Staffordshires Food and Drink Scene.

Eating for Wellbeing

Thankfully, fad diets and extreme nutrition plans are looking more and more like a thing of the past. What we are seeing now is reflective of healthier attitudes towards food,…

Thankfully, fad diets and extreme nutrition plans are looking more and more like a thing of the past.

What we are seeing now is reflective of healthier attitudes towards food, with an increasing emphasis on eating and drinking for wellness rather than weight control. Better understanding of how our food and drink choices impact our bodies, especially our brains, is driving a more mindful approach to consumption.

It’s not just our physical health that’s affected by what we eat. Changing your diet can improve your mood, increase your energy levels and help you think more clearly, according to mental health charity Mind.

Body and mind

Blood sugar: You can feel anxious, irritable or even depressed if your blood sugar dips. Maintain steady levels by eating regularly and choosing foods that release energy slowly.

Vitamins and minerals: Eating lots of colourful fruit and veg every day means you get the range of nutrients needed to support healthy brain function. Himalayan salt blocks are more widely available now, and help bring out the flavours of food while also containing natural minerals.

Fluids and fibre: Feeling stressed can make your gut speed up or slow down. Get plenty of fibre, fluids and regular exercise to keep it in good working order.

Good fats and nootropics: Oily fish, nuts and seeds, avocados and dairy products contain fatty acids like omega-3 and omega-6 which keep your brain healthy. Nootropics – substances that can improve creativity, memory and motivation – are also a hot food trend at the moment, with powdered mushrooms one of the more unusual products to come on the market.

Look out for…

Buddha bowls: Not only will they look good on your Instagram feed, if they’re made right these food bowls are nutritious complete meals, featuring grains, veg, healthy fat, protein and greens. Look out for brightly coloured fruit acai bowls and trendy Hawaiian-inspired poke bowls too.

Fresh produce boxes: Make it easy to cook using fresh, seasonal produce by getting it straight to your door. Walkers Farmshop in Stoke-on-Trent supply a range of vegetable, fruit, salad and mixed bags, while Green Fields Farm deliver to some Stafford postcodes.

Turmeric: Touted for its anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric is one of the most colourful food trends of the moment. Get your fix with RAWR’s turmeric golden milk, or replace your tea or coffee at home with one of at least four different instant turmeric lattes now on the market.

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Chef Interview – Jake Lowndes

Jake Lowndes, 29, is head chef at Little Seeds in Stone, which he co-owns with restaurant manager and partner Sophie Hardman. The pair launched their bar and kitchen on Radford…

Jake Lowndes, 29, is head chef at Little Seeds in Stone, which he co-owns with restaurant manager and partner Sophie Hardman.

The pair launched their bar and kitchen on Radford Street in June 2016 and have gone from strength to strength since, building a reputation for fresh, local food at reasonable prices.

Sauce sat down with Jake to find out about the ethos (and the garden) behind Little Seeds, as well as their plans for the future. His favourite food might surprise you, too.

When and why did you decide to become a chef?

I suppose it was my grandma. I used to go to her house and she would make me really nice food, or we would make it together. I didn’t decide there and then to become a chef, but I thought, “I really like food, what can I do with it?”

My first job was at La Dolce Vita in Stone. I started as an apprentice and did my NVQ Levels 2 and 3 on the job. They put me in for Staffordshire Young Chef of the Year in 2008. I ended up coming third. Before then, I didn’t really know much about the world of high-end cookery, so it opened my eyes. I was there for two years and worked my way up to sous chef.

I left to do a ski season in France, which was fun, then came back to David’s Brasserie at Trentham for five years. In the last two years I was finishing my degree in Business at MMU. I left and went to Macclesfield, to a three rosette restaurant then called The Lord Clyde, under Ernst Van Zyl. I learned a lot from him about techniques and flavours. From there, it was Little Seeds.

Who has inspired and influenced you most in your cooking?

I’d say it was a combination of all the people I’ve worked for, to be honest. I’ve taken the best of everything I’ve learned and put it all together. Ernst taught me a lot of new techniques, because he’s quite a modern chef. He likes the Scandinavian style so he taught me a lot of pickling, salt-baking – those old techniques that are coming back. From other chefs I’ve learned management style, organisation and how to run a kitchen.

Where has been your favourite place to work so far?

I’d say David’s Brasserie. It was a nice place to work and everyone there was really nice. The now-owner, then-manager, John is a good guy. He was flexible with me, because I was working full-time while I was at uni. But everywhere I’ve worked has been pretty good.

Tell us about your food philosophy.

