N.I.Cancer Fund for Children
Iron Chef UK
Published on Sunday 11 April 2010 11:37
FROM The F Word to Come Dine With Me via countless Jamie Oliver vehicles, it seems as though the viewing public is several belt notches from being stuffed with cookery shows. However, Channel 4's latest offering is such a mouthful that it might prove too rich for even the most insatiable of food porn appetites.
Called Iron Chef UK, the format is a Japanese import which has crash-landed on these shores via massive success in the United States. Said to be Michelle Obama's favourite TV show, the American version has been adapted for a British audience but still comes across as a pumped-up culinary battle where the weapons are T-bones rather than tanks.
Just to throw an element of uncertainty into the proceedings, each bout of cooking is set in motion by The Chairman unveiling a mystery ingredient which all the chefs have to use to create their gastronomic masterpieces. The surprise ingredient might be a beautiful rib of beef, shiny aubergines or, perhaps in homage to the Scottish location of the set, a pound of mince.
"The most difficult ingredient was probably the minced beef," says Aikens, a man who probably doesn't tussle with too much mince in his normal kitchen life. "Trying to be creative with that was difficult but that was the challenge of it. You had to be creative with what you were given. That added to the whole challenge."
"It's like watching chefs cook during service and they are absolutely in the zone," is Nairn's verdict. "You don't normally get to see that focus on the telly. Tom Aikens was doing three things at once but it was as though it was choreographed and it was beautiful to watch. It's like Ready Steady Cook doing two-star Michelin food."
Aikens agrees. "Everything's exactly as it would be in a kitchen. You're always up against the clock, watching the seconds go down and getting the right moment when something's going to be perfect. For a viewer it's very exciting because everything is done while you're watching. It's very intense, and it will help people understand what it's like in a professional kitchen."
Although in most professional kitchens, chefs presumably don't have to cope with TV cameras in their faces and a Japanese Chairman bandying around ludicrous catchphrases, it all helps ratchet up the ultra-competitive pressure cooker environment in the stadium. Nairn reckons that it's the most combative show he has seen in 15 years of doing almost every competitive cookery show under the sun.
Though he may have been battle hardened in the fiery crucible of Ready Steady Cook, Nairn was still impressed by Pierre Levicky's street fighter tactic of eyeballing the Iron Chefs so as to try and psyche them out. The Frenchman was not the only challenger who was well up for a culinary punch-up among the artichokes.
Liz Moore runs the Belle Isle School of Cookery in County Fermanagh. She reckons that it was the most fun that she has ever had cooking, but that is not what drove her or her fellow challengers.
"They are in it to boot the Iron Chefs off their podiums. I would like to think that we rattled Tom Aiken's cage. I hope we did. He is a tough character to rattle. I haven't seen any final edits so I don't know if we shook him up but it would make me sleep better if we had," Moore said.
Moore's only regret was that she didn't manage to taste any of the Iron Chefs' food. The turnaround time between rounds was quick and the studio crew were obviously adept at clearing the plates with a steely professionalism.
"As soon as the cameras were off, the crew grabbed the plates and these forks and spoons appeared out of shirt pockets and trousers," she says mournfully. "One camera guy had a boom with a fork Sellotaped to it and he would swoop down to spear the food. I didn't have a chance."v
Iron Chef is on Channel 4 from 26 April
• This article was first published in Scotland on Sunday, April 11, 2010
The Irish Times
Liz Moore by
Published on 3rd Sept. 2011
A simple dish of half a tomato with a sliver of lemon awakened a love of food in Liz Moore, and now she is in charge of Belle Isle Cookery School, with fans that include Michel Roux. FIONOLA MEREDITH straps on an apron for a day at the stove
THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT the sight of a sunlit, spacious kitchen, with bowls stacked neatly on shelves, a pot of herbs by the door, and the scent of roasting chicken rising on the warm air, that instantly makes you feel all is right with the world. It helps, too, when there’s a steaming pot of coffee and a plateful of indecently light and crumbly home-made biscuits on offer.
Liz Moore, immaculate in her chef’s whites, is waiting to greet today’s crop of students at the Belle Isle School of Cookery in Co Fermanagh. We’re going to be introduced to “the art of the sauce”, but Belle Isle also offers year-round classes on everything from tapas and mezze to a full-blown dinner party, course by course. The school also offers bespoke classes, allowing parties of friends to choose their own theme, and there’s a monthly curry club, where people can sample regional Indian and Thai curries. Anyone can take part in the courses: Belle Isle welcomes cooks of all abilities and none.
Luckily, Moore is far from the stiff, matronly teachers I remember from the last time I was in a cookery classroom, in my school-days. Then, it was all nylon aprons, rock buns you could break a tooth on, and a mean hand with the butter. No such fears here – we all get to swathe ourselves in big white linen aprons (more like a bathrobe than an apron) and Moore takes a gratifyingly generous approach to luscious ingredients, such as butter and cream.
