The Last True Independent: Gareth Jones RIP

It is with the deepest sadness that we confirm the passing of Gareth Jones on 10 July 2015 during a celebratory family holiday in Puglia, Italy, a country he adored.

The language of food is one of passion and Gareth spoke it fluently.  Wherever he went, he sought out the real story, the story at the heart to challenge and delight for Last of the Independents.

Gareth will be repatriated on 21 July.  A London Service will take place in August, details will be posted here and we will contact friends and followers by email and FaceBook.

We have taken great comfort from the messages of condolence we have received so far, further thoughts and memories can be communicated privately via this site.

We will carry on with his mission of spreading Blue Collar Gastronomy to the world.

Meanwhile he cooks with the Angels,

Joy, Huw & Tom

18 July 2015: Monopoli, Puglia

IMG_2758Gareth in his element, Puglia 9 July 2015

Posted in Apulia, Blue Collar Gastronomy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Gelato love has strong Welsh roots

area-llangollen-big (300x200)Growing up in 1950s rural Wales grounded me in food. We ate in season and most fresh produce came from the garden – ours or friends who’d share when there were gluts.

Llangollen (300x225)Welsh mountain lambs came from the hills around. Black beef from the valley pasture. Pigs went more for ham and bacon – every farmhouse I visited with Grandpa had a fatty flitch hanging off big black hooks bedded deep into the white-washed kitchen ceilings. Butter was near white and fresh churned on the farms. Chicken came from those farm yards, wild brown trout from the brooks and some of the best of salmon from the river Dee. I’ll stop with mushrooms from the meadows, wild strawberries from the hedgerows and plovers’ eggs off the plough.

Trips out to the coast, a couple of hours away from our house, meant ‘Italian’ ice cream.  It was ‘Italian‘ because it was made by Italians who’d chosen to settle around the coast and open ‘milk bars’  many of which became ice cream parlours. Whether they took the word ‘parlour’ from the dairy farm’s milking parlour is lost in time. They were cool places for sure – decorated in ice cream colours with contemporary furniture that owed more to the American diner than Italian roots. We’d seen nothing like it. The swooshing and wooshing of the 6 or 8 port shiny chrome or testa rossa Gaggia’s, the clinking of the glass coffee cups, the music from the juke box and the ice cream. The word ‘gelato‘ was many years off entering my vocabulary.

My rock & roll was born in the Italian ice cream parlours and coffee bars – Buddy, Jerry Lee, Lonnie, the Everly’s and Elvis came into my young life over tubs of this Italian ice cream. This was something one couldn’t have at home and that made it more special again. Flavours seemed limited to vanilla, strawberry, chocolate – still the world’s three most popular flavours – although there were maybe more. Also for the parents there were tutti-frutti and cassata, but we kids didn’t care for Sicilian candied peel. I’m sure there’d have been knickerbocker glories, sundaes and banana splits – the first being deemed vulgar,  the second being as sedentary as childhood Sundays and what’s to say of the banana split except that bananas were a rare treat back then after WW2 rationing.

Sometime in the mid-1960s a certain Michael Forte arrived in our town – brother of one who was to go on to become Sir Charles. The Forte’s became family friends and I found myself a holiday job working as a barista. We had real gelato and were allowed to indulge ourselves. It takes the years to roll by so as one can appreciate one’s early awakenings in real food.

Spin on the years and my love of good ice cream has never dissipated. The prefix ‘Italian’ keeps showing up wherever I get to taste superior ice cream – not just in parlours like Pelosi (sadly no longer family run), Morelli’s, Verdi’s, Minghella’s and others I’ve visited. Which was the one in old South Shields where I’d stay with ‘Aunties’ – three eccentric spinsters from my mother’s Scottish family, one even had a moustache and makings of a beard. Aunt Beatie was  best – she being the local photographer and so outgoing. Beatie always took us for Italian ice cream and spoke a good few words of Italian too.

