Judg­ment Day

Harry Lo­mas, a judge at next week’s Cholent Fest shares his views on what it takes to make the per­fect ver­sion.

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - BY VIC­TO­RIA PREVER

HARRY LO­MAS is Ex­ec­u­tive Head Chef at Hert­ford­shire’s op­u­lent five-star ho­tel, The Grove. He is also a judge at next week’s Cholent Fest. He is not Jewish. So what is he do­ing judg­ing a cholent mak­ing com­pe­ti­tion? He was per­suaded to join the judg­ing panel — which this year in­cludes Ilana Ep­stein, a trained pas­try chef and Re­bet­zen at South­gate Syn­a­gogue — by United Syn­a­gogue Rabbi Josh Zaitschek, him­self a trained chef.

“I first met Josh at Ge­filte­fest about four or five years ago, and then again at an event here at The Grove. He was very per­sua­sive” says Lo­mas. “I’ve al­ways tried to link in with the Jewish com­mu­nity and how they eat. The own­ers of the ho­tel are Jewish and we en­ter­tain a lot of Jewish guests.”

None­the­less he ad­mits he was ini­tially ner­vous. “I asked Josh if he’d be bet­ter us­ing a cholent ex­pert. I didn’t want to say any­thing wrong or to of­fend any­one so I felt I had to learn a lit­tle about the Jewish way of life. I’d al­ready learned a lit­tle dur­ing my army ca­reer when I served as a school gover­nor with re­spon­si­bil­ity for re­li­gious ed­u­ca­tion. I spent a morn­ing with a rabbi. More re­cently, the ho­tel’s HR Di­rec­tor, Danielle Matthews has been my go-to per­son on all things Jewish.”

This will be his third out­ing as Cholent Fest judge, so he’s be­com­ing a bit of an ex­pert in the field. “I now know it’s an emo­tive dish and I have a bet­ter idea of how it ‘should’ taste. The first time I had no idea what to ex­pect, and judged on my chef’s prin­ci­ples. It was quite awe in­spir­ing be­ing faced with 20 steam­ing pots of cholent. In some ways I was the ideal judge, as I have no bias at all. I don’t know any­one tak­ing part and my view is based on what I like. Food is food.”

In his gleam­ing chef’s whites and toque — that tow­er­ing white hat — Lo­mas cuts a strik­ing dash. Al­most as im­pres­sive as his CV — which in­cludes a 34-year mil­i­tary ca­reer, cook­ing for no less than the Queen her­self and su­per­vis­ing cater­ing for Lon­don’s Olympics and Par­a­lympics.

“I joined the army when I was 15 years old and spent four years train­ing as a chef. Since then I have served around the world, in­clud­ing Ger­many, North­ern Ire­land, Bos­nia and Afghanistan. I’ve seen ac­tive ser­vice in sev­eral coun­tries. In Afghanistan, I was re­spon­si­ble for set­ting up the kitchens at Camp Bas­tion. We fed up to 25,000 peo­ple each meal, cater­ing for multi-na­tional au­di­ence — we had to start cook­ing at 8am for din­ner. There were 100 chefs in Afghanistan at any one time.”

He went on to serve as Mas­ter Chef to the UN in Cyprus; looked af­ter cater­ing in North­ern Ire­land and ended his mil­i­tary ca­reer re­spon­si­ble for State and Cer­e­mo­nial feed­ing for the Queen. “We catered for events like the Troop­ing of the Colour and the Queen’s birth­day pa­rade, feed­ing Her Majesty and her guests. We tried to keep to British food. The Royal Fam­ily pre­fer to eat British food and gen­er­ally pro­mote lo­cal prove­nance.”

Post army, he took on an­other mam­moth task — as venue man­ager at Ex­cel for the Olympics and Par­a­lympics. “We fed 147,000 peo­ple a day — ath­letes; judges and of­fi­cials; spec­ta­tors; the work­force and sup­port­ing staff. Each needed dif­fer­ent menus in a va­ri­ety of lo­ca­tions plus I pro­vided in­spi­ra­tion for the menus for the open­ing and clos­ing cer­e­monies. We tried to keep to a theme of British-grown, sus­tain­able food.”

At The Grove Lo­mas re­mains fo­cused on prove­nance, sea­son­al­ity and sus­tain­abil­ity. Th­ese prin­ci­ples are at the fore­front when we dis­cuss cholent.

What will he be look­ing for when he is judg­ing the com­pe­ti­tion? “You have to think about the rea­son we have this dish and that’s be­cause it can cope with the long, slow cook. The ingredients should be right for this. I’ll be look­ing for the right meat cut — lamb and beef work well, but chicken can get stringy. I’ll also be look­ing at tex­ture — you should have slop and crunch, to get the teeth work­ing and Lo­mas (above) was asked to judge by foodie or­gan­iser of Cholent Fest, Josh Zaitschek (left) the body en­gine tick­ing over.”

He’ll also be judg­ing on sea­son­ing, colour and whether he could eat a plate of it.

If con­tes­tants are go­ing meat-free then they’ll need spices and plenty of colour­ful veg to fill the gap. “I’ve no­ticed peo­ple us­ing more spices like paprika, turmeric and cayenne which is great, but you want them sub­tle and not over­pow­er­ing. A veg­e­tar­ian or ve­gan cholent should have a good se­lec­tion of sea­sonal, lo­cal veg­eta­bles. Turnips, car­rots, leeks, cel­ery and golden beets all work well.” He even sug­gests adding bras­si­cas — Brus­sel sprouts hold well ab­sorb lots of flavours. Cab­bage works, but chopped into chunky squares in­stead of shred­ded.

Will we be see­ing cholent on the menu in any of the The Grove’s res­tau­rants? “Ac­tu­ally, we did put it on the menu once. I ex­plained to my chefs how to make it and we made one with duck. We of­fered it as the stew op­tion for a Sun­day buf­fet ser­vice but didn’t ad­ver­tise that it was cholent — I think they thought it was cas­soulet. It all went!

More in­for­ma­tion at: www.myus.theus.org.uk/events/

PHOTO: © 2016 JOHN ARANDHARA-BLACK­WELL ALL RIGHTS RE­SERVED

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