We were delighted to be given a chance to talk more about our approach to creating wholesome menus, cooking over wood fire, and getting good people together to enjoy food, in this major feature in West Magazine. Read on...
Forget your four-figure Aga and your five-zone induction hob. The hottest thing in cooking is an open fire and the coolest chef involved is from the Westcountry.
Ben Quinn has worked with the best, including Yotam Ottolenghi, and trained chefs at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Cornwall.
He’s cooked for famous names, too, as a personal chef to the rich and famous. Ben would tell you who they are, if he hadn’t signed a confidentially agreement.
But he can tell you why cooking on a wood fire is so special. “It brings people together,” he says. “It gives them an experience. That whiff of smoke is like food on steroids.”
He and his wife Sammy run Canteen, based in St Agnes on the north Cornwall coast – and anywhere else you would like it. Their outside catering operation, Woodfired, cooks unique dinners in inspiring locations, from family gatherings to large scale weddings.
That takes him back where he first started cooking, as one of seven children growing up in Nether Stowey in Somerset on the edge of the Quantock Hills where he was allowed to play with a fire and make meals to share.
Catering college and proper jobs followed including a long stint in Australia. “Fifteen years in professional kitchens gave me the skills but I hated the alpha male environment. I love cooking as a team.
“I came full circle, and learned to adapt those skills to working with an open fire. There is a lot more honesty to it.”
This is certainly not about burning sausages on the single hot day of a South West summer. An advantage of an open fire is that the heat will keep you warm, whatever the weather, year-round; and virtually any dish can be adapted to the method of cooking. After all, “we’ve only really had gas and electricity for the last 100 years or so. Before that everything was cooked over an open fire.
“We like to sit down with customers, ask them what they like to eat and come up with a menu together.
“The idea is to create memories that will last much longer than a plate of food.
“When somebody says, ‘that is the best meal I have ever had’ you know they have had something truly unique.”
Begin with something simple, Ben says, such as a bacon sandwich, toasting the bread on the fire and slowly smoking the bacon, or allowing a whiff of smoke to get in the pan as it fries. When you are hooked, try one of our recipes - you won't look back.
After that there are so many things that you can cook over an open fire that it would be quicker to tell you what you couldn’t or at least shouldn’t try: deep frying. “A pan of oil on a fire?” ask Ben. “That scares me hugely.”