IMG_9237So many of the seaside gelaterias are still in business across the British Isles and in our favourite ports of call like Llanes (Asturias), Etretat and Le Tréport (Normandy). Lucky too in making this special – once couldn’t have this Italian delicacy at home so place was as special as taste.

IMG_2247Industrial, high overrun ice cream can never compete with gelato – the two are as different as an apple from an orange. Gelato maestro Vetulio Bondi explained: “It’s like ice and snow. Ice is hard and snow is soft. Air makes the difference, as long as it’s not over-used.”

Here, just today I was sent this ingredients panel for an American ‘Premium’ ice cream by a good friend in Idaho: INGREDIENTS: Milk, Skim Milk, Cream, Sugar, Strawberry/Banana Revel {Strawberries, Corn Syrup, Sugar, Banana Puree (Bananas, Sugar, Ascorbic Acid), Water, Modified Corn Starch, Natural Flavor, Food Acids (Citric, Malic), Red 40, Blue 1, Pectin (Pectin, Dextrose)}, Fudge Revel {Water, Corn Syrup, Sugar, Palm Oil, Chocolate Liquor, Cocoa Processed with Alkali, Pectin, Mono & Diglycerides, Polysorbate 80}, Pineapple Pieces, Cherries (Cherries, Water, Corn Syrup, Sugar, Modified Food Starch, Citric Acid, Sodium Benzoate, Potassium Sorbate, Fruit Concentrate, Natural Flavor, Red 40), Mixed Nuts (Almonds, Cashews, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Salt), Corn Syrup, Mono & Diglycerides, Carob Bean Gum, Guar Gum, Carrageenan, Cellulose Gel, Cellulose Gum, Vanilla Extract, Artificial Flavor.

Is it only in America they can find an ice cream machine big enough to include all those industrial ingredients, little of them on sale to the home gelato maker – thanks be.

Main ingredients of a Florentine Bondi gelato are full cream milk (3-5% fat) with cream added to no more than 10% of the mixture. Then sugar – brown or white depending on the recipe – with a little dextrose (80:20 ratio). If the recipe is say with pistacchio, Bondi buy in Greek shelled new season pistacchio’s. These are roasted in a medium oven for 10′, cooled and then a little sunflower oil and salt are added before the mixture is chopped fine enough for it to have some texture.

If the gelato is to be fruit flavoured, for example strawberry, they take 1kg of fresh hulled strawberries, ½ litre of water, 300g white sugar, 100g dextrose and juice of half a fresh lemon. This is liquidised, added to the milk and cream. 15′ later the machine is ready with perfect gelato.

IMG_2349 (225x300)Talk to any artisan gelato maker and their story is the same. They prefer to make each flavour in small batches – it takes no more than 5′ or so to clean down the machine for the following flavour. The process is continuous and the gelati are always fresh. All the gelati makers I talked with raved about the Bravo™ gelato making machine from Brescia.

I know Brescia as the northern end of the Mille Miglia. I know it too for hunting and Beretta – we tasted the Beretta family’s wines only two years ago. Now I learn that the city of Brescia has more gelaterias than any other Italian city.

“Such high concentration of gelaterias encourages people to enjoy more gelato. It keeps competition high. That’s exciting for gelato, yes, no?” smiled Vetulio Bondi.

Industrial ice cream is frozen deeper and many months old. They rely on heavy overrun and use the likes of palm oil. Overrun makes money as it greatly increases yield – and air comes free but for the energy used to turn the machines. Once again, industrial food production comes under doubt for its practices which have been going on with ice cream since my childhood and probably long before. “Some make their ice cream with whale fat,” we were firmly told as children without even the wave of the forefinger.

IMG_2227 (225x300)Back to the happy world of gelato and we learn of the original recipe still made today by another Florentine gelateria,  Badiani, where their maestro is Paulo Pomposi (left).

