May Fest with Nick Nairn

Friday 31 May 2013
I've been a long time attender of various events at the University of Aberdeen's annual Word Festival so was disappointed when it folded in 2011. However like a phoenix from the flames it emerged again in 2013 as May Festival encompassing Science, Music, Literature, Film, Gaelic, and Food & Nutrition. Unfortunately we already had plans for the Saturday and Sunday (Gypsy Caravan Glamping) which precluded attendance but I snapped up a couple of tickets at £6 each for the Friday to see my chum Nick Nairn "In Conversation" and demonstrating "Science on a Plate".
The In Conversation session was really interesting and the Kings Conference Centre was a great venue for it. Felt like we were MSP's at the Scottish Parliament. No idea who the lady doing the questioning was as no mention was made and she never introduced herself which was rather odd. 
Nick gave us a run down of how he ended up where he is today going from Merchant Navy, Michelin Starred Chef, Ready Steady Cook TV star and owner of two successful Cookschools. His father believed that spices, herbs and garlic were the work of the devil so he only discovered exotic food and flavours when he left home and headed to Singapore and Japan. His self taught passion for food grew and he became the dinner party king but alas the guests were more interested in the wine. Aged 22 he opened his first restaurant honing his craft working for other chefs on his holidays. The coveted Michelin star was awarded, but in the pursuit of a second star things went a bit pear shaped when he forgot that the most important person in any restaurant is the customer not the chef.
TV success came in 1993 when he was approached to take part in "Wild Harvest". Ready, Steady, Cook soon followed and one of the first Celebrity TV Chefs was born. However conflict between serious chef and TV star lead some to question his integrity and he made the decision to embrace the new opportunities and leave the restaurant trade. The rest as they say is history. 
For the Science on a Plate demo Nick teamed up with Dr Alex Johnstone from Aberdeen’s Rowett Research Institute. The dishes of the day featured seasonal Asparagus in a Veloute and a Risotto. The key to both being a good stock. I'm really not much of a stock maker opting for a cube or a stock pot but was interested to learn more and I picked up lots of top tips for Chicken stock making.
Don't let your stock boil - it should barely tremble
Keep the skin on your onions
The veg should be in large chunks to act as a filter.
Let the veg float like a raft and skim off any scum
Pull pan half off the heat to encourage flow and filtration
Cook for 2 hours
For vegetable stock you need to cook it for 8 minutes and then let it sit for two days.

During the In Conversation Nick discussed his frustration with the Scottish attitude to food and the Deep Fried Mars bar culture. He is passionate about teaching kids about real food and where it comes from and feels he has a duty to try and influence where he can, hence his involvement with Martha Payne and School Dinner campaigning  He refuses to accept the current status quo of Scotland having the best ingredients but the worst diet in Europe. 
I was keen to try out the stock making techniques for myself and give an asparagus risotto a go. Following all the tips I made a really flavoursome stock that was surprisingly clear. Alas the supermarket only had Peru Asparagus so I failed on the food miles front but the taste was fantastic. Quality fresh stock, lots of butter and plenty Parmesan. Delicious.
In addition to stock tips I also gleaned some fascinating facts. Nick doesn't like desiccated coconut and never uses a wooden spoon. His current restaurant recommendation is Timberyard in Edinburgh and if he hadn't been a chef he would have liked to be a racing car driver or a rock star. Who knew?

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