Natalia Gonzalez

Natalia Gonzalez

I am a wine geek. I am totally fascinated by the fermented, fortified and distilled. I’ve been studying wine in various guises through travel, gastronomy, tastings, vineyard visits, books and courses for over ten years now and the bug has not abated.

Apart from the fact that I really enjoy drinking and talking about wine, I got completely hooked the subject when I realised how broad a topic it really is.  To have a rounded knowledge of viniculture and vinification (the processes of growing grapes and making wine) you find yourself studying history, culture, geography, agriculture, politics, business, marketing, anthropology…the list goes on.

Two weeks ago I graduated from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust in London with a WSET Diploma in Wine and Spirits. It was a long and nerve wracking wait for results, having passed my final exam in January 2019. The Diploma is a globally recognised qualification, infamous for the amount of self-study needed to pass…only the brave need apply!

My partner Rob and I moved to Tonbridge from London just over three years ago. We decided to move after a trip to see Ben and Kirsty Sulston whom Rob has known for over 20 years, having cooked with Ben as young chefs starting out in Cambridge.

At the time we moved I had just started studying for the diploma as a night school student. I have a demanding day job in the city and lots of personal commitments, so it is with gruelling first-hand experience that I admit to my naivete in starting this journey part time. The learning scope for this course was beyond anything I had ever encountered with a recommended minimum of 600 hours of study outside of class and excluding your written assignment. The course touches on every aspect of the wine and spirits world and you will sit 11 hours of examination by the time you’re done…that’s if you pass everything first time (I did not and had to subject my friends and family to copious amounts of sparkling wine to prepare for a resit. They suffered graciously). This is not for the faint hearted and I admire and respect anyone who embarks on this journey.

I am incredibly fortunate to share my life with an equally obsessed and dedicated Chef who has encouraged me to push myself that bit further further at every step, in the same way he has approached his career and learning in the culinary world.

Rob and I have worked on many collaborations over the years and towards the end of 2019, after hosting a number of events together, we decided to start a supper club in Tonbridge as an outlet for our creativity andthat focused as much on the drinks parings as it did on the development of the food.

We held our first Super Natural Supper Club event in TOFS development kitchen last November. Inspired by the fantastic produce and Game available in Kent, we developed a menu to showcase the best of the season. Reaching out to local producers we were able to source some beautiful duck, pigeon and venison from Chart Farm in Sevenoaks and work with local fresh fruit and vegetable wholesaler Seasons by Nature. Having such a innovative and varied menu to work with gave me the opportunity to get creative with the drinks pairing, finding wines that would not necessarily be an obvious choice but would would compliment the menu at each stage.

We kicked off the evening with a venison tartar dish served with a Kentish sparkling cider made by Charringtons, a fantastic cider producer based 10 minutes away in Matfield. Being able to visit the orchards and get in depth information on the growing and production of their cider and apple juice has definitely been a highlight of starting a local supper club.

We paired a feinherb Riesling from Germany, which had just the faintest amount of residual sugar, with a Duck and Beetroot dish. A dry Madiera wine was served with Pigeon and turnip and an elegant, full bodied Cabernet Savignon, Malbec and Cabernet franc blend from Medoza, Argentina, paired with venison and celeriac. The herbal notes in this wine worked amazingly well with pickled blackberries on the dish.  We finished the menu serving a Reserve Tawny Port with both the cheese course and the following dessert of chocolate and pears and ended the evening with coffee and brown butter madeleines.

We had such lovely feedback from our guests and so much fun preparing and hosting the Game event that we held our second supper club in December. This was a great success, serving a menu and drinks pairing inspired by our extensive travels in Spain.

Our Supper Clubs are a labour of love and we aim to give the absolute best value for money and service possible while delivering innovative food and wine that is unique and exciting. Our next supper club will be held on February the 7th and 8th at TOFS development kitchen and is inspired by the forefathers of gastronomy, french cuisine.

When Ben invited me to write a post for this website I wanted to take the opportunity to introduce myself and the Super Natural Supper club that Rob and I have started but also to share a little wine info. I had so many geeky wine ideas to write about that I didn’t know where to begin.

So I reached out to friends and asked … what would you want to read about in wine blog? They responded enthusiastically and here are a few of their questions…

Is there a wine that goes with anything?

For me, the wine that can be pared with practically anything would be a good quality sparkling white wine.  Whether this is champagne, Cava (my personal favourite for taste and value for money) or English sparkling wine you will find this doesn’t offend the vast majority of dishes. It can be drunk alone or with sweet dishes.  It can be paired with bar snacks, cheese, fish or meat.  It stands up to spicy food and strong flavours and works beautifully with vegetarian dishes.  If in doubt, choose a sparkling white wine.

