Culture: Don’t overlook the simple ingredients
As a chef my main focus and the thing that I find most exciting in my job is sourcing ingredients, the best that I can possibly get my hands on. It is a challenge I relish and something I base my whole philosophy of cooking on.
My theory is to start with the best possible ingredients and the rest should be simple!
The other perk is working with equally passionate suppliers – for every item we have on the menu we have a different supplier, sometimes two or three, and we aim to guarantee the absolute best produce all year round. Recent highlights include the Iberian pork, Australian truffles, Suffolk wagyu, crayfish, and of course our flour.
Flour is such a special ingredient, one that perhaps we take for granted but it really is quite extraordinary.
It is the single most important ingredient on any pastry section and yet, sadly, it often gets overlooked as one of the items that should be celebrated. Consider whether cooks, professional or domestic, are putting as much effort into sourcing flour as they would for say ‘local’ strawberries, beef or pork?
Well, we certainly do take this seriously! Mainly because of an absolute obsession I have with sourdough, which has evidently rubbed off on to the whole kitchen team, alongside the constant pursuit to improve the flavour profile of our bread using three of the simplest ingredients – flour, water and salt. After all, every brilliant meal starts with great bread and for me personally I feel it should make the perfect introduction of what is to come. Bread is the most approachable and affordable ‘gourmet’ experience, it can be so complex in flavour yet still so familiar.
So, with all this desire to perfect our sourdough we needed to start with some great flour. We ended up finding a beautiful, full flavour, organic, finely ground, wholemeal flour that ticked all the boxes. It also just so happened to be milled 10 minutes from Bury St Edmunds in the picturesque village of Pakenham
We have been continuously using this flour for more than a year now, so I took one of my team, Max Cameron, with me to visit where the flour is produced, as this was a great opportunity to see all the work that goes into getting our 25kg sack of wholemeal flour to the restaurant each week.
It is believed there has been a water mill in Pakenham for around 1,000 years and the flour itself has been produced on the site since before William the Conquerer made a splash at Hastings. Pakenham Water Mill itself is owned by Suffolk Building Preservation Trust Ltd and run by a group of loyal and hard-working volunteers. Max and myself were lucky enough to be shown around by David Eddershaw, who is the volunteer curator of the mill and was the perfect guide to give us some history on this stunning building. David has written a book on the mill, as well as holding regular talks about various grains they work with, where they purchase them from, and what differentiates their flour from other commercial off-the-shelf brands. When meeting him, his passion was infectious and it’s so inspiring as chefs to spend time with the people that truly care about what they produce, which in turn makes what we do possible.
Pakenham Mill is open every Thursday when milling can be seen between 10-11.20am and on Sundays between 2-3.30pm.
I highly recommend a trip over to Pakenham for a tour of the mill, enjoy some refreshments in the beautiful setting and follow it up by having a go at making some bread at home with some great local flour purchased from their shop.
James Carn is head chef at The Angel Hotel, Bury St Edmunds
01284 714000 theangel.co.uk