As seasonal as possible, to sum it up. We change the menu with the season, and we use local suppliers. We try to get the highest quality local product we can, because it all starts with the product. From the eggs we get down the road for our brunch menu, to the quality of the meat from our local catering butcher, it is really important. Our philosophy is high-quality local ingredients, as seasonal as possible, and mainly British, where we can.

Tell us about your restaurant, Little Seeds.

We’ve evolved organically since we opened. We opened with a more casual style and a narrower offering. Now we’ve evolved to reflect what our customers want at different times of the day and the week. So we’ve got a full brunch menu at the weekend, which people really love. We have a daytime brunch/lunch menu for Wednesday to Saturday. Our new weekday evening menus are more focused and balanced, to allow us to provide high-end, special occasion dishes as well as casual favourites like the buttermilk chicken and burgers.

Every week we write the Sunday lunch menu on Saturday night. You can come all week for the combinations on the menu, but Sunday lunch changes everything up. There’s always a roast on there – usually beef – but suppliers are tricky on a Sunday, so it allows us to offer the best of what we have. Trying out different combinations helps us to make new dishes too.

What would you want your last meal to be?

I’d really like to go to the Fat Duck. That’s my number one. I always go on about that.

If you had to live on one food forever, what would it be?

Just trifle. Trifle’s my favourite thing in the world. A Bird’s trifle, I’ll eat that.

What’s your favourite seasonal ingredient in spring/summer?

I love it when the Staffordshire strawberries come out, because we try to create something new with them every year. Last year it was a strawberry and elderflower jelly – because elderflower is in season at the same time – a strawberry meringue and strawberry sorbet. We get our strawberries from Canalside Farm in Great Haywood – you can pick your own and they’re really good. The wild garlic as well. When the wild garlic comes out everybody gets excited because it’s the start of spring.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?

Probably something fermented. At Carters of Moseley I had raw kohlrabi injected with cabbage juice. That was pretty weird. The main course was lamb with grass.

Do you get the chance to eat out often? Where’s your go-to place?

We like the Sticky Walnut in Chester. We go there whenever we can because it’s really casual and relaxed but with high quality food – the same thing we’re trying to do at Little Seeds.

What’s your ultimate comfort food?

Maybe a roast dinner. We eat that most weeks.

What is your focus for the next year?

To continually evolve Little Seeds in the direction we’re going now. Every service is a lot more refined and focused. Now we need to keep pushing forward and bringing the standard of food up. Last year we started making a sourdough; this year we’re making focaccia as well. We keep evolving the desserts, too.

Since the back end of last year we’re getting busier and busier, and that’s the main thing. I could do stupidly good things that people don’t want to eat and nobody will come – then it’s not fun anymore. Hopefully we’ll keep evolving with our customers, the menu and the team so everyone’s going in the same direction.

We want to double the size of our kitchen garden. Last year we started with some raised beds where we mainly grew herbs. This year I want to build a caterpillar tunnel so we can grow more. We grew lemon verbena and apple marigold that you can’t get from local suppliers. I want to do more of that but with different ingredients, like radishes and tomatoes.

We’re also planning a couple of fun theme nights – maybe a French and a Spanish night. Little Seeds is British and that is great, but sometimes you want to mix it up a bit.

What are your longer term goals?

We want to get this one right and running smoothly first, with the customer base at a level that’s sustainable – knowing it’s going to be busy week on week. Then who knows what we could do? Opportunities could come up. We’ve got concepts. We think Stone needs a great hotel. So many people come here for weddings, events and business; there are lots of decent bars and restaurants in the town but limited places to stay.

We also want to start working with schools to encourage people to be chefs and come into our industry. We would like to do an open evening for Year 11 students and their parents to give them a taster of what we do. It’s not like Ramsay where we shout at you. It can be a rewarding career if you can get over the unsociable hours. Our weekends are Monday and Tuesday instead of Saturday and Sunday. The most annoying thing is all the restaurants we want to visit are closed!

Little Seeds
16-18 Radford Street,
Stone, ST15 8DA
Tel. 01785 818925
www.littleseedsstone.co.uk

Photo Credit: Matthew Owen Photography

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How do you get people to eat better quality British meat?

Master butcher Stephen Hill from the Award Winning Perry’s of Eccleshall has a few ideas. Current master butcher Stephen Hill has been with the business for three and a half…

Master butcher Stephen Hill from the Award Winning Perry’s of Eccleshall has a few ideas.

