The Last Parsnip

A Truly Unbelievable Dining Experience from Chef Bryce Chartwell

Ask Bryce: Toast

David Jenkins from Taunton recently wrote to me: “Dear Bryce, What’s your secret to preparing toast? I’ve read all of you books, seen your TV shows, and every time you seem to effortlessly prepare the perfect slice. It’s driving me crazy – since you’ve never shown us how you do it.”

Well David, you’re right on both fronts. I do make the perfect slice every time, and I’ve never given you the slightest inkling of how I pull it off.

Today all of that is going to change. I've prepared a short video from my kitchen on Bainbridge Island that takes you into my world of toast. With only a few thousand dollars and a willingness to practice on a couple of dozen loaves you too can reach the zenith of toast perfection. 

Ask Bryce: Choosing Vegetables

Today I have a question from Margaret Tibbets in Leicestershire. She writes: “Dear Bryce – I often struggle when selecting vegetables from my local supermarket. I agonize over their size and shape, and usually end up feeling a deep sense of under-achievement once I bring them home. What am I doing wrong?”

Well Margaret, choosing vegetables ought to bring you hope and excitement, not despair and self-recrimination.  I'll  begin with a few of the more obvious suggestions.

For starters, the mere concept of choosing vegetables in a supermarket sends shivers down my spine. I’d recommend going straight to the source – by visiting the regional farmers that you trust the most. Or, better yet, have them come to you. Organizing a private viewing day allows you to remain in comfortable surroundings while letting the farmers do all of the work.

Winter vegetables presented to me in my viewing yard.

Winter vegetables presented to me in my viewing yard.

Now, I realize that some of you out there don’t have the time, or indeed the staff, to choose your vegetables in this way. Indeed visiting an actual store may be the only option available to you. If that is the case then I urge you to at least visit one with an ample supply of organic produce, heirloom varietals and precision irradiation equipment on site.

Once you’re in front of the vegetables there are three key things to look for – freshness, purity and potential.

Freshness is critically important. Ask for a detailed log of the vegetables’ transit from field to table. Ideally you’re looking for a total time of less than one day, with a route that avoids major weather incidents or rough roads.

Purity is something that is often overlooked – even from some of my so-called peers in the restaurant industry. Heirloom varietals are ideal – but make sure you have a good sense of their provenance. Don’t be afraid to ask the difficult questions of the staff, no matter how dumbfounded or senseless they may appear. In my experience you can always escalate up through the management chain  to the CEO if necessary.

Next up - potential. What do I mean by potential? Here a bit of research on your part (or the part of your staff) comes in handy. You should be looking for varietals that have established a good pedigree for cooking, but have not become clichés in their own right. For example, I avoid Marris Piper and Yukon Gold potatoes like the plague, and instead gravitate towards more noteworthy strains such as the Yarrington Rose. The Low Counties varietals have always been unfairly repressed in my opinion.

A genetically pure brace of "Thrussock Knave" carrots.

A genetically pure brace of "Thrussock Knave" carrots.

Finally I should say a few words about selecting each individual vegetable. I tend to use a fairly scientific approach for maintaining uniformity in my recipes. Usually a highly trained eye is sufficient, though it’s always good to carry a screw-gauge micrometer just in case. Be prepared to measure each vegetable in at least two dimensions for a representative data set. 

Margaret I hope that gives you some down-to-earth, practical advice that you can act upon. Please let me know how you get on.

Introducing "Ask Bryce"

Transient

At a recent meeting in LA my agent, Olivia, convinced me to start reaching out more directly to the masses. For some reason she thinks that my English accent, upper-class heritage and refusal to embrace commercial broadcasting make me appear aloof and unapproachable to members of the American public.

Towards that end I’ve decided to start a series of blog posts and podcasts that I’m calling “Ask Bryce”. This forum will allow me to address some of the more uneducated questions that I receive daily.

I encourage you all to contribute to this endeavor. Remember - no question is too simple, too basic. I understand that most of you simply don’t have a clue when it comes to the finer points of cooking - but I’m here to help.