IMG_2230 (225x300)This is the Unico Buontalenti, said to be the recipe first made in the late 1500s when the Medici family commissioned famous artist and architect Bernardo Buontalenti to prepare a beautiful feast for the visiting King of Spain. Using his culinary skills to present an elaborate and visually pleasing display, Buontalenti presented the King of Spain with a creamy frozen dessert that we now call gelato. Buontalenti is thus considered the inventor of gelato and Badiani’s recipe stays true to the 16th century original.

Reads almost like ‘Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie……..wasn’t that a tasty dish to lay before a king’.IMG_2295 (225x300)

IMG_2228 (225x300)Then we taste a gelato named ‘The Black Pearl of London‘ from London’s newest gelateria (ie opening soon) run by an architect turned gelato maestro, Massimiliano Leoncini. Fabulous Ice Fires will open in days at 54 East Dulwich Road (London SE22 9AX) – it promises to be a star turn for the jaded capital.

IMG_2311 (225x300)‘Black Pearl’ gelato is made from milk, cream, sugar, rubdi (mango base), mascarpone, green cardamon, saffron, kewra (panadanas syrup), rosewater, oyster brioche wafer, chilli and black pearl topping.

IMG_2264 (225x300) (2)London gelato makers fought back with Oddono’s Bacio di Dama. “It was actually a mistake. Bacio we know is the Perugina flavour based on hazelnut. An assistant bought pistacchio. We tried it and wow! A new flavour was born in the Oddono chain,” explained Christin Oddono – a man whose grasp of technology almost scared me.

I rewound myself to my visit to Carpigiani in Bologna – their university and museum. Being like minded I signed the pledge back then to help make gelato understood as being distinct from ice cream.

IMG_2417 (225x300)Then comes the Gelato Festival rolling into London with its F1-style trucks. Would I help launch the festival they said?

IMG_2280 (225x300)The trucks each have names – Buontalenti, De’ Medici and Il Ruggeri. They are homages to the history of gelato – and here I quote:

‘………It was during the Italian Renaissance when the great tradition of Italian gelato began. The famed Medici family in Florence sponsored a contest, searching for the greatest frozen dessert. A man named Ruggeri, a chicken farmer and cook in his spare time, took part in the competition. Ruggeri’s tasty frozen dessert of sweet fruit juice and ice (similar to today’s sorbet) won the coveted award, which immediately put Ruggeri in the spotlight.

IMG_2279 (300x225)The news of Ruggeri’s talent travelled quickly and Caterina de’ Medici took Ruggeri with her to France. Caterina was convinced that only he could rival the fine desserts of French chefs – and had to make his specialty at her wedding to the future King of France (then Duke of Orléans).

In the late 1500s, the Medici family commissioned famous artist and architect Bernardo Buontalenti to prepare a beautiful feast for the visiting King of Spain. Using his culinary skills to present an elaborate and visually pleasing display, Buontalenti presented the King of Spain with a creamy frozen dessert that we now call gelato. Buontalenti is considered the inventor of gelato.’

IMG_2453 (223x300)At this point consider this – we are in Old Spitalfields Market in a custom built gelato truck named after Caterine de’ Medici. Wouldn’t she be proud to know the truck full of gelato was minutes away across the street from the first settlement of French Huguenots – the Protestants she did so much to help from their persecution in France.

DSC_9462 (2) (159x300)Speaking at the launch press conference, my good friend the Italian Trade Commissioner, Fortunato Celi’ Zulo turns accepted history on its head. He is a proud Sicilian – he is also a cook and, says he, he once made gelato for his family’s deli back in Sicily.

He tells of frozen desserts first coming into Europe with the Arabs when they settled in Sicily. They would eat flavoured snow from Mt Etna where they’d have buried fresh fruits to preserve them through the achingly hot summer months.

The Ancient Romans did the same by using snow from Mt Vesuvius.  This was eons old and the true origins of sorbet / sorbetti – a story as pure as driven snow we might say.

Fortunato offered his story from Sicily about the arrival of gelato with a restaurateur from Palermo, Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli. In 1689, Procopio moved from Palermo to Paris where he opened a café serving exotic coffee and drinking chocolate as well as ‘a refined gelato served in small glasses that resembled egg cups’.

