The best events are the ones that you’re invited to last minute. My good foodie chums Harry & Nick were due to go to this event, but for Harry – is nearly ready to pop with a teeny small one – this was going to be an event that she would have to sit out.
So I was excited to be going with Nick Hook, food photographer, and curator of Devon Food Hour – all the way to Stockland. To be precise, Aller’s Farm in deepest East Devon.
Set amongst the rolling Blackdown Hills AONB, Allers Farm is a working 350-acre dairy farm and glamping site. The lush green fields that feed their herd of Friesian beauties also house The Chef Shed, an unassuming shed with a small kitchen area and a long table sitting on the edge of a large expansive field that rolls over the horizon beyond to more fields, hedges and maybe a few forests.
It was our destination for the combined pop-up dining event, two great culinary minds met in a delicious creative cloud of delicious smelling smells from the Chef Shed’s very own wood-fired oven.
Tim Maddams is a multi-faceted man. Writer, teacher, broadcaster, private chef, foraging master, game guru, occasionally appearing on the telly having appeared with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall on the River Cottage series and Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch and BBC’s Good Food.
Juanita Hennessey is a food writer, chef, mum and MasterChef finalist. When she isn’t cheffing at Pop-up events or private dining, she is running The Game Girl and Fosbury Foodie websites and in between all of this, she managed to beat off the competition and reached the finals of Masterchef 2016!
And here we were, deep in the Devon countryside with these two culinary talents creating us some epic food.
We kicked off the evening with some ‘Dirty popcorn’ (crispy chicken skin, popcorn, and chilli) which I tried my best not to devour before our table-mates arrived. And gradually other guests arrived; we met Trevor, Juanita’s parents and a few other guests who gave the atmosphere a proper sense of conviviality.
The first course was an earthy savoury Beetroot soup with creamy homemade goats curd, nettle tempura. The first time I’ve had nettles in anything I’ve eaten, but it was a delicious combination with the curd and the soup itself.
The second course was a Wood-fired mackerel with cucumber, dill, and buttermilk. The cucumber was for me a total brain melt – the dill was so perfectly balanced, it gave it a lovely bitterness that combined with the mackerel so well.
Wood-fired slow-roasted leg of hogget and mutton, celeriac puree and foraged wild garlic was our next course. This I managed to match with a can of Lilt (I won’t be able to live this down…) as I was driving and had managed to forget to BYO (thanks to Harry who had packed Nick off with a non-alcoholic can!).
I can say, with what is left of my foodie credibility, is that this worked weirdly well with the Hogget which just fell apart; it was savoury and flavoursome, tender and all the delicious words of which have all momentarily escaped me…
The pudding course was a Rhubarb and Spelt tart with cream, beautifully combining the sweetness and slight sourness of the rhubarb in a lush conclusion to a really enjoyable event.