Find out how a new gen­er­a­tion of chefs are chang­ing the face of com­fort food

Across the UK, a new gen­er­a­tion of chefs are giv­ing a thrilling new twist to the clas­sics we grew up with words CHLOE SCOTT-MON­CRIEFF

BBC Good Food - - Contents -

‘Chefs are fi­nally re­al­is­ing you’ve got to give peo­ple what they want to eat, not what you want to cook’ Tommy Banks, head chef and one of this year’s BBC Great Bri­tish Menu win­ners

Com­fort food will al­ways be synony­mous with bangers and mash, nurs­ery food and gas­trop­ubs, but a new move­ment is emerg­ing in Bri­tain. The dishes are of­ten still loaded with nos­tal­gia, but what’s dif­fer­ent is that these meals thrill as much as they sate. Par­tially re­spon­si­ble for this quiet revolution is the next gen­er­a­tion of clas­si­cally trained chefs, who are re­buff­ing fussy food and stuffy ser­vice for un­pre­ten­tious cook­ing. ‘Chefs are fi­nally re­al­is­ing you’ve got to give peo­ple what they want to eat, not what you want to cook,’ ex­plains Tommy Banks, head chef at The Black Swan in Old­stead, York­shire, and one of this year’s BBC Great Bri­tish Menu win­ners. His menu in­cludes com­fort foods such as beet­root cooked in beef fat for four hours, un­til caramelised – ‘it tastes like a steak but it’s beet­root, so it’s fa­mil­iar, but like noth­ing you’ve tried be­fore.’

It’s just the ethos Jack­son Boxer takes at Chess Club and Brunswick House, in Lon­don. ‘With foods like cau­li­flower cheese, of­ten swad­dled and over­cooked, your first mouth­ful is ex­cit­ing but then it trails off, you get en­nui,’ says Jack­son, who can be found mak­ing dishes like herb gnoc­chi with ar­ti­choke, girolles and melt-in-the-mouth Grace burn cheese. ‘To rein­vig­o­rate them, they’re be­ing cast in a new light.’ Veg­eta­bles were un­der­rated in the old for­mat, but now they’re likely to play a piv­otal role, thanks to ve­gan and veg­e­tar­ian-spe­cific menus. ‘The most com­fort­ing food can be salad leaves, freshly picked – we’ve be­come health­ier, and more ap­pre­cia­tive of veg,’ he says.

An­other part of the trend is its em­brace of the child­hood staples of other cul­tures, like ra­men, pho and bao. With their easy, silken tex­tures, we’re find­ing they can be as re­as­sur­ing as shep­herd’s pie and spag bol. Remi Wil­liams and Aaron Web­ster at Smoke & Salt in Pop, in Brix­ton, tin­ker with this ap­proach. These culi­nary mag­pies make cross-cul­tural ref­er­ences, from Scan­di­na­vian to Korean, on their menu, nour­ish­ing with del­i­cate tex­tures, while para­dox­i­cally ex­hil­a­rat­ing palates. There, din­ers swoon over soft mer­guez tartare with warm flat­bread. ‘There’s a shift to in­for­mal­ity but also a lot of chefs are mov­ing from con­ven­tion, they’re be­ing bolder,’ Remi says, from his kitchen. ‘Nowa­days, com­fort meals can chal­lenge and have big flavours, as well as sat­isfy.’ Com­fort food, it seems, has grown up.

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