Euro-Toques, the European Association of Chefs

Euro-Toques, the European Association of Chefs was founded in Brussels in 1987 as a guardian of European culinary heritage and as a lobby group to voice the concerns of Europe’s top chefs.

The founder, Pierre Romeyer, owner of the 3 Michelin star La Maison de Bouche in Brussels, invited leading chefs in countries across Europe to join him in his ‘quest to protect the quality, diversity and flavour of our foods, indigenous food methods and the traditional cuisines that had been established over hundreds of years’.

Among the illustrious chefs who joined Pierre Romeyer and founded national Euro-toques branches were Paul Bocuse from France, Cas Spijkers from Holland and our own Myrtle Allen of Ballymaloe House. The organisation spread quickly and captured the imagination of creative chefs throughout the EU. Today Euro-Toques has a membership of almost 4,000 chefs, including 200 in Ireland, and has a permanent European Office in Brussels from which it coordinates its lobbying campaigns on issues affecting food quality and the culinary profession.

At the 3rd Euro-toques National Food Forum & Fair which took place recently in The Brooklodge Hotel, Co. Wicklow, the topic for discussion was ‘The Future of our Food’. The forum, which was chaired by Mr. John Hume, featured high-profile speakers from policy-making, culinary, environmental and scientific backgrounds and discussed topics including the future of the agri-food sector in Ireland and Europe, globalisation versus localisation of food production, changing consumer trends in food purchasing and the effects of technical and genetic manipulation of food.

Speaking at the event, Ross Lewis, the current Commissioner-General of Euro-toques Ireland, explained why chefs are more hopeful for the future of Irish food, “As chefs we are seeing increasing demand from consumers for locally produced foods, the organic market is growing, the number of farmers markets around the country has increased rapidly, and here in Ireland we are seeing a great resurgence in small-scale, artisan food production as evidenced by the number of high quality products available here today”.

“Euro-toques chefs believe that agriculture should be respectful of natural rhythms and oppose all measures which take away from the quality of food’’, he continued.

At the forum, panellist Alan Dukes discussed the latest European Common Agricultural Policy reforms which go some way towards putting more emphasis on quality rather than quantity in food production, by ending the association between production quotas and direct payments. 

Robert Cook of the International Society for Ecology and Culture also addressed the forum. He stressed that localisation of food production is not only a matter of food quality, but also an environmental necessity. UK figures estimate that the distance food is transported by road increased by 50% between 1978 and 1999, and the food system now accounts for between a third and 40% of all UK road freight. “The ingredients of a single supermarket meal may easily have travelled a total of over 24,000 miles”, said Mr. Cook. 

Chefs are in a unique position to encourage this type of production and Euro-toques chefs try to support local producers by promoting them on their menus. “By using local foods, and by advertising and promoting their use, chefs have it in their power to not only entertain our palates, but also to educate the minds of the public about the importance and the opportunities provided by choosing local produce”. Mr. Cook reminded us that “In the process, not only can local specialities be identified and promoted but also regional dishes can be revived or even invented”.

One of the major developments in globalised food production in recent years, the biotechnological and the genetic manipulation of food, was discussed by UK-based Scientist Dr. Mae-Won Ho, Director of the Institute of Science in Society, she underlined the inherent dangers involved in interfering with nature. The panel also featured US author Jeffrey Smith whose book, Seeds of Deception: Exposing Biotech Lies, discusses evidence of the dangers of GM and experiences in countries where GM crops have already been grown.

Chef Ross Lewis commented; “GM is obviously a very big concern for us as chefs. We believe that consumers should have the right to choose healthy, natural food that they can trust and we believe that the growing of GM crops will threaten that choice. We are privileged in Ireland to have some of the purest and most natural ingredients available in Europe and we would like to keep it that way”.

The panel also featured Michelin star chef Shaun Hill who flew in that morning from Ludlow. Shaun and his wife Anja cook and serve respectively in The Merchant House. Shaun works in a tiny domestic-sized kitchen and feeds 24 diners for lunch and dinner Tuesday to Saturday. The Merchant House has won numerous awards down through the years and earlier this year was ranked 21 in the Best Restaurants of the World by The Restaurant Magazine.

The fixed-price menu gives a small choice of over 3 courses, an eclectic mix, based on personal taste and sound cooking techniques, rather than any particular country’s cuisine. Sean is passionate about the quality of ingredients, organic where feasible and carefully chosen. The restaurant is booked out 3 months in advance for lunch and dinner …. So think ahead before going over.

