It’s interesting to hear from chefs who have been using the sous vide techniques for many years, especially when they see our new technology and how it has evolved. This month we are putting the spotlight on chef, Alan Hollidays who has taken huge steps in a catering career that gives the term ‘From Field to Fork’ a new meaning.
Starting out literally in the field as a chef and soldier in the RAF and fighting at the front during the first Gulf War, Alan now runs his own fine dining restaurant in Poulton-le-Fylde.
Joining the RAF at the age of 18 as a chef, Alan was used to dishing out food to 3,000 people at a time. Now he caters for a maximum of 28 people (at a push 34) at his restaurant Indulge, which he opened on 8 December last year.
Customers love to ‘Indulge’ on British Food
Having spent some years after leaving the RAF managing restaurants, Alan decided in 2004 to open a coffee shop in his hometown of Blackpool, which he ran for eight years.
As many chefs will appreciate, Alan missed the hands on cooking and three years ago he wanted to jump back into it. He took over a Champagne bar in Poulton-le-Fylde for a year to see if there was demand for a British modern restaurant. And there was! Alan made the decision to close it and open Indulge just around the corner, where he began producing fine dining food.
You would find many of his dishes in a typical French restaurant but Alan has kept it simple so that customers understand exactly what they are getting. It’s basically modern British food with dishes such as local duck breast, Rib eye steak, local veal, rump of lamb and pork belly. You won’t find another English restaurant within a 10 mile radius. Alan is now waiting to hear back from Michelin following an inspection two months ago and is also awaiting a visit from the AA. We have got our fingers firmly crossed for him.
Re-discovering sous vide technology
While Alan would say he was old school when it comes to cooking, he was quick to take advantage of the sous vide technique once he opened Indulge.
Alan was already doing sous vide cooking in the RAF nearly 30 years ago. However he loves how much technology has moved on, especially now that he can control the temperature. The Gastro Chef package from sousvidetools.com was the ideal choice for Alan as it costs less than £1,000, which was perfect for his small restaurant.
This package includes everything you need to start sous vide cooking: the Vac-Star® Compact 9 Litre Sous Vide Water Bath, the Vac-Star® Easy Vacuum Sealer, 50x 90mu Sous Vide Embossed Vacuum Pouches, and a Temperature and Cooking Time Reference Guide by Food Type.
Alan is the first to admit he was skeptical in the beginning but now it is a piece of equipment he can’t do without. He says that it takes a lot of hard work away, which is important for him as he is the only chef aside from his commis chef and junior chef.
The products play a huge part in his menu as Alan cooks five out of his 10 dishes using the sous vide technique and he has a list as long as your arm about the benefits of cooking with the water bath technology.
How has the technology helped Alan?
When we asked Alan about the benefits of these products he said: “When roasting, pan frying or poaching there is a lot of shrinkage. If I am cooking a chicken breast, for example, in the water bath then it breaks down the enzymes in the cooking process and makes it taste much nicer, with minimum shrinkage. I have played with the times and temperature a lot and I know if I put it in for 26 minutes it will be cooked perfectly. We have had great customer feedback with our chicken dish with people saying they have never tasted chicken like it. It is literally mouthwatering.”
Alan describes having a sous vide water bath like having an extra person in the kitchen. Food can be left to cook whilst you crack on with another job. If you forgot about it for a few minutes it wouldn’t overcook like it would in an oven. Alan simply says it is “idiot proof”.
Like having your very own Sous Chef
One of the major advantages for Alan is that he can cook many of his dishes while he’s not even there. For example he cooks his pork belly for seven to eight hours at a very low temperature and does that overnight sometimes. Before the team would cook it on the stove for four or five hours and have to keep topping it up
He said “The same applies for the lamb when I make a Lancashire hot pot for lunchtime. It’s ready the next morning after 10 hours cooking. I am not having it on the stove for five hours cooking. Instead I am at home in bed knowing I don’t have to get up at 6am to get the lamb ready. It’s already done.”
The price of the Gastro Chef package was also very appealing to Alan, who says that the equipment will pay for itself in no time. He told us “It helps me as I am basically a one-man band. If I had to employ a sous chef on £25,000 a year then he will go on holiday and ring in sick, but if it breaks down then your service team will come out and fix it in no time.”