A Very Special Surprise……..And Summertime Fun In The Curious Kitchen

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Saturday 27th June dawned the most stunning day so far this year, blue skies, still warmth, lush green fields, the curious kitchen landscape was very Mediterranean that morning. The Heart Kitchen team were bustling around early setting the scene for the biggest event so far, a surprise birthday celebration for Christian Pankhurst, organised by his beautiful partner, Sumir. We all waved them off as Sumir took Christian out for what was probably the most drawn out, stressful breakfast of her life so far…….

The guests began to arrive, brimming with excitement, and eager to see if the surprise would be carried off. Introductions were made, connections re-established, until Sue gave us the nod to be still and quiet, the man himself was walking up the path, hopefully oblivious to who was waiting behind the closed kitchen door.

The surprise on Christian’s face was absolutely genuine, he was totally shocked. Before he could take everybody in, his eyes rested on his old college pals, Andreas and Adam. He hadn’t seen either of them for many years and by the bear hugs he greeted them with, was extremely pleased to see them. He then took in everyone else in the room, and was clearly quite emotional to see the faces of so many loved ones, all secretly invited to share his day.

Simon allowed Christian a few moments to take it all in before adjourning to the very open air kitchen to commence the day together, in what was to be a spectacular feast of many of Christian’s favourite dishes, along with many surprises. Everyone shared their crazy food fact, some admittedly much crazier than others, Kim was grateful that she had only seen a picture of a deep-fried guinea pig, whereas Dan had to eat his! Sumir shared that she had only just learned that eggs didn’t have to be kept in a fridge, and several people had only eaten peas as a vegetable until they were grown up! Sue and Simon then shared the purpose of the day with everyone, which was essentially to HAVE FUN and ENJOY every moment, regardless of what emotions popped up during the course of events. I shared the menu (see below) that the team had devised, and the fun commenced!

Check this out, guys and girls you smashed it….Grazing lunch…. Focaccia 2 ways, goddess olives, crushed walnut & crumbled feta and chorizo & tomatoes dried under the warm Italian sun, drenched in Greek olive oil. Street style Shakshuka with baked eggs. Roasted tortillas, melting sheep cheese adorned with a fresh salad & berries to nourish our very souls. Fresh picked elderflower & lemons & wild smacked mint & cucumber water…Now it gets interesting…The celebration feast….. Whole Scottish salmon, cured and hot smoked over oak. Dashi infused tiger prawns, breaded and deep fried on a bed of shoots, peppers & ginger. Dorset saddle of lamb, stuffed with crushed redcurrants & mint, slowly roasted all day. Vibrant herby couscous. Pork knuckles with ripped bay & peppercorns slowly cooked in a cauldron over embers, pulled, roasted and served with zingy mustard mayo & a hash of sweet pots, carrot, onion and for the brave, grated black pudding. Raw by Kami, carrot soup shots. Pad Thai, 2 ways, sea noodles and spiralled courgette & carrot. Chickpea & bean Scotch eggs. Fresh live Cornish lobster, served on watercress & pea-shoot salad. Beef Massaman Curry created the authentic way, slow, slow, slow. Salads of wild rocket and foraged hedgerow plants and edibles. Goats cheese & caramelised red onion tarts…… Tasters of basil pannacotta. Salted caramel chocolate pots with chocolate grissini sticks. Wild strawberry chia pudding. M’Hanncha of almond & rose. Raw by Kami Chocolate, date & mixed nuts slices. Lip balms infused with love and for the birthday boy a Chocolate fudge brownie cake, slathered in chocolate & fresh berries…. All made by you, and so much more.

We foraged for herbs and fruit in the field, garden and woods, but there wasn’t a lot on offer today – it was too late for the wood sorrel, garlic mustard and ramsons, but too early for most fruit, so we made do with freshly collected herbs and a big armful of Fat Hen – an abundant weed from the vegetable garden. We made tear and share stuffed  focaccia, with fresh green olives, sun dried tomatoes , walnuts, and organic sheep’s feta; Moroccan Shakshuka, a spicy stew of succulent pappardew peppers, tomatoes and beans with freshly collected hens eggs gently cracked into it and baked; a cornucopia of fresh fruit, berries and avocados served with corn tortillas, a myriad of water was created, smacked mint & cucumber, wild elder flowers & woken up lemon,  and that was just lunch! The guests chilled in the fields and in the garden and enjoyed connecting with each other again whilst sustaining themselves on the delicious food they had made.

Session two began in earnest. We had to make the authentic curry pastes; get the salmon ready for smoking; prepare the ham hocks for braising in the witches cauldron; stuff the Dorset lamb saddle  with crispy fragrant dried mint and redcurrants; get the tiny dessert pots ready for the fridge; marinate the raw tiger prawns in the Japanese dashi; chop vegetables for everything, make mustard and wasabi mayonnaise from scratch; make shortcrust pastry for the tarts; (Judge experienced a completely new therapeutic and mindful experience whist rubbing  his sunflower spread into his gluten free flour!); chop the beef fillet for the Massoman curry and prepare the coating for the scotch eggs –  just a few of the jobs that Simon got everyone doing to help the feast come together. Sue got everyone in a circle to give a relaxing shoulder rub to the person in front of them, and then reversed the process so that everyone experienced a little giving and receiving. In the meantime, Sue was encouraging everyone to sneak into the dining room to help make a happy birthday banner for Christian – everyone had a sheet of paper with a letter on it and had to decorate the letter in their own style – very personalised!

