European Glitz and Glamour Comes to Wiltshire

PUBLISHED: 16:05 29 July 2009 | UPDATED: 16:09 20 February 2013

Rod McCormick plating up

Rod McCormick plating up

New Zealander Rod McCormick finds a chef's dream in Wiltshire

New Zealand born chef Rod McCormick and his English partner, Laura Bailes, had it all; an exciting job and an exotic lifestyle, which involved managing and catering for exclusive private homes across Europe for the rich and famous. The majority of their work was in France, northern Spain and, more recently, a beautiful lakefront chalet in St Moritz, Switzerland. However, when they got the urge to return to the UK and a more 'normal' lifestyle, away from the glitz and glamour, they set their sights firmly on Wiltshire. "Wiltshire just seemed to have it all; beautiful countryside, fantastic local produce, people who care about their food and the environment, abundant wildlife and all within easy reach of the major cities in the South," says Rod. Eventually finding their dream cottage on the edge of National Trust Land near Calne, the next challenge was to start up the business that they had dreamed of in exclusive bespoke catering, with a service to cover anything from an intimate dinner party for two to a wedding party in excess of 300.

With more than 15 years combined experience between them, working in hotels, restaurants, private yachts and homes around the world, they started up McBaile Exclusive Catering and Event Services at the beginning of the year. Laura says: "People were saying to us, 'now's not the time to come back to the UK'. The weather was awful last summer and the recession was setting in, but we remained optimistic and saw huge potential in what the UK and the region had to offer. However, when we packed in our well- paid work in Europe, our family and friends thought we were a little crazy! Although people are watching their pennies more closely and spending money more wisely, they still want to be wined and dined, as long as they have the confidence that it will provide a great experience."

Rod has a passion for food and flavours and describes his culinary style as: "Fresh produce, approached with classics in mind but with a contemporary eye and light touch." He believes in serving up his dishes simply, a philosophy formed through his early days working in large hotels, where, he says, more often than not, the garnishes were more a focus than the main ingredient itself. "I soon realised that good food doesn't need to be dressed up so much. It should sing for itself, not hide behind smoke and mirrors."

He says that the produce in Wiltshire is a real inspiration. "When we first moved into the village, we were given a haunch of wild Muntjac by one of the neighbours. She was glad to pass it over as she didn't have a clue what to do with it! I invited her and some other neighbours around for dinner and served them a Muntjac rilette. They couldn't believe how good it was, and all from nature's larder on their back doorstep."

And when it comes to business, his outlook is the same: "Obviously the clients' desires are our focus but wherever possible I suggest a menu based on seasonal ingredients, sourced from local suppliers. Food will always look, feel and taste better that way, and to know you are helping to support your neighbours by buying locally is always good. Sourcing produce locally is something we could probably all do a little more, and it would help to keep us healthier physically, socially, financially and environmentally."

So has Wiltshire been a good choice of place to live and start a catering business? "Absolutely! We wouldn't want to be anywhere else right now and besides, the weather so far has been pretty good."

For further information contact McBaile Exclusive Catering and Event Services on 01249 813600, www.mcbaile.com

Rod's Recipes

Pork Belly with Wilted Spinach, Roasted New Potatoes, Vine Cherry Tomatoes and Fried Sage

Serves 6

Pork belly has undergone a resurgence in popularity in recent times, and for good reason. Succulent, full of flavour, and melt-in-the-mouth tender when cooked correctly, it is hard to believe that just a few years ago butchers couldn't give it away. This recipe takes some time, but is well worth the effort. The pork can be cooked ahead of time and gently reheated if pressed for time.

Braised pork belly:

1kg pork belly, bones removed, skin left on

1 bunch sage (some leaves set aside for garnish)

1 handful salt

Juice and zest of 2 lemons

2 red onions

2 apples, de-cored, peeled and roughly chopped

6 large tomatoes, peeled and de-seeded

1 litre of pork stock (substitute with chicken or beef if required)

2 tbsp cornflour

1 Preheat the oven to 220°C. Roughly chop the onions and place in the bottom of a deep roasting pan.

2 Trim the pork belly to even thickness and lay out flat, skin side up. Lightly score the skin with a knife, liberally rub with table salt, working into the cuts. Place on top of the onions, skin side up, and roast for 20 minutes, reduce the heat to 170°C, and cook until the skin has turned to crackling and is crisp and golden.

3 Remove from the oven onto a chopping board. Carefully remove the crackling with a knife and break into serving-sized pieces then set aside.

4 Portion the pork into serving-sized pieces then return immediately to the pan, including any juices that have run onto the chopping board.

5 Add to the pork the apples, tomatoes, lemon juice, bunch of sage, pork stock, and black pepper, cover with foil and return to the oven, reducing the heat to 150°C. Allow to braise for 3-4 hours until the pork is soft and juicy.

6 Remove from the oven, set aside the pork in a covered dish and allow to rest for 15-25 minutes.

7 Blitz the pan juices in a food processor or a hand blender and adjust seasoning.

Sage garnish:

Place the cornflour in a bowl. Put enough olive oil into a small saucepan to just cover the bottom of the pan and put on a medium heat. Dip each sage leaf in the cornflour to coat, then fry until the oil stops bubbling. Remove very carefully from the oil onto kitchen towel and season immediately with salt and pepper.

Wilted spinach:

In a frying pan, melt 50g butter and ¼ teaspoon cumin seeds and cook for a couple of minutes over a low heat. Increase the heat and add 200g spinach leaves. Continue to cook, turning constantly until just wilted. Season with salt and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Roasted new potatoes:

Set the oven to 190°C. Roughly chop the fresh bunch of sage, rosemary and parsley. Pour 3 tablespoons of virgin olive oil into a large roasting tray and heat in the oven until the oil is just starting to smoke. Remove the pan from the oven and carefully add 1kg of baby new potatoes, herbs, salt and pepper, mixing to cover the potatoes in the oil and herb mixture. Return to the oven and roast, turning the potatoes occasionally, until golden brown and crispy.

Roasted cherry tomatoes:

Preheat the oven to 190°C. Place bunches of vine cherry tomatoes in a shallow roasting tray and drizzle with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar, season with sea salt and cracked black pepper and roast in the oven for approximately 15 minutes until the skins start to peel back and colour. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for a couple of minutes before serving.

To serve: place the pork on the plate, surrounded by a few potatoes and the wilted spinach. Cover with the sauce made from the pan juices and top with vine tomatoes, crackling and fried sage.

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