November 20 2012
Over the weekend, I discovered just what you can get in a couple of cool bags: five courses for 18 people, to be precise, including some little serving pots for the white polenta with a duck’s egg and shaved Alba truffles. In fact, the food was so precisely packed I didn't have any luggage space – or a spare pair of hands – to carry my shooting gear.
I suppose the sacrifice of the shooting kit was well appreciated by
Chas Price and Peter Dubens, our hosts for the two-day shoot and dinner at
Alnwick Castle in Northumberland. With the help of Gillian – the house cook –
and her team, I managed to prepare, serve, eat and drink my way through the
five-course dinner. After the white truffle polenta came roast fillet, baked
bone marrow, crispy beef and shallot salad and braised chain of Glenarm beef,
aged in our star meat supplier Peter Hannan’s Himalayan salt chamber. I managed
to utilise every last bit of the fillet and even squeezed in a canapé of steak
tartare with the Krug. An old classic, double-chocolate mousse with some shots
of absinthe jelly, was followed by Blue Monday – a fantastic Scottish blue
cheese produced by Rory Stone in collaboration with Alex James – along with
another of James’s creations, Good Queen Maude. Served with Hix oyster ale cake,
they finished off the dinner nicely, before Dubens challenged some of his
guests to a mini post-dinner table tennis tournament. Oh, and I almost forgot
that Chas shot the only woodcock of the day, which he voluntarily plucked
before I briefly roasted it and served it in a baked potato – a fantastic way
to enjoy those tiny game birds.
I head back to London first thing to catch up with Lara and Isla before departing for Italy, to the source of that white truffle. After a short flight from Gatwick, a few fellow chefs and I are greeted by our host Norbert Reinisch – who produces Braida wines in Rocchetta Tanaro – before proceeding to the Rocca Civalieri hotel in the Piedmont countryside, where we are staying. Our dinner destination is a fantastic restaurant in the village serving great agnolotti – delicate little rabbit and pork parcels, simply served with local white truffles shaved at the table. Salami cotto is our first course, which is the local cured meat of Piedmont – cooked as opposed to raw. In the Asti region more sausages are produced than prosciutto. A cold-pressed oesophagus comes next, and is shared between us, followed by a little baked egg with cream, and more white truffles. The dish of the day for me, which I also enjoyed here last year, is a braised horse cheek, simply served with a fresh, tangy apple sauce. I’m not sure we could get away with that back home, but it is delicious! All of this is washed down with Giovin Re Viognier 2010, Cavaliere 2005 Sangiovese and Piastraia 2006, produced by Michele Satta, which are served in large-format, three-litre bottles and double magnums. After an array of desserts to share we head back to the hotel, where we attempt to order Negronis, but sadly the bar is missing two key ingredients – Campari and red vermouth.