and were eagerly awaiting the results. Superb!

With all the competitors gathered and judges at the ready, the awards were presented. First up were participation certificates which were given to all competitors. This was followed by the coveted ‘Judges’ Choice Award’ – I’m delighted to say it went to Coxford’s Butchers, which made my day! The public vote went to Icarus Hines (an old friend who I trained with as a young chef), the Runner Up went to Papworth Butchers, and third place went to Coxford’s Butchers – a double whammy for the boys.

And that was the end of my day showcasing what our Flourish Employment Academy graduates have achieved. Or should I say it was the day the Flourish Employment Academy graduates flourished and showed society what they can achieve.

Now it was time to relax and enjoy the rest of Father’s Day with my family, and take an evening of reflection on how rewarding my job at The Feed and LEAP is… or was it?!

No, I still had one or two things to do after I had spent some time with my girls. During the cookery demo, The Feed’s Business & Training Development Officer Simon Abel had been videoing us to live stream the show to our Twitter followers via Periscope. So of course I just had to watch it!

It was then apparent how amazing our Flourish Employment Academy graduates had been on stage, and how many times I said “superb”! Oh my God, I really have to extend my vocabulary. I also noticed how prominent limes are in my cooking. I’m starting to think I may have to buy a lime tree! My final task was to write this blog while the day was still fresh in my mind.

I want to thank Louis and Rob for taking part in the cookery demo; you were amazing and are both of true value to society. I would also like to thank Charlie Hodson and the Norfolk Food & Drink Festival for supporting The Feed and for inviting us to take part, allowing us to showcase our amazing social enterprise. Last but by no means least, I would like to thank Barry Allard for empowering me and giving me the opportunity to inspire others.

The Feed