In a moment of quiet (and there weren’t many), Simon invited everyone round the table to meet one of the main courses. He put a large box on the table and opened it, to reveal three huge live lobsters; startlingly beautiful in their glossy midnight blue with that neat gold trim, they look like admirals dressed-up for a night on the town. Two of them were rather angry at being disturbed, so it was rather brave of Christian and Milly to pick them up to honour them. Dan said a beautifully moving prayer calling on the elemental  spirits to honour the lobster, and everyone took a few moments to reflect on what was about to happen.

It is a very important part of Heart Kitchen to be mindful of our food and where it has come from; the journey it has taken to get to us, and the processes required to ultimately nourish us. These lobsters had been caught in a fisherman’s lobster pot on a beach in Cornwall on Thursday, had their vast claws tied so that they wouldn’t inadvertently remove anyone’s fingers and been brought up to Heart Kitchen on the Friday by train. They had then spent some time in the chiller which calms them, before being dispatched in a huge pot of rapidly boiling water. It then takes less than a second for them to die, and a further 15 minutes until the flesh is beautifully cooked and perfect to eat. Understandably, this was the tricky part of the process, we all gathered round as Milly immersed the lobsters into the water. Several of the participants were extremely moved at this point, it is a very emotional moment when you witness the death of an animal for the purpose of feeding us.

Phew! Tea-time and a well-deserved break for everyone with a little time out ending with a fun challenge, boys versus girls, to create a beautiful centre piece for the dining tables from all the abundant flora and fauna in the garden, rustic for the boys and a creation of explosive colour from the girls; before the third and final session where Simon let us all know that he wanted us to experience the absolute mayhem & calm of a professional restaurant before evening service, for those of you who have ever worked in a restaurant kitchen, you know how manic and fun it was going to become!

Chocolate and sweet potato brownies to be made and iced for the birthday cake; volcanic noodles to erupt, scotch eggs to be pannayed and fried, sweet potato and black pudding rosti to be griddled; smoked salmon and lobster to be picked and flaked and green salad made and dressed; Kami’s raw carrot soup to create, Pad Thai and chocolate balls to be made; chocolate pots to be chilled; strawberry chia pudding to be whisked and chilled; lamb to be carved, pork to be flaked; Thai beef Massoman curry to be finished off in the oven; Dashi prawns to be sautéed; red onions to be caramelised for the goat’s cheese tarts and another challenge, again men versus women, to create a delicious M’Hanncha in three minutes (such fun and laughter  with the girls being overly greedy and using far too much filling; Simon and Christian simultaneously inviting the girls to go and stand in the corner and think about what they’ve done! Results were two very different looking filo wheels, with the men rising as champions).  Finally, everything plated up, wild edibles scattered, candles lit and our food looking beautiful to adorn the feast table.

All that and only fifteen minutes later than planned! We must have embodied the Swiss time keeping chef after all! Although by the sights and smells coming from the Birthday table, we most certainly embraced the passionate, expansive joyful Italian chef too!

Before we sat down, birthday gifts were shared and we all gave thanks for the food we were about to eat. The tables were stunningly decorated with the two massive flower arrangements, one prepared and foraged by the women, consisting of huge blousy roses and poppies, very feminine; the other more minimalist – a base of dried beech wood with a vase of wood stems and a solitary bright pink lupin – more masculine and the winner the judges agreed!

The main course was devoured with gusto, plates were brimming over with delicious food, and all agreed that it was the best birthday feast ever, made all the more appetising by the fact that each and every one of us had been involved in preparing it for each other. English, French and Kiwi wines were served to accompany the spread along with a few beers, which flowed along with the conversation. A beautiful song, written and performed by Kami for the birthday boy, a truly amazing moment and what an angelic voice, and yes a candle lit cake created and shared by all.

Simon encouraged some mindful clearing up, to take a few moments to be grateful for the day. And we closed the day before dessert so that everyone could get on with the cheesy disco dancing, more celebrating and exchange of lip balms, an activity that Sue had organised whereby the participants had to feel in to their chosen (by Sue) partner and make an infusion that would suit them,  then create a wax lip balm as a gift.

We all shared what we were grateful for – Wow! There was so much gratitude in the room –  Sumir was delighted that she had got away with her secret squirrel activities and Christian hadn’t got suspicious of her sneaking round changing her passwords so that she could email all his friends without him knowing!

So, another successful day in the Curious Kitchen; the love I felt in the room for one man was tangible, and the beautiful moment for me was Christian acknowledging how much his friends all meant to him, and sharing his want to have more connection. Of course it was his best birthday ever!

As the sun slowly went down the moon appeared, we danced away, celebrated and yes a surprise circle was birthed, way into the small hours of the night.

In the words of Albert Einstein…. ” Everything is energy, match the frequency of the reality you want, you cannot fail to have this, there is no other way”.


Author: Celia

The Rambler, AKA Celia Dulieu
Celia has been sharing food, wine, recipes and friendship with Simon and Sue Gale for more than 15 years.
In a former life she was a mass caterer, working for large companies such as Selfridges, London; but after moving to the countryside with husband, 2 kids and dog, she resurrected her love of food, - particularly by entertaining her large extended family to lunches ,sharing informal get togethers with friends, and developing her small but productive kitchen garden. She is passionate about all things to do with food and wine; from where it is produced to how it arrived on her doorstep.
Celia’s love of meeting people, visiting places and trying different things has culminated in being invited to get involve with writing up the experiences of the Heart Kitchen and sharing her love of food with you through her ramblings.