THE life of a private chef is nothing if not varied – one week Philippa Davis is cooking for a family in Provence, the next she is off to Boston, then it’s a busy few days in Dublin or a shooting party in the Highlands. But the festive season beckons and Philippa’s diary is getting full …
If you are prone to muttering “Bah humbug” at the first sightings of fairy lights, Christmas wrapping paper or mince pies you should probably stop reading now! On second thoughts, anyone who ever bleats “Bah humbug” at the sight of a mince pie probably needs help!
My work diary definitely suggests the festive season is here with parties galore coming up over the next few weeks and I for one can’t wait to get the Christmas decorations down from the attic.
Before that happens however all my focus is on planning menus, working out logistics and where to source the best produce for the rest of this year’s jobs.
My latest one was cooking for a dinner party then a ladies lunch in West London. I have a good knowledge of London food shops and always find it relatively easy whirling around town getting my hand on the desired produce (though occasionally lose mini battles trying to navigate the tube at Earls Court). I almost came a cropper when out shopping this time round though when I was on the search for a gammon for the lunch party the next day.
The first butchers I visited, who is usually very good, quickly turned into a Monty Python sketch.
“Hello, I’d like to get a 3 kilo gammon, you know, to make ham.” Says I and off the nice lady went to open the door to the butchers out the back and shouts out my order.
Then a butcher comes out with a leg of lamb. “Three kilo lamb for you, miss?” “Er… no I said gammon for ham.” “Ah, miss here did not say lamb,” he shouts at the nice lady. “Pork!” she shrieks. He trots off again and returns with a rolled leg of pork. Deep breath… anyhow it turns out they didn’t sell gammon.
So next I get out my phone and start googling local butchers. It’s getting dark and I am keen to get back to base to crack on with further supper prep. The first one that comes up on the list is shutting in five minutes and doesn’t answer the phone so I ring the second that doesn’t look too far away.
I ended up ringing one of the best butchers in town, Lidgates in Holland Park and ordered a three kilo gammon to collect super-early the next morning.
Lidgates is quite an experience, so much so that tourists and meat lovers make pilgrimages to ogle and worship outside its window, or take out mini-mortgages to go inside and actually buy something. I bounced up to the service desk to collect my order and tentatively asked to see inside the already smartly packaged joint just in case we were not on the same page. I explained to the lady that I had had some trouble getting hold of this and just wanted to check.
She totally understood and mentioned how many of their American clients had confusions ordering their Thanksgiving and Christmas hams as for them the terms ham, gammon and bacon are all interchangeable.
In the UK gammon is the cured back leg of a pig and once cooked it can be called ham. I have had experiences in Scotland of butchers calling ham gammon and in the States butchers calling gammon ham. So I have now ended up whenever ordering these cuts getting into a conversation about what I plan to do with it, probably slightly boring for the poor butcher but at least everyone ends up happy.
Once the gammon was successfully bought I arrived nice and early at the client’s house to prep for the ladies lunch party for 30. We had created a lovely menu that was perfect for the occasion and it read as follows:
Rare roast fillet of beef with thyme and sea salt (pictured)
Quinoa herb and seed salad with roasted aubergines and romesco sauce.
Baked ham glazed with maple syrup.
Roasted turmeric, cauliflower, sour cherry and almond salad (pictured)
Baked side of salmon with watercress mayonnaise
Beetroot, honey glazed carrots, kohlrabi and beluga lentil salad (pictured)
Desserts: Lemon tart wit crème fraiche, baked fruit with honey ricotta, lemon and pistachio praline, and flourless chocolate cake with mascarpone.
The super chic ladies piled in bang on time and the party quickly got underway. The food went down a treat (especially the ham) and I couldn’t help but feel the festive season had begun.
Here is the recipe for the roasted cauliflower turmeric, sour cherries and toasted almond salad which, as it happens, goes really well with ham!
Serves 6 as a side dish
1 dsp turmeric,
1 dsp ground cumin
1 crushed garlic clove ( peel and crush with salt with back of knife)
1 handful sour cherries
1 large handful of toasted almonds, skin on.
Splash of orange or apple juice
1 small box of coriander sprouts
Pre heat the oven to 180 ° C. Soak the sour cherries in the juice. Floret the cauliflower and place in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Add the turmeric, cumin, garlic and a splash of olive oil. Toss well. Roast for 20 – 30 mins flat on a baking sheet till golden and soft.
To serve: Squeeze the lemon over the radicchio and toss through the cauliflower almonds and sour cherries.
For more of Philippa’s recipes visit www.philippadavis.com