Please submit your questions to brycechartwell@gmail.com . Mark your email “Ask Bryce”, and try to use the spell-checker before pressing send.

I look forward to the enlightenment.

Cheeses To Die For

I'm often asked why I chose to dedicate my life to gastronomy. After all, coming from a comfortable, and some would say filthy rich, family I could have plumped for a far less challenging career. Ultimately for me it came down to the thrill of uncovering  moments of food-related delight, and to the pleasure of sharing those findings with the less well informed patrons of my restaurants. And some of my most rewarding areas of gastronomic enlightenment  have always come from rare, artisanal cheeses.

At The Last Parsnip we feature a selection of the most exceptional and challenging cheeses available today. We're constantly seeking out new varieties, and pushing our guests beyond their comfort zones. (All done under the umbrella of an appropriate legal waiver of course).

In the following video we've put together a small tasting platter of our current offerings. There's something for everyone here - from the mildly approachable "Humbrian Poacher" to the positively atavistic Dulce de Letchey.

I do hope you enjoy!

Restaurants To Die For

Operating two restaurants to the same exacting standard on opposite sides of the Atlantic is not easy. Nevertheless it brings a certain sense of satisfaction knowing that guests five thousand miles apart are enjoying the tastes, smells and elements of risk that make the Last Parsnip so special.

For those of you unfortunate souls that haven't yet had a chance to appreciate the delights of the Parsnip in the flesh we've decided to commission a series of videos. The first of these, included below, provides an introduction to all that The Last Parsnip represents. It provides the merest glimpse of what a visit to our restaurants can provide.

I'll be posting more enticing videos over the coming weeks.

Enjoy.

The Hangover Scale

As I sat in my home this morning grasping a cup of coffee and gazing out over the murky gray of Puget Sound I found myself reflecting upon the nature of one of the most human and yet painful aspects of adulthood - the hangover. I'd had a rather spectacular evening out at the Spur Gastropub in Belltown. Back in the day (many moons ago) I would have consumed last night's level of alcohol with consummate ease - and then gone on to consume several more. However, the arrow of time has run its course through my own mortal coil - and nowadays I'm lucky to knock back a couple of pints without starting to feel the effects.

The question I was posed over breakfast of "How are you feeling?" should have been an easy one to answer. And yet I was left grappling for an adequate response. I was definitely "under the weather" - but exactly how far under was harder to describe.

It occurred to me that this is one area of our everyday lives that could benefit immensely from a standard scale. A one that it both easy to grasp and unambiguous in its classification.

Scales are common place elsewhere. We use a four point scale in many restaurants to describe the level of spice associated with a dish - ranging from a rather watery one all the way up to a bowel-shattering four. This is merely a simplified version of the more sinister sounding Scoville Scale of chill pepper strength. In the medical field we have all adjusted to describing our level of pain against a ten point scale. Handy charts and graphics are on hand to help us assign our level of infirmity from a pimply one up to a near-death ten. (Although it strikes me as unlikely that a walk-in patient would be sufficiently lucid to self-diagnose their crippling pain as a ten).

Which brings me back to the common hangover. It's something that most of us are very accustomed to, and definitely an experience that comes with varying levels of discomfort. And yet when asked "How bad is your hangover?" we all have to grasp around in the dark, searching for suitably descriptive yet non-expletive ways of communicating how we feel. Why not have a standard scale that is both easy to understand and easy to use?

I propose the following straightforward five point scale:

The Chartwell Scale:

  • One - Mild conditions; subtle, lurking headache; easily remedied with coffee
  • Two - Troublesome headache; dry mouth; not shaken off by single dose of painkiller; demanding greasy food and strong coffee
  • Three - A real pain; stabbing headache; sandpaper mouth; food not appealing; daylight "burning"
  • Four - Serious pain; anvil headache; stomach churning stomach; conversation not appealing; over the counter painkillers inadequate; daylight threatening permanent retinal damage
  • Five - End of Days experience; bisecting headache; vomiting imminent; life not appealing; dark shrouded world closing in

 As I reflect on this morning's experience I'd say I was probably up at a two. Coffee and bagels have done the trick - and I'm ready to face the world again. I can only pray that I never have to face another four or five in my life. But I know, with a certain inevitability, that it's only a matter of time.