A simple example of what you might find on Shaun’s menu is ‘grilled bass with saffron and pepper sauce’, ‘saddle of venison with foie gras’, ‘roast squab pigeon with parsley risotto, ‘muscat crème caramel with prunes in armagnac’, ‘apricot tart with amaretto ice cream’.

The restrained style of Shaun Hill’s restaurant complements the understated style of cooking. Both are a tribute to his impeccable taste and a chef that has the confidence to keep it simple.
The title of Shaun’s presentation was “Our responsibilities as chef” which highlighted 

The important relationship between the chef, his/her suppliers and the customer, the constant battle with bureaucracy, how food and catering have changed down through the years and our responsibility to educate the consumer. 
The event also incorporated a major food fair open to the public which brought together 60 Irish small food producers from around the country. 

Here are some recipes from Shaun Hill’s recently published book ‘How to Cook Better’, published by Mitchell Beazley. 

John Dory with Coriander

This is a Lebanese dish , with flavours that typify eastern Mediterranean and North African cooking. The fish is braised and served in its own sauce like stew.
Serves 4

1.5kg John Dory, filleted
salt and pepper
sunflower oil , for frying
150ml olive oil
4 shallots, finely chopped
8 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teasp ground coriander
½ a small chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1 teasp ground cumin
juice of 3 lemons
1 bunch fresh coriander, leaves only, washed and dried on kitchen paper.

Salt the fillets, then heat enough sunflower oil to deep-fry them. When the oil is hot, fry the fillets for a minute to seal them and then lift out from the pan.
In a separate pan, heat the olive oil. Fry the shallots in the oil until they start to colour, then add the garlic and continue cooking for another minute. Add the ground coriander, chilli and cumin, then pour in the lemon juice and bring to the boil. 

Add the fish fillets and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 5 minutes, or until the fish is cooked and the sauce thickened. Add the coriander leaves and serve.

Note: John Dory is about 50 per cent bone and head, so you can expect around 350-400g of fillet per person from each fish. They are awkward to fillet so have the fishmonger do the job for you if possible.

Spiced Aubergine Fritters

Serves 4
1 large aubergine
salt and pepper
a good pinch each of ground cinnamon, ground cumin and ground cardamom
1 tbsp grated orange zest
sunflower oil, for frying
lemon wedges, to serve

For the batter:
4 tabsp self raising flour
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp water
2 medium egg whites

Slice the aubergine into 5mm rounds and season with salt, pepper, spices and orange zest.
For the batter, whisk together the flour, oil and water – you want the thickness of porridge. Separately, and with a clean whisk, beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold the whites into the batter.
Heat the sunflower oil until smoking. Coat each slice of aubergine in batter in hot oil until crisp and brown; this only takes a minute.

Serve with lemon wedges or as warm component of salad.

Modern varieties of aubergine don’t need pre-salting to extract the bitterness. 10 minutes contact with the salt and spices will help soften the aubergine, however, and this does no harm.

The batter will keep for an hour or two and still be usable, but loses volume during this time. Its best made as near the time as is practicable.

Scallops with lentil and coriander sauce

– Shaun Hill
Serves 4
50g brown lentils
16 large scallops
a little groundnut or sunflower oil
½ onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp chopped red pepper
1 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
1 large clove garlic, chopped
½ tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cumin
300ml chicken stock or water
25g unsalted butter
1 tsp crème fraiche
1 tbsp. fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped
1 tbsp. snipped fresh chives
1 tbsp. lemon juice, plus a little extra to go on the scallops
salt and pepper
a little light sesame or groundnut oil

Put the lentils in tepid water and soak for 2 hours. Simmer for around 10 minutes, or until cooked through. 
Remove the corals from the scallops.

Heat a little sunflower or groundnut oil to a high temperature. Fry the onion, red pepper, ginger and garlic until they start to caramelize, then add the spices and half the cooked lentils.
Heat the scallop corals in the stock (this is to add a little more flavour to the stock, not to cook the corals, which I do not use), then strain the stock on to the spiced lentils. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes.
Puree the lentil mixture in a liquidizer, then reheat with the butter, crème fraiche, coriander leaves, chives and lemon juice.
Season with salt and pepper, then add the remaining cooked lentils. Spoon this sauce onto warmed plates.

Slice the scallops into two or three discs depending on their size, and brush lightly with light sesame or groundnut oil. Season with salt and pepper.
Heat a dry pan until very hot and then fry the oiled scallop slices very quickly on both sides. Squeeze a few drops of lemon on top of the shellfish then place in a heap on top of the sauce.

Chocolate Cake

Can be served with coffee – cream or crème fraiche optional. Or serve as a pudding with a fresh cherry compote.
Also suitable for coeliacs.

