A fine dining feast with a wizard twist makes for an enjoyable alternative to restaurant dining, as Amy Norbury discovers
When Covid-19 hit two years ago, grinding the whole world to a halt, it was a time of unmitigated disaster for the hospitality industry. Restaurants were forced to close as we all retreated indoors, tables left empty and food left unserved. Luckily, it didn’t take long for a few ingenious souls to realise that if punters couldn’t come into restaurants for their foodie fix, then taking food directly to punters instead was the way to go.
This was no ordinary takeaway movement, rather the rise of fine dining in the comfort of your own home. Freshly prepared in restaurant kitchens and delivered chilled, ready to heat up and finish off, this was cooking without compromise. And it was a lifeline for many; a way to enjoy dining out while staying in, and a link back to the way things were.
For Stoke-on-Trent chef Cris Cohen, his Feast at Home concept was born out of necessity – but has become so much more. The at-home idea was no stranger to Cris; through his Feasted business, which is based at Stoke’s Spode Works, he offered fine dining dinner parties, cooking for clients in their homes. With a passion, too, for education, Cris and his team were also approached, pre-Covid, by Stoke-on-Trent College to offer a course in gastronomy – thus enabling him to share his love of food and knowledge of produce and technique with clients and students alike.
While restaurants have reverted back to normal operations, Cris has continued to develop his Feast at Home concept, taking inspiration from the seasons and locality, and working with local producers and growers to bring these flavours to life and give a sense of place. Offering a carefully curated box each month, and with each box playing to a theme, Feast at Home enables diners to find their inner chef and connect with the food they eat in new ways.
For October, Cris has created a playful nod to the month’s spooky reputation with a five-course extravaganza dedicated to everyone’s favourite wizard – Harry Potter. A Potter By Another Name makes use of beautiful seasonal ingredients, with dishes offering quirky links back to JK Rowling’s beloved novels and the films which were spawned from them.
Our box arrived neatly packaged, with each element clearly labelled, and instructions to store everything in the fridge until ready to cook. So far, so simple.
The preparation instructions, which Cris recommends you read through before starting, are clear and concise, with ingredients for each dish listed as per their labelling. With our ingredients lined up in order and our pans on the hob, we were ready to get stuck in.
The first job was to pop the miso-glazed pumpkin wedges for the starter into the oven, before cracking on with the intro dish; a pressed beef sourdough sandwich with fermented carrot.
Preparing the sandwich was mostly an assembly job, with the only cooking required being to toast the strips of sourdough in a pan of melted butter until golden and charred. With the sourdough ready, it was time to delicately layer up the beef brisket and fermented carrot and pop onto the plates before decorating with foraged stonecrop herb.
The beef was meltingly tender, the fermented carrot adding a slightly sweet bite and the sourdough was cooked to perfection – if I do say so myself. It was a delectable morsel, which perfectly whetted our appetites for more to come.
Now, pumpkin is one of those vegetables I don’t tend to cook with; the pumpkins which make it into our house are usually sporting a gory smile lit up by a candle. But the starter turned our idea of pumpkin on its head, being the standout surprise of the dinner.
The rich umami flavour of the miso glaze paired beautifully with the robust, slightly sweet pumpkin. Slivers of pickled apple brought a refreshing tang while the wilted radicchio, just requiring a few seconds in the pan, added a peppery note.
But the hero of the plate was the oat granola – a nod to Feasted Stokie roots and the city’s signature foodstuff, oatcakes. The exact composition of the granola remains a mystery, but it was delicious, and something I’d happily snack on forever more. A kiss of herb oil, artfully drizzled by yours truly, tied the dish together nicely.
Now, while on the surface it looked like the main course required rather more attention – as you might expect – it was again simple finishing. The lamb rump just needed a quick pan sear before popping into the oven for a few minutes, the potato purée – already in its piping bag ready to present – a quick warm through in a pan of hot water and the sauce a simple reheat. The presentation played on the Harry Potter theme with instructions to pipe the potato into wizard hats between each piece of lamb. It was easy to do, and tasted just delightful, the lamb so tender, the sauce a real flavour punch, the mash super smooth.
The main course was the last bit of cooking for the evening, as the sweet treats were all ready to serve. The dessert was a fantastic play on Harry Potter’s butterbeer, with a wonderful butterscotch tart and delicious beer-poached pear. The tart, in particular, was a triumph, with fine, buttery pastry and a rich butterscotch filling.
Chocolate frogs are a Harry Potter staple, and Cris’ version combined rich, dark chocolate with sharp fermented berries to glorious effect.
It was a truly magical feast; utilising seasonal produce to tremendous effect, and conjured up in our own kitchen with minimal effort – since Cris does the hard work for you.
A worthy alternative to restaurant dining when you fancy something a little different; I, for one, can’t wait to see what the next box has in store.
Feast at Home’s October box is available to order at www.feasted.co.uk/potter and is priced at £100 for four people, available for collection from Spode Works, or £115 for UK mainland delivery.