An Interview With Jean-Christophe Novelli

Jean-Christophe Novelli.

After last year’s huge success, the Durham Food Festival is back! On 27 and 28 October, Palace Green and Market Square will be buzzing with the annual festival excitement. The weekend features over eighty quality producers on both days of the event, celebrity food writers and regional chefs showcasing their best demonstrations, and quirky arts and crafts stalls.

I was lucky enough to get to chat to the headliner of this year’s food event – the lovely Jean-Christophe Novelli. A Michelin star chef with a cookery school that has been voted amongst the top 25 in the world, Jean-Christophe promises to wow guests at this year’s event. He will be arriving in Durham on Friday 26 for a fundraising meal at Grey College, before treating festival-goers to a weekend food showcase.

The Bubble: So what exactly have you got lined up for guests at the Durham Food Festival this year?

Jean-Christophe Novelli: I’m going to be doing a lot of demonstrations and linking up with the local people and farmers. I plan to show guests the techniques that I use at my cookery school in Hertfordshire. I have some super recipes to teach that will be quite good for people to learn. Durham is my last festival this year in the countryside so it’s very exciting.

The Bubble: Sounds great. So you’ve been doing a lot of festivals then?

Jean-Christophe Novelli: I’ve done around 25 food festivals this year. I was at Alnwick Festival which ran from 21 – 22 September this year. That was a fantastic festival. A very charming and lively city and the people there were lovely.

The festivals are good as they give me the opportunity to meet people. Visitors can take pictures and I can really take the time to get talking to them, which is really positive.

The Bubble: Have you ever been to Durham before or will this be your first time?

Jean-Christophe Novelli: I’ve visited Durham before, you know, driving and stopping. But this is my first year at the Durham Food Festival.

I’ll be spending three days in Durham and I know it’s going to be great fun.

The Bubble: How do you feel about supporting local produce?

Jean-Christophe Novelli: Local produce is very useful and consistent, so it’s important to support it. I find that local ingredients help to enhance the natural flavours that you can get when cooking.

One thing I don’t do in my cooking is add salt and I’ve reduced saturated fat in my recipes, so local produce can work really well amongst this to create a flavour.

The Bubble: You have a new book out – ‘A Mad Frog And An Englishman…Go Fishing’. That sounds intriguing, what’s it about?

Jean-Christophe Novelli: Yes, I’ve just finished my new book! I’ve spent a lot of time in the West Coast of Cumbria. I swim there – I love swimming. I also go fishing there.

The book is all about getting the best fish – crab, lobster, shrimp. In Cumbria I’m always been really impressed with the quality of food in this region. So I’ve made a recipe book with forty different recipes on how to cook fish from the Cumbrian coast. I’m very pleased with the book.

The Bubble: How are you feeling about the festival now?

Jean-Christophe Novelli: The build-up to the festival has been thrilling. Lots of people have been contacting me and there is a lot of excitement before the event. I’m just very honoured to be able to be part of it.

The Bubble: Do you have any recipes you could share with The Bubble readers?

Jean-Christophe Novelli: A lovely fish recipe (from ‘A Mad Frog And An Englishman…Go Fishing’) is sea food stuffed pancakes…

Serves 8 people

Prep time 30 minutes

Cooking time 40 minutes

Ingredients

  • 200g mussels *
  • 100g clams *
  • 100g cod *
  • 4 scallops *
  • 100g prawns *
  • 100g smoked haddock *
  • 300g white mushrooms sliced
  • 2 small onions chopped
  • Small bunch parley finely chopped
  • 100ml of dry white wine
  • A little milk
  • 40g flour
  • 40g butter
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • 2 tsp honey
  • Sprinkle of cumin
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 start anise
  • 3–4 garlic cloves
  • 300ml fish stock or water
  • Small bunch of basil
  • 350g spinach
  • Salt and pepper

*or you can use 800g of one of the fish

8 pancakes

Method

1. Heat up a pan with a little oil and sweat the onions, mushrooms, 1–2 garlic cloves, spices and the herbs. Add the mussels and the clams to the pan and cover, when the mussels and clams are about to open quickly retrieve and place in a container with a little basil and a drizzles of olive oil, cover and leave on the side. It doesn’t matter if you get some of onion or mushroom in there too, but it is important that any juice goes back in the pan.

2. Bring the liquid in the pan to the boil and add the fish, cover and take off the heat. After 3–4 minutes your fish will be flaky and cooked, gently remove the fish from the pan, place in a container and cling film.

3. Next add the wine and 200ml of the fish stock to the liquid in the pan and reduce slowly for 20 minutes with the lid on. In a separate pan melt the butter then add the flower and mix together, once the flower has cooked out, add the reduce liquid (which should be around 250ml) and keep stirring until it thickens like a roux, remove from the fire and leave on the side.

4. Pour an espresso cups worth of the remaining fish stock in to a deep non stick pan with a little olive oil, 2 crushed garlic cloves, salt and pepper; When boiling add the spinach and cover to allow the spinach to wilt for 2–3 minutes. Drain the spinach, the liquid can also be added to the roux.

5. To assemble: lay out your pancakes, share out the fish and shell fish evenly between them, remember to remove the shell and only add the flesh; repeat the process with the spinach and finally a spoon full of the roux; keep some of the sauce as this will go in top of the pancake when rolled. Roll the pancakes and place them on to an oven tray side by side, like cannelloni, coat with the remaining roux and sprinkle with grated cheese. Place the pancakes in to a hot oven at 160°C until hot, this will take no more than 15 minutes.

This may only be a stuffed pancake but if done like this it will be very tasty.

Also if you want you can always serve the fish and the roux in a puff pastry case, roll out the pastry until 1cm thick, cut in to a circle or square and bake in a hot oven at 180°C for 15 minutes.

Look out for Jean-Christophe amongst many other excellent chefs at the food festival soon!

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