225g plain chocolate, grated or broken into pieces
100g unsalted butter
4 eggs
225g icing sugar
a few drops of vanilla essence (must be vanilla extract or a natural essence)
2 tbsp cornflour
Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5

Melt the chocolate and butter together. The best way to do this is to put the chocolate and butter in a bowl and stand the bowl in warm water, stirring occasionally.
Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Be sure to use a clean bowl and whisk.
Separately, whisk the yolks, icing sugar and vanilla essence together, then add the cornflour. Whisk until the colour of the mixture lightens perceptibly.
Add the melted chocolate and butter to the egg yolks.
Next add the whisked egg white, folding it in a third at a time. 
Line an 18cm cake tin with parchment paper and pour in the cake batter.
Bake in the preheated oven until done – for around 30-40 minutes.

The chocolate must be melted gently and slowly, it may be grated so that it melts faster if time is important.
There may be a tendency for the cake to sag in the middle if not completely cooked through, as there is very little flour – no wheat flour at all. In fact it is better under-cooked than over-cooked.

Rhubarb Meringue Tart

Serves 4
300g sweet shortcrust pastry
1 kg rhubarb, cut into 3cm lengths
3 egg yolks
120g Demerara sugar
a pinch of salt
2 tbsp. plain flour 
3 egg whites
3 tbsp. caster sugar
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6

Line a 26cm pastry case – preferably with a detachable base – with sweet pastry and bake blind.
The rhubarb goes in next. Then mix together the egg yolks, Demerara sugar, salt and flour and spread this over the rhubarb.
Bake in a preheated oven for 10 minutes; this will start the rhubarb cooking.
Meanwhile, whisk the egg whites until stiff. As they stiffen, trickle in the caster sugar.
Take the tart from the oven and spread the meringue on top. 

Reduce the heat to 180C/350F/gas mark 4 and return the tart to the oven. Bake for a further 25 minutes. 

Note: The egg whites must be completely free of imperfections – including yolk – if they are to be successfully whisked. The bowl used must be dry and clean also. Don’t add sugar too early; the whites should already form peaks before you start.

Foolproof Food

Summer Fruit Salad with Sweet Geranium Leaves

I discovered this recipe which has now become a perennial favourite quite by accident a few Summers ago as I raced to make a pudding in a hurry with the ingredients I had at that moment.
Serves 8-10 

4 oz (110 g) Raspberries 
4 oz (110g ) Loganberries
4 oz (110g ) Red currants
4 oz (110g ) Black currants
4 oz (110g) small Strawberries
4 oz (110g) Blueberries 
4 oz (110g) Fraises du bois or wild strawberries 

14 oz (400g) sugar
16 fl oz (450ml) water
6-8 large sweet geranium leaves (Pelargonium Graveolens)

Put all the freshly picked berries into a white china or glass bowl. Put the sugar, water and sweet geranium leaves into a stainless steel saucepan and bring slowly to the boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Boil for just 2 minutes. Cool for 4-5 minutes then pour the hot syrup over the fruit and allow to macerate for several hours. Remove the geranium leaves. Serve chilled, with softly-whipped cream or Vanilla Ice-cream or alone. Garnish with a few fresh sweet geranium leaves.
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Hot Tips

Fresh Sweetcorn now available from Catherine and Vincent O’Donovan’s roadside stall on the main Cork to Innishannon road about a mile and a half from the Halfway Roundabout. Tel 087-2486031 to order some for the freezer.

To cook – pull off the husks and silks, just pop into boiling well-salted water and cook for no more than 3 minutes. Serve slathered with butter and sprinkled with Maldon Sea Salt. Divine!

Corry Lane Home Smoked Fish
New to me – I tasted it at the Euro-Toques Conference – particularly delicious eel, warm smoked salmon and mackerel. Tel. John Rogan – 043-76264 087-9904707
Rathowen, Co Westmeath.

Ross Lewis at Chapter One Restaurant
Has recently introduced the new concept of a Charcuterie Trolley, customers can enjoy a starter plate of seven items primarily made from Irish charcuterie – some made in the restaurant and others supplied by specialist artisan producers like Frank Krycwzk and Fingal Ferguson. A few hot items come from the kitchen – eg pigs trotters, pickled lambs tongues, Westcorkian Ham with Celery Remoulade. A selection of salamis and terrines are served from a beautiful custom made cherrywood trolley with inlaid shelves to pull out and serve on – as Ross says to bring back a bit of drama to the restaurant! Chapter One, 18/19 Parnell Square, Dublin 1. Tel 01-8732266

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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