Rishi Sunak didn’t pioneer an Eat In To Help Out scheme. He’s probably too busy assessing the cataclysmic damage to Britain’s once-buoyant economy.
The hospitality sector, however, needs no incentive from Government Ministers. It’s always three steps ahead. Or is that twelve?
Inventive and creative, innovative and determined, our restaurateurs and chefs have been one of the worst hit sectors of the economy as our members of our LastMinute.com Government have repeatedly left them high and dry.
Bringing in late restrictions that create fridgefuls of expensive, unwanted food; failing to taper reliefs appropriately so that closed restaurants still face huge fixed costs and simply not understanding how one of Britain’s most important growth industries work, the Government has been found wanting.
Thankfully, chefs haven’t.
Pushing through the gloom with a series of heat-at-home boxes, home delivery services, click and collect offerings and more, it’s risen to the challenge and taught other economic sectors a thing or two about survival of the fittest.
Paul Foster, one of the nation’s best chefs, has been ahead of the game. The Stratford-Upon-Avon-based holder of a Michelin star has created a range of offerings to suit all tastes.
From afternoon tea boxes to sweet treats, from wine offerings to three-course dinners on Fridays and Saturdays, Foster has also pioneered an online cookery school, hugely-successful podcast and much more.
Perhaps he should spend a day with Sunak et al, teaching our supposed masters how the economy really works.
Foster is a fascinating cook. A man who always wanted to open his own restaurant, his journey to Salt took a circuitous route.
At the beginning of 2016, he decided to take the plunge and try to raise the funds needed by launching a crowdfunding campaign via Kickstarter.
Having cooked at some of the best kitchens in the world, he quit a well-paid job, stuck his neck on the line and went for it.
After an emotional ‘all or nothing’ funding drive, where he spent a month panicking over whether it would work or not, he completed the project successfully and raised just over £100,000. With the additional help of some investors, his dream was set to become a reality. After a year of searching for the right venue, a few disappointments and a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, Foster found an amazing site on Church Street in Stratford-upon-Avon just outside the Cotswolds.
On March 18, 2017, he opened the doors of Salt; a fine dining restaurant using the best produce, served in a relaxed atmosphere where you can sit back, relax and enjoy your dining experience.
If you’re looking for comparisons, think of Shaun Hill’s much-loved Merchant House, in Ludlow, a restaurant that was named the world’s best for serving good value, high quality food.
After one and a half years, Foster was super proud to receive Stratford-upon-Avon’s first ever Michelin star, 3 AA rosettes and 6/10 in the good food guide.
2020 was another big year for the restaurant as he opened Salt Cookery school and a Chef’s Table above the restaurant.
Offering a variety of cookery courses from bread and pasta to meat butchery and fish preparation, Foster was also using the cookery school as a private dining space where his team cooked in front of guests.
You’d have thought Covid might knock him off course.
But not a bit of it. His podcast series, The Nightcap with Simon Alexander, interviews the UK’s most interesting chefs while at the start of 2021, he launched a digital subscription service – like a mini Netflix for foodies – so that people could get regular series of watch-at-home videos that teach them everything from basic-to-advanced skills.
If there were an award for not letting the grass grow, Foster would be at the front of the queue.
His heat-at-home box is a delight. Packed with big flavours, light ingredients and easy to prepare, it offers a reminder of Foster’s brilliance in a brilliantly organised, good value box.
Featuring a few key components from Foster’s restaurant menu, it’s a box of delights that provides a Michelin-standard dining experience from the comfort of your own kitchen.
Our experience began with Foster’s signature malt bread, served with a fragrant rosemary butter. Popped into the oven for five minutes to heat, the small, malty loaves were light and ever-so-slightly caramelised on the edges. Delish.
My partner started with a cured salmon tartare with pickled cucumber, winter leaves and rye bread crumb.
A dish that combined big flavours with complimentary textures, it was magnificent. My salad of truffle-poached potatoes with celeriac remoulade and rye bread crumb was a taste of the seasons.
Big, bold and punching above its weight, it was generously proportioned and sashayed along the culinary catwalk with confidence and intent.
The mains were magnificent.
My partner ate steamed shitake won tons with bok choy and vegetable noodles.
Thrillingly light and with a combination of sweet and umami flavours, it was gone as quickly as she could say ‘must go out and buy a vegetable spiralizer’.
My spiced duck leg confit with lentil dhal, bok choy and crispy won ton was superlative.
The duck leg was unctuous, meaty and rich, a fabulous course that was given extra ballast by the delicately spiced lentil Dhal, with the won ton adding texture and the bok choy additional garnish.
Dessert was sensational. A dark and white chocolate brownie was so light that it was almost meringue-like. Soft, chewy and as light as a feather, Foster showed how a simple dessert could be revolutionised in the hands of a master.
A vanilla parfait was the acme of dreamy, rich decadence while a salted caramel curd was the perfect addition.
Passion fruit jellies completed a mouth-wateringly good dinner a deux with the minimum of fuss.
Simplicity is the hardest gig of all when it comes to cooking; extracting maximum flavour from stunning ingredients and making things look as though they’re relatively easy.
Foster has mastered that art as well as any UK chef and his heat-at-home box is a rare delight.