Rupert Bates Spring 2021
Too many cooks spoil the broth is a proverb applied to many occasions. But two cooks as one, aligned in their thinking, culinary styles, food values and sense of humour, can be a powerful, productive fusion. And, anyway, we’re not going to talk broth here, but barbecue.
Angela Hartnett and Luke Holder have combined friendship, food and flavours in their restaurant at Lime Wood, a boutique New Forest hideaway hotel near Lyndhurst in Hampshire. Mind the ponies as you drive the last mile.
With the hotel closed as we spoke during the third lockdown, there was plenty of time for reflection, as well as fight, with both Hartnett and Holder keen supporters of the Seat at the Table campaign, urging the government to appoint a minister of hospitality and to recognise, so brutally highlighted by the pandemic, just how many people are employed in the industry and its huge bearing on the local communities they feed.
Away from the Italian theme of their Lime Wood restaurant Hartnett Holder & Co – a natural influence given Hartnett’s Italian heritage and Holder’s time spent cooking in Italy – they are both very much live fire enthusiasts.
Step forward Smoked & Uncut, a series of food and music festivals which, like most events, had to be cancelled last year, but hopeful of lighting up the fires and fun again this June and July at Lime Wood and its sister hotels THE PIG, also in the New Forest and THE PIG – near Bath – in the Mendip Hills.
"Smoked & Uncut is live fire theatre and we hope we can hold the festivals this summer. We had a plan last year to introduce a whole lamb on the barbecue, Argentine asado style and have lots of outdoor cooking ideas to bring to the party," says Holder.
Whether it is with a room in the hotel or glamping in the grounds, you get your barbecue cooked by great chefs, untethered from the heat of the commercial kitchen and playing outside with fire and flavours as the beat goes on.$$ADHERE$$
Hartnett recalls barbecuing a curried monkfish tail at Smoked & Uncut, marinated for two days in yoghurt and spices. "Some people think barbecue cooking is the easy way out, but there is a real skill to getting it right – the fire, the temperature. I’ve learnt the hard way, impatiently lobbing on a piece of meat and flames everywhere!" says Hartnett.
"I also like how it allows you to experiment with other cuisines; Asian spices from the likes of India and Sri Lanka really lending themselves to great marinade and rub flavours. I personally prefer them to the fiercer American-style rubs."
Smoked & Uncut is street-food-style feasting, with rock n’ roll live music, but where the food rocking the roll comes dusted with Michelin Stars, with Hartnett gaining her first Michelin Star in 2004 as head chef at Petrus in London’s Knightsbridge.
A Gordon Ramsay protégée, which is one tough but rewarding apprenticeship, Hartnett categorically confirmed she had no plans, at my suggestion, to launch Hell’s BBQ, as a spin off to Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen on ITV, where she made her television debut. Her Michelin Star Murano restaurant in London’s Mayfair pays suitable homage to her Italian roots, best told in her book Angela Hartnett’s Cucina: Three Generations of Italian Family Cooking.
Back in the New Forest and Holder and Hartnett are looking at reimagining some of the delightful space in the grounds of Lime Wood to incorporate outdoor cooking areas.
"Believe it or not, chefs in their down time do like to cook. In our professional lives we are often managing the kitchen rather than cooking ourselves," says Holder. "Give me a clear night and I love to barbecue a shoulder of lamb or similar. There is also something magical about standing round a fire."
Holder, while admiring the techniques and tastes of low and slow American-style cooking, says he doesn’t have the necessary patience and prefers a fast fire outcome, while both he and Hartnett are big advocates of vegetables and fish on the barbecue.
"The social aspect is so important, gathering outside together with family and friends. I like that everybody can get involved and it is continual grazing, which is how food should be eaten, not strictly one course after another," says Hartnett.
While Italy does not have a conventionally defined BBQ culture, it is wedded to the concept and custom of eating outside. "Take the Italian classic, chicken cacciatore. It is not necessarily a barbecue dish, but Italians like a fire and heat it up outside – the hunter’s chicken, with the fire there for warmth and not just cooking," says Hartnett.
Holder recalls his time in Florence, where he spent a year cooking in the three Michelin Star Enoteca Pinchiorri, and the little places he found in the hills above the Tuscan city, cooking a bistecca alla Fiorentina T-bone steak. "You will find cooking outside over wood or charcoal is instrumental in most cuisines around the world."
Even before Covid-19, Hartnett wanted to see the UK embrace outdoor dining, not just where space allows outside rural pubs, hotels and restaurants, but in the cities. However central and local government, wrapped in red tape and licences, refuse to acknowledge that a vibrant, outdoor café culture can emerge and prove as successful as in other European towns and cities.
"This is how people prefer to eat and if you want to create thriving cities, both socially and economically, that is the natural way forward" says Hartnett.
A theme running through Lime Wood and its sister hotels, led by Lime Wood Group CEO and renowned hotelier and innovator Robin Hutson, is food provenance, buying local produce from the local supply chain – home grown, fresh and authentic ingredients. This philosophy is slowly feeding out to the communities themselves, recognising the need to drive the doorstep economy.
"I believe in more time sourcing it, less time cooking it and I learnt this approach from Angela in particular. We can get too self-important as chefs, rather than thinking about what the customer wants and the main reason they are buying into the dish. You can’t beat the simple things done well," says Holder.
As for their favourite barbecue food, Hartnett would go for a veal chop, or perhaps a whole turbot with lots of vegetables. "Rather than half a cow if I’m honest!"
Holder is equally enamoured by a turbot on the grill, with lemon and flake salt, while remembering a long-ago barbecue where he cooked a lamb rump marinated in mint jelly, coriander and roasted garlic: The smell of chicken and that crispy skin on the coals is so evocative of my childhood, growing up in Sharjah in the Middle East."
He believes that BBQ cooking is seeing a revival in marinating and brining, and has also teamed up with specialist veg box company Knock Knock by Smith & Brock to create a home fermenting box called ‘Get in a Pickle with Luke’. Think of kimchi made of salted and fermented vegetables, or picked red cabbage.
"Serving simple pickles and fermented food with barbecue meat, vegetables and fish makes absolute pairing sense, the char of the barbecue working so well with the richness and umami flavours of fermented food," says Holder.$$ADHERE$$
The best chefs don’t just recognise the food and the flavours; they understand the occasion. Holder likes nothing more than cooking round the firepit, "playing music, chatting nonsense and setting fire to more things than you should".
"The barbecue is not just the food; it’s the moment you are creating." When the pandemic allows, Luke Holder and Angela Hartnett will once again be creating great food and great moments, both inside and outside their kitchens.
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