The sixth annual Great British Food Awards have arrived! Here, acclaimed chef Nathan Outlaw – who has been on the judging panel from the beginning – tells us what he’s looking for this year and reflects on the huge changes he’s seen in food over the past decade
Imagine being delivered a selection of the very best examples of a particular food and being asked to try all of it. Well, that’s what happens when you agree to judge the Great British Food Awards! I’m honoured to have been asked to do this for several years now and can honestly say I look forward to it every time. With the awards kicking off this month, I’ve been asked to look back on the most interesting changes I’ve seen in British food…
Having lots of wonderful produce to choose from is always exciting and, as a chef, it sets my mind racing with exciting ideas for new dishes. I’m sure it’s much the same for enthusiastic home cooks and with increased knowledge about ingredients, people are more aware of what they’re eating than ever before. It’s largely down to the plethora of cookery and food programmes on our screens, as well as social media. The way food gets from farm to shelf or restaurant table is no longer a secret and with more knowledge, I think people are doing their best to go for quality. In the professional kitchen, there’s also been a move to share ideas and knowledge too.
FALL OF THE CASUAL CHAIN
Dining out is no longer a case of ‘once in a blue moon’ and, as a result, casual dining has become the norm. However, this has led to the high street being saturated with casual dining outlets which are often very similar. In recent months some of the larger ‘chain’ restaurants have been in financial trouble, and I think this will only continue as people become more adept at entertaining in their own home.
Ten years ago it was virtually unheard of to see English wines on a restaurant menu, let alone in shops – now they appear regularly and are winning prestigious awards all over the world. It’s fair to say, though, that English wines tend to be more expensive than those from the traditional wine-making countries, mostly because our wineries produce less so need to charge more to be viable. Winemaking is a relatively new industry in Britain, but with the gradual change in our weather and warmer summers, the quantity and quality of home-grown grapes has really increased, thus improving the yield. It’s an area that could really do with some major investment and I’d love to see our wine producers be able to flourish and grow.
BEER FOR THE PEOPLE
On a similar note, a decade ago the idea of having a beer in a fine dining restaurant would have been frowned upon. It’s historically been seen as the beverage for the masses, once being served because it was safer to drink than water! However, the upsurge of craft beers has changed all that; no longer the poor relation, it’s a flavour-packed drink that can pair beautifully with food. In my restaurants we’re only too pleased to be able to offer diners craft beer as an alternative to wine. It makes a delicious change and can put an interesting new slant on the dish being served.
FORAGED & FABULOUS
Foraging as an activity has been around since the dawn of time but has resurfaced in the last few years and become very fashionable. Foraging is great; it means you can have lovely hyper-seasonal produce for free! However, it’s important to make sure you know what you’re doing before grabbing a basket and setting off into the woods. And remember not to take too much – only what you need for your purpose at any given time. The only way that foraged produce can remain sustainable is by enough being left to re-seed the area. It’s a sharing activity, please take heed!
EAT MORE SEAFOOD
I’m a seafood chef and it still amazes me that, as an island race, we use so little of what literally surrounds us. I know this is partly due to people being apprehensive about cooking fish and seafood – it’s not easy when you start. I also realise it isn’t cheap to buy. But on the other hand, it’s a true convenience food, most varieties only take a few minutes to cook, and it’s so good for you. In my opinion we have the world’s best fish and seafood around our coasts and we should really be eating more rather than sending it abroad.
For more information about the Great British Food Awards visit https://greatbritishfoodmagazine.com/awards/