Can you really get a decent bottle of wine at a super market for less than £10?

Yes. It is definitely possible although I always encourage people to think about what can actually make a wine a little more expensive (outside of Burgundy which has set the price level astronomically high).  Fair labour costs, hand harvesting, natural and ethical farming methods and distribution will all add to the cost of your wine. In much the same way that it effects other consumable products that we buy. However, there are some gems out there. I am particularly fond of Toro Loco organic tempranillo from Aldi at £4.99 a bottle (we came across this wine for the first time in Spain) and Waitrose Classic Cotes du Rhône at £6.99 is a decent bottle from a spectacular wine producing region that is home to some of the most expensive wines in the world.

 

Is Aldi wine really as good as the media makes out?

Some of it is really pretty good. Particularly wines from smaller producers.  I mentioned Toro Loco earlier at a very reasonable price, there is also a nice range of organic sparking Italian wines from Castellone Organico. At a little higher price range you can find Amarone Della Valpolicella DOCG £12.99 and Jean-Paul Seguin Sancerre £15.99 that are both very nice wines.  Its a good place to start trying different styles of wine to see what you like without spending a fortune.

What grapes should I look for if I want light red wines?

We are big fans of light red wine at home and although the wine making accounts for a lot in the style of wine there are some general guides – Pinot Noir is the queen of light red wines – the cooler the climate the grapes are grown in will usually give a lighter wine but I would also recommend looking for the Gamay grape if you like light and fruity wines.  Beaujolais are the most famous Gamay wine and readily available.  Saniovese which is the grape used for Chiante also fits the category and try to seek out natural wine producers making young wines for something interesting. There are some great suppliers on line. Check out pullthecork.co.uk

Does an older wine mean it’s a better wine?

This is a huge topic to cover and depends very much on the specific wine as ageing wine will definitely change it but not necessarily for the better. Some varieties are generally considered more age worthy that others – Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Nebbiolo to name a few. This has a lot to do with the tannic structure of the wines that breaks down slowly over time and make the wines more approachable. That said many wines are not meant to be laid down for decades and will be most enjoyable drunk young.

Wines labels grand reserva will most likely be subject to minimum ageing requirements, for a red Rioja wine this is two years in barrel and 3 years in bottle minimum. These will be more complex and refined than younger wines from the same region but not necessarily better depending on your taste.

If you intend to spend a large amount of money on a very old bottle or case of wine this should come with certification of how it has been stored – even the most age worthy wine can be ruined by light, temperature and humidity

What’s the best way to store wine at home?

The key things to remember when storing wine at home is light and temperature. Wine hates fluctuations in both! A cool constant temperature and protection from sun light will keep wines happier for longer.

What makes a wine vegan?

Traditionally, some fining agents used to remove particles in wine that are too small to be removed by filtration can make a wine unsuitable for vegans as they can contain egg and certain proteins derived from animals, however, contemporary vegetable based products are becoming far more popular. It is more likely that a wine is vegan friendly than not and while producers are starting to add this information to wine labels, especially as vegans diets become more popular, there is currently very little legislation globally that requires this information to be noted on the bottle.

 

The answers above are my opinion and are brief, there is always more to say and I will be discussing these subjects along with a bunch of other food and wine related topics on the Super.Natural.Supper.Club website when we launch later this year.

February

February

 

We had a brilliantly busy January here at TOFS with private events and a host of new supper clubs with some incredible chefs including Stuart Deeley winner of Master Chef. We have also added new dishes to the café menu including the very popular spiced aubergine and tomatoes on toast.

Down the road at TOFS Development Kitchen we hosted our first private event of 2020. Our 8 guests were treated to a tasting menu with some astounding matching wines chosen by the guests. I also hosted my first Supper Club of 2020 there, which made me feel very nostalgic as it was three years ago to the month that I held my very first Supper Club in January 2017.

Julie Friend held her Cook Book Supper Club at TOFS Development Kitchen showcasing the wonderful food of Ottolenghi, which as always received huge praise from the guests. For her February Cookbook Supper club, Julie takes us on a pescatarian food adventure with one of her heroes, Rick Stein. To book click here.

We have got a busy month ahead in February. My Supper Club is at TOFS for two nights on 14/15th and we have 3 pop ups at theTOFS Development Kitchen including on 7/8th the talented Rob and Natalia of Super Natural Supper Club hosting their latest pop up. To book click here.

Check out our events page for more info on our pop ups in February!

If you would like to book TOFS Development Kitchen for a private event please get in contact through the enquiry form on here or email me ben@oldfirestationtn.com

VEGAN ATHLETE

VEGAN ATHLETE



OUR LATEST GUEST BLOG IS WRITTEN BY JP AN ASPIRING VEGAN ATHLETE WHO IS A BLACK BELT IN BJJ TRAINING AT ELEMENTS BJJ IN BRIGHTON.