Le Procope, as the café was known, became hugely successful and gelato spread throughout France and into other parts of Europe. We still have Le Procope at its original address in St Germain – 13 Rue de l’Ancienne Comédie (7e). I have walked past so many times without knowing its importance to the world of gelato. Since the 1960s, I have rarely moved out of St Michel and St Germain when in Paris. It’s all there – Le Procope was the first café; La Petite Chaise on Rue de Grenelle (opened 1686) was the first restaurant. I celebrated my 25th there.

IMG_2430Back then to Buontalenti and the Florentine Paulo Pomposi who has the gelateria ‘Badiani’  (Viale dei Mille) known to all for their recreation of that first ever gelato recipe known simply as ‘Buontalenti’. This is a perfectly balanced mix of full cream, egg yolks, sugar and vanilla – imperative is the word balance. This is gelato. I have found my nirvana. Like with the finest cassoulet of Castelnaudary, Caterine de’ Medici has impacted on my life.

When Countess of Lauragais in 1530, she introduced the South American white lingot bean to Castelaudary. Her brother, Alessandro, had gifted her a bag of these beans at her marriage, claiming them to have aphrodisiac qualities. This became a tipping point for the cassoulet’s excellence – and why Castelnaudary has been recognised since the 1920s as ‘La Capitale Mondiale du Cassoulet’. There’s even a sun bleached, beaten up sign on entry to the town on the RN in from Villefranche and Toulouse – or was all those years we’d stay nearby through the 1980s.

We have Expo Milano happening right now and to celebrate we have a gelato in Expo logo colours – mango, strawberry and kiwi. If I don’t make it to Expo, at least I have tasted the logo.IMG_2238 (225x300)IMG_2233 (225x300) (2)

More, far more to come on gelato and what I learn from the masters before their F1 trucks roll on to Amsterdam and Valencia. My Valenciana family is well known to these pages – so expect horchata, saffron, citrus and nisperos. When in Amsterdam, will there be Jenever, Ketel One and if someone’s smart enough with recipes from WW2, tulip bulb – like the soup we ate there in February at the amazing Amsterdam Food Symposium.

IMG_1332 (150x200)The emphasis is always on local meaning sourcing the best local ingredients and getting as close to 0Kms as possible. That’s the Italian drive right now and Slow Food’s Carlo Petrini supports it all the way.

‘Made in Italy’ is one of the world’s biggest brands – millions are spent to promote it and millions more to protect it. Gelato is but one example of Italy’s right to the laurel wreath in desserts. I learned that at an early age – in Wales – and now I get to play with the real toys of gelato in a big grown up truck. I am happy. ‘I scream, you scream, we all scream……….gelato’.

IMG_2433 (300x225)My special thanks to Gabriele Poli, director of the Gelato Festival for helping me with this article (seen here left of shot). Thanks too go to ICE Londra, Vetulio Bondi, Paulo Pomposi, Massimiliano Leoncini and Christin Oddono for sharing their art. You made a Welsh boy very happy.

All you need to know about this summer’s Gelato Festival as it rolls onto Amsterdam, Valencia and then home to Italy: (225x300)IMG_2281 (225x300)IMG_2284 (272x300)IMG_2287 (300x225) (2)IMG_2327 (225x300)IMG_2302 (225x300)IMG_2374 (300x225)IMG_2383 (300x163)IMG_2446 (300x225) IMG_2345 (225x300) IMG_2451 (225x300)IMG_2411 (300x282)








Posted in 0Kms, American Dishes, Food of the Ancients, Food travel, Gin & Jenever, Ice Cream & Gelato, Ingredients, Normandy, Real Italy, Southern Italy, Terroir | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Salt Mashes, Inter-Allies and Cold Gigots

Part of my time in food has been in the red meat trade – helping take across to France and Belgium the best beef and lamb that British farmers reared. Our clients were importers, butchers and chefs in France, Belgium and Germany – some further afield. We were working with the best selected carcases, as is always the way with export. Breeds were important, so was provenance. Imagine a time when, taking a cue from the Icelandic ‘Cod Wars’, the so-called Lamb Wars (and definitely not the French board game known as ‘Geurre des Moutons’) were raging on front pages of the French press and this writer inviting 40 of France’s main meat importers to a meeting in central Paris.