Haggish

I've been pouring over some of my favorite recipes as I put together menu ideas for our restaurant in Seattle. This is one of our most popular dishes, particularly well received by Anthony Hopkins and any Welsh rugby union players.






History:
Haggish, a distant cousin of its Scottish ancestor, first appeared in Wales during the late 18th century. Lighter on the pallet, and infused with a strong leek flavor, the dish was a firm favorite during the Lloyd George government. Dylan Thomas was commissioned to write an “ode to the Haggish” in 1925 – though it never gained popularity beyond Bangor. More recently haggish has appeared on the menu of several Welsh tapas bars in the Cardiff area.


Ingredients:

  • 1 cleaned sheep or lamb's stomach bag
  • 3 lb. dry oatmeal
  • 1 lb chopped lard
  • 1 lb goose liver, boiled and minced
  • 1 pint (2 cups) vegetable stock
  • “The heart and lights of the sheep”, boiled and minced
  • 1 large chopped onion
  • 3 large chopped leeks
  • 2 tbsp Welsh seasoning

Method:

  • Pan-fry oatmeal, tossing gently until lightly crisped.
  • Mix all remaining ingredients together (except “the hearts and lights of the sheep”, lard and stomach bag)
  • Pour in stock, mix ingredients and spoon into stomach bag.
  • Re-boil “the hearts and lights” of the sheep – until they remain firm to the touch
  • Mix in to stomach bag, and sew up securely.
  • Lower the haggish into a large pot of boiling water, and simmer for 7-8 hours.

Serves 16 Welsh people.

Inner Cooking Notes:
If you are not sufficiently skilled to sew up the haggish then you can use a staple gun instead. Just make sure your guests are informed before consuming the dish.

Warning:
Only consume “hearts and lights” that have been prepared by a skilled butcher. If you are in any doubt as to their authenticity we suggest substituting a mild Italian sausage.

Key Facts:
Preparation time: 2 hours
Cooking time: 8 hours




Westward Ho!

It's the start of a new year, and, I'd like to think, the start of a new chapter in my own life.


After several years successfully managing The Last Parsnip outside of London, I've decided to head West and lend my gastronomic talents to our sister restaurant, also somewhat predictably, called The Last Parsnip, in Seattle, Washington. Or, more accurately, I should say just outside of Seattle, Washington. For our second establishment lies at the end of a sleepy lane on Bainbridge Island - a short ferry ride away from The Emerald City itself.


Since I opened our US restaurant three years ago I've been making frequent trips to help get it started, and to educate the staff on the finer points of Stochastic Gastronomy. Our head chef, Benedict Lacrosse, has done an admirable job, and has helped to create a clientèle second to none in the Pacific Northwest. However, after an unfortunate fur trapping accident over Christmas (or "The Holidays" as I will now have to refer to it), Benedict is now laid up in traction for at least six weeks. Some would see this as a needlessly tragic injury, brought on my man's senseless desire to hunt down and destroy small furry creatures. I saw this as an opportunity - to spend an extended period of time in the US, and to leave a lasting impression on the restaurant culture of the West Coast.


I expect to be relocating for at least six months, possibly more. I bring a wife, two children and a small Cairn Terrier ("Bruegel") who will join us once he's emerged from quarantine. In addition to immersing myself in all things American (except, that is, for an accent or Country & Western music) I intend to share my thoughts periodically through blogging and other social means. From time to time I will use this site to compose longer, more considered missives in the style (though not, I fear to the same standard) as my long time hero Alistair Cooke (the nonagenarian raconteur, not to be confused with the England cricket captain). As homage to his classic compositions, and by way of a nod to my new home and my interest in all things food-related, I've decided to call the blog "Latte From America".


I do hope you enjoy it.