I say I athlete…. at 48 married with four kids and working in IT, I’m like everyone else addicted to this aggressive hugging.

So here’s some context… I just got my black belt. It’s taken just over 9 and a half years.

In that time I’ve tried to ensure that I train a minimum of three times a week for approximately two hours each session. That can vary, sometimes it’ll be a little less, other times more. The intensity also varies but I’ve always like to roll competitively too. By that I mean yeah I can do the flow roll thing or spar at lower than 100% but I enjoy rolling when it feels like you’re both going for it and you’re being pushed.

In addition for the last four plus years I’ve added strength training and cardio work on the days I can’t get onto the mats.

Thing is, at my cranky old age if I don’t rest/refuel/recover correctly then my body lets me know which in turn dials my crankiness up to an extreme level.

I want to be on the mats as much as possible so I have to EAT.



Now I always wanted to switch to a vegetarian diet as to me deep down it seems the right thing to do. Burgers, dirty chicken and a lack of will power have continually perpetuated an internal conflict…. but there comes a time.

I didn’t mention it because I wanted to avoid that “how do you know if someone is a vegan” cliché, but I pretty much follow a vegan diet. Don’t worry the righteousness isn’t about to explode from your screen. It’s because my wife has a dairy allergy. So seeing as we don’t eat meat, she can’t have milk stuff and we like to eat together that means? yeah vegan….. -ish ?

First thing everyone says is “how do you get protein?”. Well actually the first thing everyone ever says is “I love bacon too much”.

Anyway the question of fuelling correctly if you change your diet is a good one. Luckily transitioning from a meat to non-meat diet has been done before so there are literally tons of good sources out there. In my case it was mostly handled by my amazing wife who happens to be a Personal Trainer. She has an unquenchable addiction to purchasing recipe books and a ridiculously low boredom threshold. This means that our evening meal options are varied and to be honest that’s key when changing to a non-meat diet. You have to be prepared to try a completely new approach especially as for most people meat is the centrepiece of a meal.

A typical day looks a bit like this:

Breakfast: Black coffee. Porridge: Oats, almond milk, banana, peanut butter, maybe some maple syrup.

Lunch: If I’m at home then avocado on sourdough toast. Maybe with marmite…. or mushrooms… or both. If I’m not at home then something totally crap from a shop or vending machine.

I’m so lazy

Dinner.

If I said things like salad or grains then I wouldn’t sell it well. Mainly because with those things you have to re-think what you think a salad is. Same with how you use grains. So instead of that, how about noodles? Everyone loves noodles right?



THIS IS FROM ANNA JONES “A MODERN WAY TO EAT”

Bunch of purple sprouting broccoli

200g Soba noodles

Shredded red cabbage (not loads… half a small one… probably)

Brown rice vinegar

Maple syrup

200g Smoked tofu

Sesame seeds

spring onions

Soy sauce

Juice of 1 lemon

toasted sesame seeds

handful of roughly chopped coriander

Get a pan with some water and heat that sucker up. Then drop in the broccoli. DON’T boil it until it’s limp, instead just simmer it for a couple of minutes.

Fish out the broccoli, then chuck in the noodles. They’ll probably have some cooking instructions on the packet. Once cooked, drain and run cold water over them.

Now chuck the cabbage in a bowl with a pinch of salt, a tablespoon of rice vinegar and the same of maple syrup. Mix that shit up.

Heat up a splash of oil in a frying pan. When it’s hot as hell, add that tasty tofu and sizzle it until each side is crisp as fuck. Add some sesame seeds, stir it up so the seeds stick to the tofu. Then take the tofu out.

Bit more oil, bit of heat and throw in the spring onions. When softened add a tablespoon of rice vinegar and a couple of tablespoons of maple syrup as well as some sesame oil, soy sauce and lemon juice. Cook it for a bit and it’ll get nice and thick.

Throw the noodles back in and stir it up so they’re covered in that thick ooziness. Dish that up. Add the cabbage, tofu and broccoli…. wait we’re not finished. Top with a sprinkle to toasted sesame seeds and chopped coriander.

Yeah that’s DAMN tasty.



I do get asked if there any benefits……Apart from the sanctimonious stuff you mean? yeah I definitely feel like my weight doesn’t fluctuate as much. Previously I would vary between 77kg-82kg. Now I am pretty much static at 77/78kg.

My energy levels feel more consistent too. I think that’s because previously I would eat less carbs but more protein, whereas now I eat LOADS of carbs


SO WHAT’S THE SECRET?

