Fresh and clean

Jack­son Boxer's salad and but­ter

The Guardian - Cook - - Front Page - Jack­son Boxer

Per­haps the most dif­fi­cult thing to do as a chef is to hold back from over­com­pli­cat­ing food. Pro­duce should be al­lowed to do its job, pro­vid­ing clean and fresh flavours with­out or­nate em­bel­lish­ment

There’s a game I of­ten play with my team dur­ing quiet mo­ments, as the clock moves in­ex­orably to­ward the start of ser­vice, called What Right Now. All it in­volves is ask­ing the tar­get what thing they would most like right now to be con­sum­ing. Like all the best games, it is sim­ple but chal­leng­ing. At first I would use it as a tool to en­cour­age cre­ative think­ing to­wards ser­vice – in an­tic­i­pat­ing that the warm af­ter­noon turn­ing to a balmy evening called for Cam­pari and soda, we would bet­ter serve our guests’ un­con­scious de­sires, pre­par­ing to of­fer them the drink they did not yet know they wanted. But in time it’s be­come a thought ex­per­i­ment in the per­ils of over­com­pli­ca­tion.

When I first opened Brunswick House, it was a seven-seat espresso bar, in a hastily tiled cor­ner of the stor­age an­nexe of a sal­vage yard. My brother and I had £1,000 each, saved in tips from work­ing as a bar­man and cook/waiter re­spec­tively, which we used to buy a sec­ond­hand cof­fee ma­chine from a scrap­pie, and a cou­ple of do­mes­tic fridges from Ar­gos. I served espresso, espresso with milk, and four dif­fer­ently con­structed sand­wiches. Overe­lab­o­ra­tion was the least of my wor­ries. But we now reg­u­larly feed 200 guests a night a menu of the most em­phatic cel­e­bra­tion of Bri­tish sea­sonal cooking, com­ple­mented by a 150-bin wine list.

This is not done for os­ten­ta­tion; it is sim­ply a re­flec­tion of my en­thu­si­asm for food and wine, and my de­sire to share as much of it as I can. How­ever, as a foil against self-in­dul­gence, I con­tinue to prac­tise What Right Now. It makes me for­ever ques­tion whether what I’m cooking is re­ally what I would like to be eat­ing, and whether as pro­fes­sional cooks we are some­times guilty of pre­sent­ing over­con­structed plates that are ei­ther ar­chi­tec­turally or tech­ni­cally baroque. The ques­tion there­fore be­comes: is this some­thing I would cook at home for my­self and those I hold dear?

As I’ve got older, I’ve no­ticed my palate shift­ing to em­brace cleaner cook­ery. I want to taste pro­duce, the grass it fed on, the soil it grew in, the sea in which it swam. Even­tu­ally, all the dishes I was used to cooking at home – those com­fort­ing gratins, stews and pies – seemed claggy, cloudy, indis­tinct. My do­mes­tic reper­toire has also shifted to re­flect my in­fant daugh­ter’s in­ter­est in food; chil­dren have about three times more taste buds than adults, and her dis­cern­ment in avoid­ing any­thing overem­bel­lished is some­thing I learn from. My taste in wine has shifted in the same di­rec­tion, made with as lit­tle in­ter­ven­tion as is wise.

Over the next four weeks I will seek to present recipes that, while re­flect­ing the food in my restau­rant, also rep­re­sent the cooking I do at home. I will also share with you the wines I would open to en­joy with th­ese dishes. While I don’t sub­scribe to the tyranny of “cor­rect” wine-pair­ing, I think that a good wine can add a lot to the charm of a sim­ple lunch.

Green salad

In the restau­rant, we buy our leaves from Cheg­worth Val­ley, gen­er­ally best known for their mar­vel­lous va­ri­etal ap­ple juices, but best loved by me and my team for their salad-grow­ing. Ben Deme, who runs the fam­ily farm, says he can’t ex­plain why their leaves are so good, but much of it must be due to the fine sandy loam in which they’re grown, the rich or­ganic com­post and seaweed with which it’s fer­tilised be­fore plant­ing, and the very at­ten­tive and en­er­getic work done in the fields by Deme and his team.

I tend to grav­i­tate to­wards pep­pery and bit­ter leaves, such as old-fash­ioned English rocket, with its enor­mous, ro­bust spears; land and wa­ter­cresses; and ori­en­tal mus­tard leaves such as ko­mat­suna and mizuna. I like to bal­ance th­ese with lit­tle gem for vol­ume, and finely minced English gar­den herbs – chervil and pars­ley are a pref­er­ence.

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