Well it was a chilly Thursday and it was chucking it down with rain as I pulled into the Car Park at Redbridge College in Essex. Not my normal stomping ground but I was there to assist a long standing friend with his desire to host a charity dinner with his local college using students and a group of chef friends. Hence the idea of Take Five Cooks was born and Ian Samuels the lead chef was about to see it all come to fruition.
It had been some five months in the planning and Ian had asked me early on to help in the project in a number of ways. I agreed as it has always been my intention to use my supperclub format and connections for charitable purposes and have over the years done some varied charity events etc. This event was to be the most complex and ambitious yet as apart from the assorted egos of the various chefs the challenge was to make as much money as we could for the two charities we were there to support.
The charities are not big well known ones and were very personal to Ian and we had to try make sure that we could raise as much money as possible. The dinner was to be a five course affair, each chef was to prepare a course and then also a canapé as well that would be served with the welcome drink to guests on arrival. We even tried to auction a table for six in the kitchen where guests could see first hand the behind the scenes action (alas no takers)
Well we had managed to sell a total of 39 places that ensured we had a pretty full house for the night. As I checked in and joined Ian in the kitchen we leisurely got stuck into the prep work and with a bunch of willing students who eagerly were doing a good deal of the donkey work for us! As time went by the other members of the brigade arrived, Paul Blackman – pastry chef from Le Talbooth arrived in a massive van and his prepped dessert – his inability to open the van with his own car keys got us all panicked but once unloaded he got on with plating up his dessert of vanilla panna cotta ready for later. Next to arrive was a giant of a man with his hipster beard Jack Boast the Head Chef of Galvins Cafe au Vin along with a former student of the college who now works for him.
Jack then got a few of the students busy filleting fish ready for his contribution and he prepped up his assorted charcuterie for his canapé… the clock was ticking and main course chef Gary Lee of the Ivy was still yet to appear. It was not until almost 6pm just half an hour before the guests would arrive for the welcome reception that he arrived with his assistant. He was relaxed and calm as they quickly started prepping the main course dish of roasted Somerset lamb stuffed with Black Pudding.
One chef alas unable to make the dinner was Matthew Bare as his 2nd in command had broken his leg so he could not get away from his work place. Ian stepped up to produce his contribution a chilled cucumber and mint soup shot.
So wooden boards piled with assorted canapés were delivered to the assembled guests and the evening got off to a start. There was a calm chaos in the kitchen as the chefs went about their final preparations.
The guests then sat and each charity made a quick welcome speech and the food started to come out, first Ian’s dish of pan fried scallops with textures of cauliflower, followed by the chilled soup shot. It was then Jack’s turn as they plated up the assorted Escabeche of Brixham Fish, Mackerel, Red Mullet, Megrim sole and freshly poached clams on a bed of carrots… it was proverbial production line of hands placing items on the plates and waiting staff then delivering to the table.
In amongst this it was yours truly function to get the crowd front of house digging deep into their pockets as we ran a couple of Head & Tails which all added to the fun and ensured the kitchen had time to get ready.
Next came Gary Lee’s main course dish, he gathered all the troops around him and you could see his leadership skills kick in as he demonstrated the plating up of his creation, a pea and mint puree base, fondant potato, slices of meat, carrots and finally some jus and a deftly placed pansy last of all. It was poetry in motion and all the time he was cajoling the troops and the moment he finished he made sure they all gave themselves a round of applause!
There was a real camaraderie amongst them all, especially evident when they all paraded into the room for what is commonly known as the “Santé du Chefs” to genuine warm applause. It was then my turn to run the auction of a range of donated items from a pastry Master Class at Le Talbooth with Paul to meal vouchers for The Ivy and an added bonus of a couple of cookery books and a half day in the kitchen with Gary – it was hard work trying to get the prices up but with some hilarious moments we managed in a few short minutes and some very generous donations to raise just over £4000 from this alone.
Paul served up his very pretty dessert and I completed the meal with my two favourite cheeses, Winterdale Shaw and Stichleton. That was it we had done it… there was a genuine warmth from all and as I drove back home it got me thinking how kind and generous the hospitality industry is. The chefs had come together, given up their time willingly and also managed to get virtually everything they had cooked with and served donated.
Guests had dug deep and supported two local charities that as one later said to me “Cannot even start to thank you for last night! Home-Start Colchester is a small charity and we do not receive many donations, so it is just amazing to be included in your fantastic efforts to support vulnerable and disadvantaged families.”
We raised a total of £6,260 that I know Ian and all involved were immensely proud of. I am also very grateful to those customers of mine that supported the event by hiring a mini bus and venturing from deepest Kent to Essex, bidding for items in the Auction and then a special mention must go to Paul Meyer Photography who gave up his time to come and photograph the event – his pictures are stunning!
What more can we say…
The charities we helped