NUR x CUB pop-up

IN

Chef Nurdin Topham shows us his workings for the “Nourishing Gastronomy” pop-up we supported at Ryan Chetiyawardana’s pioneering Lyan Cub, May 2019

On Pop-ups

NT: Since being back in London, I have tried to make sense of my surroundings and to express my food through various pop-ups. This spring, I collaborated with CUB in Hoxton for a week of serving a one-off set menu. Ryan & Doug have created a great partnership at CUB, championing sustainability and leading the way with their food and award-winning drinks; their guests are increasingly demanding and educated.

Deciding on a menu for any pop-up meal, I find is a difficult creative process. The menu is a representation of where one stands politically and one’s ability to source noteworthy & relevant ingredients. [Read more about Nurdin’s approach to ingredients here >] Ultimately for us chefs, despite credible kitchen experiences in the past, you are only as good as your last meal.

Barbecue Tongue salad

Tongue for me has always been a delicious part of the animal which I feel often gets ignored in the UK as a source of rich protein.

I changed my menu last minute and found myself in Smithfields meat market at 7 am one morning, two days before my first service. I needed to source ox tongue for 150 portions.  Owing to the hard working nature of the muscle, it develops lot of connective tissue which yields a wonderful melting texture. At NUR, I had developed a recipe with the team using Wagyu tongues.

Getting the ox tongues was not the only problem that needed a solution. I found it hard to decide upon the other ingredients for my menu as I felt disconnected to London. What was my ‘food’ here and now? 

A foraging summit hosted by Botanist and Bruichladdich, on the stunning island of Islay back in 2017, was the perfect reconnection with the wild. I was in awe of a brand which produces the most delectable carefully-crafted drinks and champions a connection with the land.

Foraging in London

Why Forage? One way I keep inspired living in an urban environment, is observing and learning about the many edible plants that grow within our city.

Picking wild plants is a way to connect to our early agricultural heritage. These wild plants are cousins to the common edible plants we find in supermarkets. This aids me when it comes to finding authenticity in flavour, delicious taste, texture and positive nutritional potential – I believe this is my expression of an alternative luxury in a menu.  A walk down the street, into our local park, a cycle along the canal or over to Walthamstow marshes, there exists a wide variety of habitats where different plants and trees offer edible opportunities and an indication of the life cycle.

A couple of days before the pop-up began, I received a delivery from Bello wild foods. Chris the owner is a fountain of knowledge with all things wild and edible. This mystery box was his seasonal snapshot of the most incredible wild ingredients. Contained within were stems, leaves, seeds and flowers from inland and from the seashore. Each offering a range of colours, flavours, textures & aromatics. I nibbled and smelled my way through the box with a smile, knowing it would elevate my menu.

Another inspiration was pioneering farmer Calixta from Flourish produce. She grows ingredients with minimum intervention, yielding plants with maximum flavour and nutrition. She arrived with mustard leaves bursting with flavour, sweet edible tulips, an edible red bush blossom and a wonderful asian brassica called Fun Jun which was sweet, delicate & floral. This brought me straight back to Asia.

Artichoke, Peas, strawberry mint & marjoram || Pickled Vegetables & Shittake Biltong

Although never fully happy, I was content with the dishes I had served for the pop-up. The food was very much a reflection of my past, present and future inspiration.

Here are some details then, of the dishes we served on the NURxCUB menu. The meal began with some lightly pickled vegetables which like an acidic, bitter leaf salad, is designed as perfect bites to enliven and promote positive digestion. Through our many trips in Asia, in particular Japan, making umami rich pickles has been a long-lasting pursuit of mine and I believe a great way to start a meal.

The tongue dish came together after managing to source some organic Irish ox tongues and covering them in a 5% salt brine for 48 hours, infused with dried Hong Kong spices and some fresh marjoram stalks. We chopped and carefully rendered some organic beef fat from the internal organs which provided a wonderful cooking medium for the tongues overnight at low temperature. The resulting flesh was tender, delicately seasoned and delicious. Finally grilled over Binchotan charcoal and glazed with a rich beef tare we made from roasted oxtail and shaved Katsabushi. 

With the artichoke dish I combined the old with the new. Artichokes have always been a plant I love. I remember them growing in our garden in Wales, my mother would boil them and we would eat them simply with garlic butter. Artichokes are rich in inulin, a form of non-digestible carbohydrate which help feed the beneficial bacteria in our guts known as prebiotics. My friend Stuart from Crucible drinks lab made a tonic tincture out of the artichoke trimmings. This liquid contained the active constituent Cynarin which can be beneficial to the liver. The nutritional potential in foods truly inspire me to curate ingredients into my menus – we offered guests a taste of this ‘work in progress’ extract.

Together with the Cub team we accompanied the artichoke dish with a Spritz style drink made with Botanist Gin, celery & broad bean juices and naturally balanced in sweetness with liquorice over ice.

Broad Bean Botanist Spritz

The Cub pop up made me realise I need my own space where I can further my investigation and development into delicious, noble foods, and nutrition.

As a chef today I care deeply about the state of our industry of how we will shape of our foodscape tomorrow. How will we retain important relationships with those who grow and produce our foods? How can we successfully nourish a city like London? How do we promote food democracy? What part do chefs play in this? I hope to cook food which engages guests in conversations highlighting these questions. Just as I pushed nourishing gastronomy in Hong Kong with NUR. It’s a journey I feel I am ready to take on now in London.

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