A fresh start

Peter Walters, Keele University’s Executive Chef tells us how to kick-start the New Year by refreshing our cookery style

It’s the beginning of a new year so let’s be positive and start the diet, begin a new pastime or follow a different, more uplifting path. It only takes a few small steps to start something new or finish something started. 

I plan to look more at some of the science of a meal. Not the molecular gastronomy but the way to influence the diners with the colours of the crockery, the arrangement of the food and the reduction of ingredients like sugar, fat and salt. There have been some tests on how people perceive food on different coloured and shaped plates and customers feel most comfortable with round white plates as opposed to angular ones. Colours play a big part and red plates make diners consume less or at least feel satisfied sooner whereas blue plates or trays encourage people to eat more. The way we arrange the food on plates or display areas also has a huge influence on how much someone is prepared to pay for a meal. A lot of which as chefs we already knew but there are a lot of clever psychological tricks being delivered to us on packaging and signage which we don’t always recognise. A good book explaining it all is The Perfect Meal: The Multisensory Science of Food and Dining, well worth a read.

Back to the diet. You managed to eat your way through the festive break and only went to the gym once or twice, so here’s a recipe for a salad for lunch or dinner. Spread it out in an arty way and you’ll believe there is sufficient to satiate you. 

Venison Salad of Walnuts and Pears

For 2 persons          

50g walnut halves
1 tbsp honey, runny
1 pear
2 cooked beetroots
Pinch of sugar
60g salad leaves (radicchio, cos, endive etc)
Sage, thyme and chives or spring onion (all fresh)
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
100ml rapeseed oil
50ml water
50ml white wine vinegar
100g venison (thinly sliced or shredded)
100g blue cheese, crumbled or cubed
Salt and pepper

1. Purée the cooked beetroot in a food processor with salt, pepper and a little sugar or honey. Thin with a little water.

2. Heat a frying pan over a medium heat then gently toast the walnuts for 1–2 minutes. Drizzle over the honey then toss the walnuts until they are coated and caramelised. Set aside to cool.

3. Make a dressing from the mustard, oil, water and vinegar by blending together, season with salt and pepper.

4. Core the pear then slice into 8 long pieces. Place the salad leaves in a large bowl, along with the pear and the dressing. Using 2 large plates arrange these elements but not in a cluster – make a picture. Streak the plate with beetroot purée in swirls or curves. Make some purées if you want with carrots or sweet potato and paint these in.

5. Shred the venison and flash fry in a little oil but keep it pink or cheat and buy a pack of smoked venison. If cooking fresh, drain then arrange.

6. Place in the cheese and honeyed walnuts then serve with slices of warmed crusty bread. If you don’t care about the calories and need more carbs then drop in some warm couscous also.

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