Current master butcher Stephen Hill has been with the business for three and a half decades, but Perry’s has been renowned in this picturesque east Staffordshire village for over 90 years. After starting out as WM Perry next to Eccleshall Livestock Market, founder Bill Perry set up the shop and abattoir as it now exists on Stafford Street.

As regional finalists in the butcher category in the Countryside Alliance Awards’ butcher category and winners of seven gold awards at the English Winter Fair for their traditional pork sausages, Perry’s are obviously doing something right.

All of the produce in the shop is locally sourced, the majority from within five miles of the premises.

The beef comes from Knightley Grange and Lawnhead, while a farm in Cranberry supplies the pigs.

While many Eccleshall natives are familiar with this hyper-local approach, Stephen says some customers are surprised to hear that all of the meat in the shop is slaughtered and butchered on-site, and aged for between 28 and 35 days, where appropriate. More and more people are asking about the provenance of their food, he adds.

And because of their commitment to traceability, Stephen can tell when more than one customer comments on the quality of meat from an individual beast. Their grass-fed beef – with its deep flavour and characteristic marbling – is particularly popular.

Stephen is the first to admit that traceable, local, properly matured products do have a price difference attached. But Perry’s meat is priced to sell, and often compares favourably with other butchers and even – on occasion – with the supermarkets. In any case, the team often prefers to let quality speak for itself.

“One lady was hosting a dinner party and had bought a joint from us,” Stephen relates. “Twice as many people were coming as expected and we were shut because it was Saturday afternoon, so she bought a similar size joint from the supermarket. She cooked them next to each other and said the supermarket one shrank to half the size!”

At Perry’s, there’s a traditional nose-to-tail approach to butchery. That means making full use of the whole animal and not wasting any bones, organs or other offal. When it comes to cattle, Stephen says around 95% of the animal can be used, including the bone marrow, which goes into their beef burgers. Ox cheeks and oxtail are also now back on the menu, 20 years after the BSE crisis.

This is partly why Stephen runs a number of butchery and knife skills courses out of the shop. Understanding how to neatly bone a chicken or joint half a lamb, for example, allows customers to minimise waste and make the most of the produce they buy.

“Two ladies who came on one of the courses said they got twice as much out of their chicken because they cooked it, had their meals, sliced the rest up and had sandwiches – and it was so easy.”

The market is tough and while many local butchers are closing their doors for the last time, Stephen and the team at Perry’s are striving to maintain a sustainable model – as well as taking on more than one of those butchers and their skills.

“It’s all about sustainability, traceability, and giving quality and assurance,” he explains. “The price is the price, which is difficult. Sometimes things move – spring lambs will be through the roof as per usual. At the end of the day, if you’re lambing through the winter you’ve got to feed and look after those lambs.”

Customer demand is very much led by TV chefs and personalities, according to Stephen, with lamb neck fillet enjoying a wave of popularity. Perry’s recommend diced shoulder, which brings the price down to around £12 per kilo from £25, making achieving the Masterchef effect much more affordable for the customer. Beef and turkey were in high demand over the Christmas period, along with some more unusual requests.

“We did quite a few five-bird and seven-bird roasts this year,” says Stephen. “They were whole birds in birds in birds, not parts.”

Shin of beef is one of Stephen’s favourites, but for him the most under-rated meat is goat. After selling eight goats over the course of 2017, it’s something he’s keen to push this year. For the most part, he is happy if he can get a customer to try something new.

“We had a lady look at the Gloucester Old Spot bacon, but she said it was too fatty so took some regular back bacon. I gave her a few slices of the Old Spot to try. A couple of weeks later her husband came in and said, ‘Have you got any of that bacon? It was gorgeous!’.”

Looking ahead

At least for now, the meat reduction movement does not seem to be having an effect on business. Although he personally wouldn’t consider becoming vegetarian or vegan, Stephen thinks altering your diet to have a meat-free day once a week and fish once a week makes a certain amount of sense.

“I’ve always said eating a 16 oz steak is too much. You need to eat about 6-8 oz of protein a day. We need to keep those smaller portions to keep our diet right.”

Looking to the future, is there a new generation of young butchers ready to take up the cleaver? With one apprentice’s training coming to an end, the business will be looking to take on another in June or July. Stephen has also been involved setting up a butchery Trailblazer apprenticeship programme. This work is key to the long-term sustainability not only of Perry’s of Eccleshall, but of the industry as a whole.

“We need these people to sustain meat; we need these people to move it forward. No, it’s not a nice job, but as long as it’s done professionally and humanely, we will sustain meat processes in this country at a high level.”

Perry’s of Eccleshall

Tel. 01785 850288
www.perrysofeccleshall.co.uk

 

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