IMG_0537 (300x296)My brief was to turn minds. With help I organised the venue and took charge of the food; a group of farmers crossed the Channel to talk meat with the biggest meat men from Rungis. Beef was never threatened; only lamb collided with those big tough men from the Massif who wore sheepskin waistcoats, sang loud songs and spoke their mind.

We succeeded in getting a near full house. The chosen venue was on the über chic Faubourg St Honoré, No 33 being the next house along from the British Consulate. The meal was to be a buffet campagnard in the salon overlooking the gardens. The weather was kind. The chef was kinder.

Ribs of beef, selected, slaughtered and hung on the hook for 40+ days and legs of salt marsh lambs from Romney and South Wales took centre stage. Most of my colleagues were sniffy about serving cold lamb in November. I stood my ground and chef was my support. The legs became gigots and were tunnel-boned to be roasted to rosé pink; when cool they were sliced through and set in aspic. The beef stayed on the bone as the very symbol of an England then rich with pure beef breeds. Ours were Hereford  and Black Angus – large and small carcases as if to make a point on choice. It’s worth mentioning the wine – magnums of an unfiltered Morgon sourced from Les Caves de la Madeleine’s original shop in the mews off Rue Royale. We had budgets to do things properly back then.

37 of the 40 invitees showed in the courtyard on the dot of 12 noon. If I’m honest my mentor at the Consulate had pulled the master stroke. We were to meet and feast at the exclusive Cercle de l’Union Interalliée – a club established in 1917 where the allied commanders and senior politicians could meet and talk world affairs. This was late 1970s and the club’s premises were still closed doors to all but those who had connections. The Cercle’s house and gardens made the British Consulate and Embassy look like a poor relation and I write that without prejudice and knowing both. That the sky was bright blue and the garden still much in flower only made the day better still.

IMG_0543 (300x270)The farmers took their brief well. They were united on the party line of ‘our lambs rank well against the best that France produces’. We knew the French wanted to buy, but politics had rather dirtied the page. Already they were importing quantities of ‘Belgian lamb’ with both sides knowing these were carcases from England and Wales coming in through Ostende. Always we were against the vile, cruel and unnecessary trade in live exports. Thanks be, that never appealed to the French who knew their meat and preferred it not be stressed, unlike customers further south who don’t deem lamb as fresh unless it’s slaughtered in to order.

IMG_0542 (300x225)All our lambs were from the salt marshes and we’d tasted them against those from the Cotentin peninsula. In the UK our carcases were graded as no more than ‘lamb'; in France we could make a 10-20% premium for pré-salé (salt marsh) lambs. French pré-salé has strict rules under the AOC – the lambs must be reared ‘sous la mère‘ and allowed to graze on the salt marsh grasses for a minimum of 75 days. Some ‘sous la mère‘ is raised for the Easter Sunday feast as ‘agneau du lait‘, milk fed lamb – the sweetest, smallest lamb you will eat where a leg or shoulder just about feeds two diners with modest appetites, but where flavour over-rules volume thanks be. Again, one pays a high premium for such luxury and there are ever fewer abattoirs prepared to handle the trade as slaughtering baby lambs can make grown men cry.

In Genoa’s Mercato Orientale there’s a man who comes across from Sardinia every week to sell nothing else but milk lamb and kid in season. In Boulogne we can buy salt marsh lambs off the AOC Baie de Somme. Many of the lambs reared on the British salt marshes go for export where they mercifully make higher prices for the farmers, so only by sourcing from a good butcher can you be sure of the real thing.

This was the spring and summer lamb of my Welsh childhood, when the smaller Welsh mountain lambs made way for those from the coast. Edwards’ the Butcher – and father to my school friend Tudor – taught me meat without realising he was teaching or I was learning. My Grandma finished off my schooling in good Welsh lamb as it came from the Aga in her kitchen.

