Ben’s Stage at Oakley Court Hotel

Day one

The first thing I noticed when I arrived at the kitchen at Oakley court was the overwhelmingly refreshing sense of feeling welcomed! For those of you that have never been on a stage in a kitchen of this level, you can often be a little intimidated or more than often ignored. Instead I had been offered a cup of tea and a quick show round (by one of rather busy) Chefs. Kalam took me around the rather small but well equipped Kitchen.
You Know you’re in for a good two days when you walk in and see 3 Clifton water baths, Two big Green Eggs, Apacojet and a couple of rational ovens, this man has all the toys I remember thinking to myself (I didn’t think for a moment there would be more, but there were)!

Once in Damian’s kitchen you soon notice that he is not a chef that commands respect, he’s earned it. He seems to carefully selected a team of people that have a passion for what they do and are keen to learn from his great wealth of knowledge, When talking to Damian about food you see a spark in his eye and you almost always inevitably left feeling somewhat disappointed that you are unable to offer up a similar amount of wisdom to keep the conversation going. He seams to get the last word in every time, I don’t think it’s because he wants to, it’s just because he knows so much about food!
From what I saw of Damian, in the day when he’s not out in the kitchen cooking up new dishes and refining current ones, he’s in the office with his head in a book. Planning his next dish. This has to be the reason why I can’t hold a conversation with him for long without changing the subject, I’m too far behind him now, I’ve been concentrating on running events and building a brand, being a dad, making sure all the Sussex Chef’s customers are happy ones, whilst all this time Damian has had his head down in the kitchen. This makes it an even better opportunity to pick up some tricks.

Take his current Carrot dish (and I say current because I’m almost certain that since writing this, the dish has now either evolved or become the best it can be and he has move onto something new), He takes organic carrots and cleans them, but doesn’t peel them, most of the flavour is in the skin, he then sous vide’s the carrots in freshly made carrot juice in one of his three Clifton water baths. I don’t think you can get much more carroty than that?
He then serves this with homemade Curds, dill oil and crispy chicken skin is then crumbed and sprinkled over the dish, but only as a seasoning, this does not make this suddenly a chicken dish.
The end result is pretty much what this meticulous chef set out to do in the first place, a dish that tastes of as much as it can of the main ingredient, with others that compliment it.

Whilst I was at Oakley Court I saw Damian creating and refining many dishes, The one that stuck out the most was probably the roasted trio of beetroot that was cooked with lemon thyme, then macerated in a vanilla syrup and served a Verona water based Ganache, lemon thyme sorbet a beetroot tulle for a dessert.

Or Maybe…

Then there’s the 90 day aged beef, yes 90 days, I’ve had 48 day aged beef on my menus before but never ventured this far. Damian serves this with brined and compressed winter vegetables. The steak is cooked sous vide (no big deal these days I here you say) then it gets sealed off in the little green egg over hot smouldering charcoal! Wow, I got to taste it and this piece of sirloin was tenderer and more flavoursome than any fillet steak I’ve ever had!

Day Two…

On the second day I was thinking I must have pretty much seen all I was going to and was itching to get back and start writing menus and ordering ingredients so I could start putting all this inspiration to good use! Boy was I wrong, I was taken over to the Smoke house where Damian has had two Smokers installed one how cold smoking and one for hot. I’m sure they smoke many things but today is the old favorite Mackerel, it was in there only a few hours and it was smoked just enough not to overpower it and leave it beautifully tender.

There were far more other little pleasantries than I have time to wright about now ( Rhubarb and custard macaroons etc) , I am itching to get back to the kitchen and fire up the ideas machine and get chopping, frying, vacuum packing and using my Clifton immersion circulator!
So that’s how we try to keep at the cutting edge of outside catering, We go out of our way to find inspiration and new cooking techniques whilst keeping our feet firmly on the ground!

 

Thank you Damian and the team for all your help and teachings! I will be back!

 

If you have any questions or comments please feel free to ask in the comments section below!

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