Cooking at the Eat Jersey Food Festival 2015

Cooking at the Eat Jersey Food Festival 2015

by Russell Brown 12 November 2015

Chef Russell Brown describes the incredibly hectic, yet incredibly enjoyable experience of cooking at the inaugural Eat Jersey Festival; sharing a kitchen with some of the country’s top chefs and getting to cook with some of the island’s best produce.

Critically acclaimed chef Russell Brown is a regular Great British Chefs contributor.

Critically acclaimed chef Russell Brown is a regular Great British Chefs contributor.

Kitchens usually run on a strong chain of command, ultimately they tend to be dictatorial. The vision of one man or woman, with input from others certainly, but with the final decisions and choices being made or sanctioned by one person. So how on earth does it work when, over a period of three days, you have a group of nine or ten head chefs working together, four or five of them in a kitchen at once? Well, in the case of the first Eat Jersey Food Festival, I have to say extremely well. Some nerves and a degree of tension at times during service, yes, but no egos, no histrionics, just a very talented group of people working together not only to deliver their own dishes to an extremely high standard but helping each other and working as a team. Of course, it helps significantly when everything is well organised and a huge amount of credit must go to Mark Jordan and the whole team at the Atlantic Hotel. I have heard that organising chefs is similar to herding cats (I am sure we are not that difficult!), so a special mention should go to Stephanie Paddock, marketing and communications manager at the Atlantic, Scott Andrews, general manager, and the Dovetail agency who produced fantastic itineraries for us all and generally made sure we were extremely well looked after and in the right place at the right time!

The whole idea behind the inaugural Eat Jersey Food Festival was to promote the island and showcase the superb produce available there. Oysters, scallops, crab, lobster, beef, cream, cider, turbot, mushrooms, all of it local, featured on the menus across the three days. The Thursday night saw a five-course dinner served with matched wines and Taittinger champagnes, followed by a six-course dinner on the Friday, again with matched wines and champagne. Saturday brought a change of venue and style with a superb menu of Jersey lobster and Mark’s renowned local beef burger being served at Mark Jordan at the Beach.

I am always hugely flattered to be invited to take part in dinners like this, even more so now that I am no longer running a restaurant. It is nerve-wracking and the numbers are always significant for me. In the two nights I cooked at the Atlantic, we served around a hundred covers; that would be about seven days worth of business at my old restaurant, Sienna! Despite some nerves though, the whole experience was superb. There is so much to learn working with other chefs in this way; you see how different kitchens are set up, learn new techniques and get to see and taste some completely different food.

Working on the pass on the Friday night, helping to plate Pascal Proyart’s fish course and Mark’s main was a real buzz. The dishes were intricate with many elements but service was run in such a way that there was time to spend on the detail, making sure that food was cooked and presented to a seriously high standard. Service from the front of house team was smooth and polished.

I had the opportunity to speak to several of the guests, and some of the chefs who cooked on the Friday had eaten the night before so there was plenty of feedback from the dining room, all of it extremely positive.

A second aspect of the festival was raising money for the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust whose headquarters are at the wildlife park in Jersey. On the Saturday we had a tour behind the scenes at the park which was focussed on food: food for the animals at the park. I am sure all the chefs were envious of the incredible produce being grown on site for feeding the animals. Sugar cane, tomatoes, peppers, beetroot, fennel, cactus, goji berries, the list goes on. It is a remarkable set up and another reason to visit the island.

The festival wound up with the burger and lobster event at Mark Jordan at the Beach where head chef Tamas Varsanyi and his team delivered a real feast for us. A tough choice between the mains so I am glad my wife was willing to share!

I have no doubt that Eat Jersey will grow and grow based on this year’s event, so get the dates in your diary now for next year!