IMG_0529 (300x221)Premium pricing can bring with it trickery and dastardly acts. With the essential minimum requirement for a lamb to be labelled ‘salt marsh’ it must be finished on the marshes. This means that unscrupulous traders will bring lowland lambs to the marshes for their last few weeks. I was tipped off on this in Normandy with several butchers and a cook telling me that unless I knew the farms and the lambs came with guarantees of provenance, then just possibly I was being tricked into paying a premium for an also-ran – not until one tastes does one know which way the dice has tumbled.

We can buy meat on conformation and I will ask to taste a sliver when in doubt, but not until the joint is cooked does the full story emerge. Engage with the butcher and ask questions; if he’s indifferent or reticent to talk, then best find another butcher – just don’t do this on a busy Friday or Saturday. We have a new breed of butcher and farmer in the UK who want to share their stories – witness Jan McCourt at Northfield Farm as one such a man (

IMG_2123 (225x300)A shoulder of pale pink salt marsh lamb came our way this week – from a butcher tucked away across from Jackson’s Fields in Rochester, Kent. There I found a butcher who wants to talk about his meat sourcing. £15 is the going rate for a new season shoulder; the salt marsh shoulder comes to me at £18 – a deserving price premium. It’s cut from the carcase as we talk sheep.

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The best ingredients call for the simplest preparations. The slight bitterness of baby artichokes will offset the sweetness of the meat; Jersey Royal potatoes finished with salty Breton butter will be there too.

IMG_2162 (300x225)This year has seen the joyful return of real Jersey Royals after 4-5 years of indifferent taste and texture. Ours are creamy, kidney shaped and undoubtedly grown under seaweed in sloping coastal fields. We have twice feasted on nothing more than Jersey potatoes dressed with the Breton butter – the trick being to melt the butter first and serve at table over potatoes that have been allowed to cool, and not put the solid butter into the dish with potatoes straight from the stove. It took many visits to Germany to learn the art of a good boiled potato – Hamburg’s historic potato week helped plenty.

IMG_2146 (225x300)I trimmed off what little excess fat there was – barely a handful that lessened the weight only a few grams. Note the pure white colour and no whiff of ‘sheep’ that sometimes comes with and older lowland lamb. IMG_2127 (300x225)I removed the blade bone (scapula) to use as a trivet and make for smarter carving. Fresh lightly chopped garlic went into where the scapula once was – then just the lightest coating of olive oil and a squeeze from a fresh cut lemon massaged on by hand – then finally a little coarse sea salt – from Cervia as it happens, as if to celebrate the Festa Artusiana.IMG_2150 (225x300)

We cook in a well aged cazuela. Potatoes are baked whole from raw in its larger brother. A little olive oil and some coarse salt – then half way through cooking, over goes fresh cut rosemary, twigs and all. Give the pan a shake and expect the potatoes cooked in an hour or thereabouts.

IMG_2175 (300x278)The shoulder roasts on at 170-180°C and is alternatively basted and doused every 15-20′ – this is important to build up the patina and texture of the skin. I baste with pan juices; I douse with my finger over a bottle of Soave. This is no exact science.

IMG_2188 (300x225)The meat is ready in around two hours. Then a 20′ rest before bring to table to share in the No 19 way – each diner cuts their own choice pieces from the joint following no carving etiquette, just instinct.

IMG_2194 (300x225)We started this when the boys were young and shoulder of lamb is rarely served any other way.

IMG_0548 (300x225)Lamb off the salt marshes only gets better as the summer rolls on. The grazing is thin and so these lambs tend not to go to fat. September has them at their peak condition – fully grown and still lean. A good time to talk to your butcher.IMG_2198 (225x300)


Posted in AOC, Beef, Genoa, Lamb & Mutton, Memories, Mercato Orientale, Normandy, Rare Roast Sirloin, Salt Marsh Lambs | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment