Food has the power to do amazing things. It brings people together, it’s at the core of momentous occasions, and now, in London, it’s helping inspire people who have experienced homelessness, to make a change in their lives.
The charity I’m talking about is The Beyond Food Foundation. It’s been going for three years, but the brainchild of chef entrepreneur Simon Boyle has recently launched a brand new series of supper clubs.
I felt very privileged to visit the first of their series, held at London Bridge’s Brigade Bar & Bistro, where the apprentices spend their first six months of the programme.
For the first supper club in the series, the menu was compiled by Steven Edwards, Masterchef professional champion, and Josh Stanzl, co-founders of Sussex-based Etch Food. They partnered with the apprentices to create a five-course meal that represented the apprentices’ styles, while still keeping to the Etch signature style.
Here’s what we had:
Following some delicious freshly baked bread rolls, we started with a French veloute, served like a soup. But this soup had personality. With a rich base of Jersey Royal potato and plenty of delicious seasoning, it also had a hint of ‘Maccy D Lettuce’. I know, this doesn’t sound too appetising, but it actually worked – and yes, it did taste like the lettuce you get in a Big Mac. With truffle oil in there too, it was a superb dish.
A fantastically colourful fish dish followed. A fillet of perfectly cooked cured trout – the skin deliciously crisp and the meat beautifully soft – was served with chard asparagus and pickled broad beans.
The meat dish which followed was a pork belly and fillet with broccoli, roasted broccoli and red wine sauce. Pork belly can go either way for me. I either love it or hate it. I found this one melt in the mouth delicious and both this and succulent fillet were rich and packed with flavour.
A basil panacea with poached peach and yoghurt sorbet was served as a palate cleanser. We all agreed on the table that it had a distinct pesto flavour, and I wasn’t sure if it worked alone, but kudos was definitely due for the innovative flavours and presentation.
In between courses we enjoyed listening to the Etch guys and Simon about the hard work that went into the preparation for this menu and how important this inaugural supper club was for the future of the vulnerable but determined people involved.
Once the apprentices have completed their 13 month apprenticeship (six months in the Brigade kitchen, seven months’ placement in a professional kitchen) the aim is for all of the apprenticeships to gain an NVQ in Professional Cookery. Some of them them then have the chance to secure full-time employment using the skills and qualifications they’ve gained from the programme. At the moment, apparently the success rate for this is over a third. And 60 people affected by homelessness have joined the scheme since it began in 2011. Many more than this have benefited from cookery and nutrition workshops.
I was completely astounded by the quality of food here. It was fine dining at its best: beautifully and delicately presentation but not overly fussy, and packed with flavour and personality.
There were around 30 people at the supper club and I’m sure they were as blown away by the dessert as I was: Strawberry parfait, with elderflower jelly and strawberry sorbet. Oh wow, the intensity of flavour in this was phenomenal. And it looked absolutely gorgeous too.
Thought the series of Beyond Food supper clubs, the apprentices will be joined by some highly acclaimed chefs, including the Queen’s Head Chef Mark Flanagan and one half of The Incredible Spice Men, Tony Singh.
Considering that the number of people who sleep rough on the streets of London has risen from 543 in 2013 to 742 in 2014 (figures from Beyond Food), yet more than a third of the Beyond Food apprenticeships have secured full-time employment and left a life of homelessness behind them, we need more charities to pioneer practical schemes like this.
Simon Boyle obviously had am ambitious vision, but from the humbling and eye-opening experience we had at The Brigade Bar, I am massively in awe of what they’ve achieved and how it is clearly working.
The next supper club on 17th July is with Tommy Fairhall and Oleg Ibragimov, both proteges of Raymond Blanc and Heston Blumenthal. The event has been so popular, it’s already sold out. But do keep an eye out for future supper clubs on Grubclub.com and BeyondFood.org.uk. For Beyond Food to be a success, foodies like us need to get behind them to up the number of people who can benefit from this fantastic scheme.
Until next time x
For more information about the Beyond Food Foundation, go to Beyondfood.org.uk. Supper clubs vary from £35- £40 for a four or five course meal and wine and you can find out more by following them on twitter @Beyond_Food. Follow them on Facebook: BeyondFoodFoundation and check out some of their videos on YouTube.