Foraging for a feast in North Cornwall

PUBLISHED: 16:17 27 February 2013 | UPDATED: 19:51 05 April 2013

Making the most of the local fresh fish

Making the most of the local fresh fish

Plenty of hotel restaurants are offering locally sourced produce, writes ANDY COOPER, but not many offer the kind of hands-on experience he saw on a trip to North Cornwall

Foraging for a feast in North Cornwall

Plenty of hotel restaurants are offering locally sourced produce, writes Andy Cooper, but not many offer the kind of hands-on experience he saw on a trip to North Cornwall

How many times can you say your first experience of meeting the chef who is going to prepare dinner for you is seeing him dive head first into a hedgerow, armed with a sharp pair of scissors and the cutlery basket from a dishwasher?
Not many, Id vouch, and yet thats the experience I had when I first met Ryan Venning, head chef at Bedruthan Steps The Herring Restaurant and a man who certainly believes passionately in the mantra of sourcing ingredients as locally as possible.

As if to demonstrate that passion as vividly as possible, I found myself trailing Ryan as he tumbled down watercourses and scrabbled around at the edge of beach cliff edges, armed with his trusty scissors and somewhat novel collecting basket, seeking out the provenance of the land to prepare for cookery course being offered at the iconic hotel at Mawgan Porth.
Ryan is just launching a cookery course with a difference at Bedruthan an Asian Seafood Break which combines his passion for menus and flavours with an Oriental bent with the rich provenance of natural ingredients right on the hotels doorstep.
For example, who would have thought that within moments of our hectic scrabble around the undergrowth on a blustery Cornish afternoon, Ryan would be decked out in his whites back in the kitchen and combining the purslane, pennywort, mustard leaf and samphire we had just snipped from the rocks and verges into one of his signature dishes?
And what dishes they are. The kitchenwas soon a mix of wonderful, piquant, fresh aromas as Ryan took the fellow students and me step by step through the preparation and cooking of such varied menu items as Asian Steamed Alexander Sesame Buns to Scorched Szechuan Pepper Cuttle Fish.
So far, so delicious, but perhaps the highlight of the afternoons cooking was Ryans novel take on using the ingredients we had foraged and combining them into a fun dish which truly reflected the provenance of what we were using: a Cornish Rock Pool Dashi Broth.
Reflecting both the Asian theme of the course and the very surroundings where moments earlier we had been looking for ingredients, this amazing dish combining bonito flakes, konbu seaweed and Cornish seafood and vegetables was a hit with all of us.
Its so easy to be inspired by all the ingredients you can use around you, explains Ryan as he keeps a watchful eye on my attempts to braise some beautifully tender pork cheeks for the Master Stock Pork Cheeks dish he has set me the task of preparing.
I love just wandering out with the scissors and spotting things which might only be in season for a few weeks or even days in some cases. The freshness is incredible and the guys who cook in the kitchen here with me all love the idea of changing the menus to reflect what we know is available.
This course aims to combine a healthy amount of experiencing the foraging for yourself, getting to know and understand what is available on our doorsteps, with teaching some techniques we use for the restaurant.
Later on that evening we were able to experience the full benefit of Ryan and his teams expert knowledge. Bedruthan Stepsoffers two dining experiences the Wild Caf, where the previous evening we had enjoyed a delicious, no nonsense meal as families dined all around us.
The Herring Restaurant was an altogether more sumptuous experience, offering fine dining in a tranquil and understated atmosphere with magnificent views away over the beach stretching before us.
How lucky guests at the hotel are to have both restaurants available to suit their mood and that is before one possibly takes the opportunity to potter down the hill a few yards to the iconic The Scarlet for dinner or, indeed, the cheeky cocktail we treated ourselves to therefore before ambling back to The Herring for dinner.
The team at Bedruthan Steps has realised for some time that holidaymakers now expect more from their stay than a bed and a decent breakfast and so the Asian Seafood Break joins the long list of courses and experiences on offer for adults and children alike. There is everything from kite flying to karma-inducing Couples Delight spa breaks to keep everyone occupied.
And as you make your weary way to bed at the end of yet another enjoyable day, there is always the thought that you will open the curtains to THAT magnificent beach view the following morning.

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