Apart from its idyllic location – a country estate on an island in Lough Erne – one of the nicest things about the cookery school is the opportunity to smell and touch and, of course, taste the food. Moore hands round a big Kilner jar of star anise for us to sniff. We’re encouraged to lean into the big pot of chicken stock bubbling away on the stove and breathe in its rich scent; and we all grab a teaspoon and dig in when Moore whisks up a garlicky mayonnaise (it was good – in fact, one teaspoon wasn’t enough).
Then it’s over to the students to have a go at cooking some sweet sauces. I manage to rustle up a fairly credible orange caramel sauce, but disaster threatens when I forget to add flour at the right moment to my crème patissière. Moore is calm, kind and unflappable – I imagine she’s witnessed a fair few culinary crises – and sorts me and my sauce out in no time.
Later, we get to enjoy the fruits of our labours. We make a romesco sauce of roast red peppers, garlic, chilli, parsley and almonds bashed up with a few other ingredients, stuff it into toasted pittas, and eat it with barbecued skirt steak. And that’s only for a snack. Lunch is spaghetti with our own tomato, chilli and aubergine sauce, and then – the best bit – the crème patissière reappears, sandwiched with white currants between home-made ginger sablé biscuits and served with the orange caramel sauce. It’s heavenly – and all the better because we made it ourselves.
I like to cook at home, but I usually do so in a state of borderline chaos, with dishes piling up in the sink and mess everywhere. And my range of kitchen tools – bluntish knives, a misshapen sieve and a menagerie of ancient saucepans – leaves a lot to be desired. Here, the knives are gleaming and well-sharpened, and every kind of implement you might need is just a step away. But the real luxury of Belle Isle is the team of kitchen helpers, who measure out all the ingredients into little cups and pots, and whisk away and wash all the dirty dishes.
Despite her undoubted talents, she cooks with precision, flair and authority, Liz Moore is entirely self-taught. As she says to the students, that means she has made all kinds of mistakes already, so she knows how to help them avoid the same pitfalls: “If I tried something and it didn’t work out, I found out why. If students are making mayonnaise and it curdles, I can tell them what’s gone wrong and how to fix it. The other thing about being self-taught is that I have my own defined style. I prefer simpler food: really good ingredients, simply done. I have had to prove myself, but I’m lucky in that everywhere I’ve worked people have let me do my own style of food. I don’t take that for granted.”
Moore says the most rewarding thing about teaching people to cook is imbuing them with a sense of confidence in their own abilities. “One girl couldn’t boil an egg when she started, and now she’s cooking for a living. If I can do that for people, then I know it’s all worthwhile.”
Moore, who is originally from Co Monaghan, traces her culinary awakening to a simple dish she tasted while she was working in Italy as an au pair. “I was given half a tomato with the thinnest slice of lemon on top, marinated in oil and oregano. That’s all it was. But it was like a taste of pure sunshine. Flavours like that stick in your memory. And that’s when I suddenly realised what I wanted to do.”
On her return to Ireland, she started a catering company for private dining and game shoots. It was while working for the duke of Abercorn, who owns Belle Isle estate, that she met the acclaimed chef Michel Roux senior. Moore admired his skill and passion for cooking, and it seems the feeling was mutual: Roux invited her to the kitchen of his renowned restaurant, the Waterside Inn in Berkshire. “I was there to observe and occasionally I was lucky enough to be allowed to shred a duck breast,” she says. “Michel was such a good teacher. He taught me that attention to detail is everything.” She recounts how Roux told the duke of Abercorn “if you don’t do something with Liz, I will.” He took Roux at his word, and two years later, in 2003, Moore was tying on her apron as chef tutor and manager of the Belle Isle School of Cookery. The purpose-built school was the first of its kind in Northern Ireland, and quickly built a reputation as the Ballymaloe of the North.
Moore is passionate about using local food, on the grounds of both taste and cost. During the class, she holds up a large piece of skirt steak, bought cheaply from the butcher in the nearby village of Lisbellaw, as though it was the finest cashmere cardigan. This is clearly a woman who loves good meat.
“Yes, and there are some wonderful meat producers in Fermanagh. Sometimes we take students to the nearby Macnean farm, where the pigs are looked after wonderfully. The meat is full of fat, dark red in colour, and very tasty.”
Moore admits that the North has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to good food. “But I believe we really are in the middle of a food revolution. There’s a new awareness of the importance of food. Things are changing for the better: the knowledge of people coming through the doors of the cookery school is much greater than when we started eight years ago.”
After a long, leisurely lunch, it’s time to hang up our aprons – once snowy white, now spattered with various shades of sauce – and go home. Moore and her team package up the left-overs for us, and hand out extra recipes to take home. I leave with a recipe for melting moments biscuits with honeycomb filling (secret ingredient: mashed-up Crunchie bars) and a box full of spaghetti with arrabiata sauce. More than that, I leave full of new ideas, and with a renewed enthusiasm for the simple pleasures of cooking. I’ll be back for more inspiration soon.