Malaga with the Hendersons
As I pack my case full of swim wear, sun protection, knives and recipe books, I fondly remember my early chef career. I used to pack and go away for the entire summer to cook. I would squeeze as many cookbooks in my case as I can. My kit has slowly been upgraded now;- there is a foam gun and pellets, and loads of knives. Back then I hardly had any knives, now, I have more than I can ever possibly use. As I pick up my case I feel mildly anxious, as it’s heavy. Hope I won’t get stung in excess baggage!
I’m heading to Malaga with Sophie, my chef de partie. One of our favourite suppliers Shaun Henderson (Henderson Seafood), has invited us on a cook-off trip along with Shaun Searley (Quality Chop House) Richard Foster & Diogo Caladas (Chiltern Fire House) Robert French (our camera man) and Calum Franklin (Holborn dining room) and lastly James Knappet (Kitchen Table & Bubbledogs). Ding dong indeed. There is an air of anticipation and high energy as we stand around in a ring sussing each other out. Thankfully my case is under weight but annoyingly my gas canisters for my foam gun cannot come with me (not even in the hold with my knives). At about 11pm we arrive at our lovely finca, just 20 mins into the hills outside Malaga - a paella is being made whilst we unpack. We enjoy this delicious dish under the stars and make a plan for the following day.
Malaga market is stunning, immaculate, with the freshest fish for miles and an incredible array of the oceans bounty. Shellfish, molluscs, horsemackerel, gills so bright they look like they have been enhanced. We fill our baskets with our favoured ingredients and then have a delicious brunch of squid, bocquerones, octopus, tortilla and gazpacho… and a beer of course. We then joyously saunter to a famous Sherry watering hole to sample the Pedro Ximinez, followed by walks in the sun with incredible gelato and quickly back to the finca to start the cook off.
We decide that it’s not going to be a cook off per se, but rather everyone at the same time. For this I am grateful otherwise it was going to feel like Masterchef or GBM.
Sophie, Calum and I are the first batch… we (Sophie and I) are doing mancego panisse with a Romesco sauce. The incredible peppers we roast on the fire, and the saltiness of the mancego sits so well with the chick pea flour. Simple, local flavours. We also do a version of pan con tomate…with these beautiful gambas rojas, so fresh I don’t want to cook them, so I just lightly cure them. It doesn’t look like much, but it tastes amazing. Even more so in August, I ponder, when the tomatoes are at their peak. Calum quietly and expertly prepares his anchovies, and serves them with garlic olive oil and parsley and these incredible elvers. Definitely the most instagrammable dish and very tasty obviously.
Then we go to sunbathe and the rest of the pack come in…. Richard & Diogo cook my favourite dish, which is squid stuffed with chorizo and covered in herbs. This is beautiful to look at, tasty and light. Delicious. They also make a white tapenade….I hadn’t ever thought of doing that. James rustles up an amazing clam dish with jalepenos, orange and herbs. Yummy. Beautifully executed with that finesse you would expect from him. Shaun simply does some langoustines with burnt lemon, and saves his main dish for the following evening. A majestic hake on the bbq with a lovely aioli, and then a salad of peaches, grilled onions and a local goats cheese. I’ve never been a hake lover, but now I am a convert. A late night treat from James includes some incredible cabbage, blackened on the bbq over grapevines and cooked with cods roe, parsley and lemon from the garden. Inspired by his wife Sandia’s family.
All in all it’s been a feast, not only for our tummy’s, but for our eyes and our souls. It’s amazing to think we didn’t really tell each other what we were going to cook, but the dishes were so well balanced all in all. To cook with amazing produce with these amazing chefs? It’s what I strive for. Nothing nicer than having a good old winge to your peers. And to think that these guys are my peers? Well that’s a dream come true.
With special thanks to Henderson seafood. Shaun, Mimi, Rob and the incredible host:- Graham.