In 2011 Clare Hutchings was one of the Masterchef: The Professionals finalists. In February 2013 we went to sample Claire’s food in a pop up restaurant in Birmingham. It was excellent and we wanted to have to opportunity to taste her food again. Since then Claire has been working at the Michelin-starred Zaranda restaurant, at the 5-star Castell Son Claret hotel, as an assistant to award-winning chef Fernando Pérez Arellano. This time we went to the Kitchen School to one of their supper clubs with Claire stepping in to act as chef for the evening.
Spanish influences were apparent as we sampled the canapes in the kitchen before the meal. The use of Majorcan ingredients like sobrassada brought a hint of Spain to the evening and hinted at what Claire had learnt in Majorca. We couldn’t stop snacking on the very moreish parsnip crisps served with a smoked dip. My personal favourite of the canapes were the truffled arancini balls which were a delight and my husband loved the beetroot macaroons with horseradish cream which were a highlight for him last time we tasted Claire’s food too.
Roasted scallop with almond, apple, garlic and sweet onion puree was the first of the sit down courses that we were served. It looked wonderful with a roasted scallop on its bed of chopped apple, crowned with a lettuce garnish and almonds and puree artfully scattered over the plate. The diced apple and the almonds made the perfect partners to complement the meaty, juicy scallop. As you’d expect from a chef’s of Claire’s standard, the scallops were cooked to perfection with a nicely brown exterior achieved without overcooking the inside of the shellfish. With contrasting freshness of the apple this dish was light and refreshing.
The next course was crispy chicken with salt baked celeriac, hazelnut and burnt pear. The crispy chicken was pure concentrated chicken flavour and was nicely complemented by the depth of flavour of the celeriac and pear. Next up was one of the star dishes of the evening: BBQ ox. Chatting to Claire before the meal we’d learnt that 5 processes go into making the BBQ sauce, which showed in the depth and complexity of the smokey flavours as the meat had a very punchy flavour. Claire commented that one of the things she’d learnt in restaurant where she currently works, is that less is more. Less on the plate, but doing more with that food to enhance and bring out the flavours of the dish. It’s a lesson she’s learnt well.
Included in our evening was a demonstration of the pre-dessert: mascarpone with basil, strawberry and red wine sorbet. Claire made it all look very simple, but obviously time only allowed to show a few bits of the preparation of the dish. Claire cooked the basil for just a few seconds in already boiling water before stopping the cooking and blending the mix. This kept the bright green colour and fresh, herby flavour shining through.
The main dessert was chocolate with crispy bacon, salt caramel and vanilla ice cream. Salt and chocolate are a tried and tested combination, but that combination does need handling with care to make sure the balance is right. It was perfectly judged. Using the bacon to provide some of that salty flavour was a great idea and the crisp bacon crumbs added an extra dimension to the dish. A dessert that we will remember for a long time.
We’ll certainly be following Claire’s career in the future and hope to get to taste her food again before too long. I’d love to see and taste her take on paella which for me is the dish that sums up Spanish cuisine.