Lockdown food review: Flavours good instructions not with Stu Deeley ingredient box
More attention is needed to detail as MasterChef winner starts to make his own way in food world, says food writer Andy Richardson.
You may well have heard of Stuart Deeley. He is the current champion of MasterChef: The Professionals and his victory towards the end of last year propelled him into the spotlight.
He dazzled Marcus Wareing during his daring bid for victory and since then he’s left his post at The Wilderness to focus on opening his own restaurant. Those plans were put on hold, of course, because of lockdown.
However, Deeley has still been making moves, initially running a pop-up restaurant with Simpsons, in Edgbaston, before creating his own at-home delivery service.
He’s highly regarded in our region and has come through the ranks. He worked formerly at Simpsons, under Andreas Antona and Luke Tipping, having started his career as a pot wash for Glynn Purnell.
He still doffs his cap to those characters, acknowledging the impact that Purnell has had on the city while being grateful for the support he’s received from his peers.
At this stage in his career, as Deeley approaches 30, he ought to be focused on the opening of his new restaurant, with his partner, Tash, a restaurant manager, 29. He’s been working towards that since the age of 13, when he decided he wanted to cook.
As a teenager, he kept telling my mom and dad about his career choice, though they thought he’d change his mind.
But when he was 15, his work experience came up from school and they sent him to Jonathan’s, off the Hagley Road.
He remembers clearly the sous chef sitting outside on a motorbike and walking into the kitchen, where cooks were shouting and swearing, listening to heavy music. Deeley knew he could be at home there and that’s been it: he’s never looked back.
Having captured the MasterChef crown and put many of his dishes on the menu at The Wilderness in recent times, he’s looking forward to opening his own place in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter when lockdown ends.
To keep busy in the interim, he’s focused on his new at-home offer.
Such operations are a challenge for long-in-the-tooth restaurateurs who’ve been around the block and who have the benefit of many years’ experience. They are even harder for a new-kid-on-the-block who is finally looking to go it alone after serving a lengthy apprenticeship for more than a decade.
It’s perhaps no surprise, therefore, that Deeley’s at-home offering is a bit hit and miss. There are elements that confirm his potential, there are aspects that are confusing and there are elements that don’t quite cut the mustard.
Like so many ‘treat’ packages, Stuart Deeley’s at-home service requires organisation on the part of the customer. There are links via his social media channels clearly indicating the days on which to order, with the week’s menu available online.
In our case, that was a veggie style box featuring a Ceasar salad, Thai courgette main and tiramisu dessert. Except the menu we received listed a Thai beef sauce and beef fat fondants – even though it said: ‘From Stu to you, veggie style.’ And, lo and behold, a fondant was in the box; perhaps it had been cooked in butter, instead, but incorrectly labelled?
The errant menu wasn’t the only confusing aspect. A number of cooking instructions were incorrect; some of the steps had been carried out at the restaurant before the ingredient box reached us, which created confusion.
I have sympathy for Deeley; it must be hard enough trying to open your own restaurant without being plunged into the chaos of organising a separate, new business providing at-home eating boxes when you’ve no experience of that.
However, guests who are paying premium prices also need to be confident that they’re getting a restaurant-quality experience with food that’s not available elsewhere, and at present Stu Deeley’s click-and-collect boxes aren’t quite where they should be.
The boxes are available from Simpsons, in Edgbaston, the restaurant that provided opportunity for Deeley at the start of his career and continues to play a part.
Hand sanitisers, colourful 2m spacings, appointment-based collection times and other social distancing measures ensured high operational standards.
Our cook-at-home box started with Japanese milk loaf with garlic butter. The small, individual-sized loaf was reheated at 180c for five minutes before the garlic butter was allowed to come to room temperature. It was a deliciously indulgent way to start.
The next course, a veggie Caesar salad, was less impressive. Though the ingredients had been impressively packed, with ice packs to keep them fresh, and plenty of padding to ensure no spills, the lettuce had lost something in translation when it was eaten later that day.
It’s not an ingredient that travels well at the best of times and though the Pecorino was pleasant, the crutes had softened and even a decent Caesar dressing couldn’t elevate it.
It was bland, a dish that underwhelmed and could so easily have been replaced with something that had more flavour, more reliable textures and had travelled better. In short, it felt like the wrong dish – something best taken off the menu.
The Thai courgette was similarly challenging. The instructions told us to remove the courgette from a vac pac bag, though the courgettes hadn’t been put in one. Instead they were in a cardboard, TV dinners-style tray, the sort you might find on an airline.
The instructions added that Thai-green vegetables ought to be microwaved for 50 seconds, but by the time they reached the plate they were soft.
The flavours were good, though we were unsure whether the fondant was indeed the non-veggie beef fat one that was listed on the enclosed menu. It was all a bit fingers and thumbs.
A tiramisu saved things a little, though the ingredients and instructions were once more out-of-sync, and the overall impression wasn’t the out-of-body experience advertised, more an out-of-mind thing.
When Deeley finally opens his restaurant, no doubt he’ll fly. He’ll have momentum from his MasterChef win to propel him forwards. For now, however, more attention is required to detail.
Other cooks across the region are creating boxes that are easier to follow, contain more enjoyable dishes and that master the logistics required to make at-home dining a success.
Per person, £35.19
Japanese milk loaf with garlic butter
Barbecued Caesar salad
Ox cheek, Thai courgettes, beef fat fondants and garlic mushrooms
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