March and April is the season for the first wave of good quality crabs of the year and we’ve been presented with some really beautiful specimens this week. Callum, from Port Isaac, just up the road, is the only crab and lobster fisherman in the country who is part of the Responsible Fishing Scheme. He works alone, which I imagine could be quite dangerous on occasion, but I am grateful that he does as the catch he makes provides our restaurants with the very best there is available.
On the menu in Restaurant Nathan Outlaw at present, we are using his fantastic crabs in a dish that, despite sounding and looking very simple, has taken four years to perfect! Crab with Fennel and Apple showcases delightful brown crab, subtly complimented by roasted fennel, pickled fennel, apple and tarragon oil. Simple cooking ensures that the complex flavours are perfectly balanced. The accompanying sauce is, unusually, made from the much underused velvet crab. Having eaten the dish one evening last week a guest was prompted to exclaim to Stephi “it is the best dish I have tasted for a very long time”. That sort of reaction is the reward all chefs crave and makes the enormous amount of time and effort taken to refine a dish to perfection worthwhile.
It might be a surprise to know that, despite only opening in the evenings, my chefs in the fine dining kitchen, Chris, Dan, Dean and Tim, work from around 8am each morning and are on the go all day. Mornings are spent preparing (‘mise en place’ is the chef’s term for it!) all the ingredients we need for the evening. From about 4.30pm, the adrenaline begins to kick in as the anticipation of service builds. The change in atmosphere is definite and even Karen and Sharon behind the scenes in the office, notice it. However, afternoons are often given over to experimenting. This is a time when we try new things, add, remove and tweak existing dishes and generally pool ideas and thoughts. It’s also, funnily enough, the time when people just happen to pass through the kitchen, and strangely we never have a shortage of willing tasters!