There isn’t one…. IT’S EXACTLY THE SAME. Yeah you read that right. Just because I’ve changed what I eat, the same rules apply. Eat well and eat often.

I still eat crap occasionally, which I should cut out as I prefer competing at lightweight, but when I wander into the kitchen and see packets of crisps…. I mean who knew that if you slice up vegan cheese, put it in a wrap, then put the wrap in the toaster you can make the laziest dirty vegan grilled cheese style thing ever?

Oh and vegan salad cream on crackers is a thing.
A tasty evil thing.


Maybe I’m just trying to relive my “eat any old shit” days as a singleton but without death. Who knows? Who cares? BTW I really like this article: https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/there-is-nothing-pretentious-about-being-a-vegan-723

See you on the mats

JP

Julie Friend

Julie Friend

Julie Friend was one of the first winners of BBC MasterChef back in 1997. Here she tells us a little about what she’s been up to and her connection with myself and TOFS

 

 

“I moved from London to Kent a few years back and first met Ben at his pop-up supper clubs at TOFS. It seemed to be the only venue locally, that had got that London vibe I still craved, although since then, the whole town has developed a real food culture about it. The minute I witnessed the style and flavours of Ben’s food, I knew we’d get along. Like me he wants to have fun whilst working, so spending time in the kitchen with him is always upbeat, although he has the best poker face too, so permanently catches me out with little ‘pranks’ (I’ll get you one day Sulston). Ben is all about the flavour and quality of locally sourced, seasonal ingredients – an ethos I love.

          My food career has taken a winding journey since winning MasterChef back in 1997. I have taught cookery, run my own delis and catering business, been a private chef to TV stars and MP’s, and helped small food businesses set up – a real eclectic mix. Now I spend my time on food writing (for Kent Life and Italia Magazine), product development, chef work and supper clubs.   Occasionally you’ll find me at TOFS covering Ben while he takes a well deserved holiday and also at my supper clubs in his old Sulston’s site.   I started the series of Cookbook Supper clubs, as I realised, I had this huge collection of books from which I rarely made the actual recipes. As a chef you tend to use them for reference or inspiration but I wanted to start making the exact dishes and sharing my experiences with others who may also be fans of the author/chef or who may just want to try something new.   The evenings are relaxed and informal and I not only cook for the guests but also discuss cooking tips and share foodie stories and adventures with them. It’s like one big dinner party except you leave us to do the washing up!   I am so grateful for the friendship and connections I have made with Ben and of course, Sam, through TOFS and am excited for what we can do together in the future – Ben and I are hatching plans for a real ‘smoke and mirrors’ Heston Blumenthal extravaganza….so watch this space!”
Development at TOFS

Development at TOFS

The story so far………

It has been an amazing first 6 months as Development Chef at The Old Fire
Station. We have already achieved so much as a team and on a personal level I
have been able to create lots of new recipes and concepts for all aspects of TOFS
from the café to events and pop ups all the way through to private dining
occasions.

Some simple but important developments are that we now bake our own TOFS
cookies fresh every Wednesday morning, which are proving a huge hit. We also
now make our own triple chocolate brownie and flapjacks that are perfect
snacks on the go or to have in the café with your tea and coffee. All these recipes
have been evolved in house, which has meant the staff doing lots of taste testing
#itsahardlife!

Working with Jordan (Team America) for the opening of the new café, his love
for BBQs inspired me to me revisit some of my old recipes. I have created some
new TOFS products such as our BBQ sauce, pickled slaw and BBQ seasoning that
all now form an integral part of our events and feature in our Friday TOFS
burgers. The burgers have become the perfect end to the working week for
many! We create a new burger each week so stay tuned to our social media to
find out what the burger will be each Friday!

I love using favorite recipes I have developed over my career such as my
Christmas stollen. We serve this to all our Christmas party guests with coffee. I
have picked up some very special recipes along my journey from some amazing
chefs that simply don’t need any more development, like the lemon tart from
Ockenden Manor in West Sussex and the beef and saffron risotto from Graze in
Brighton both of which feature on TOFS function menus.

I am delighted to have launched TOFS Development Kitchen in the old Sulston’s
Kitchen location. It provides other chefs with a platform to showcase their skills
and test out new concepts. Recent examples include Rob Dant and Natalia
Gonzalez with their Super Natural Supper Club – the perfect combination of
beautiful food and wine. Julie Friend has created a real buzz with her monthly
Cook Book Supper Clubs – cooking recipes from books that have influenced her
over the years. The famous Ottolenghi is the focus of her next supper club in
January. We are so lucky to have the Master Chef winner cooking regularly for us
here in Tonbridge. I’m passionate about bringing the communities of Tonbridge
together through the love of food.

I look forward to the next 6 months at TOFS. We have lots of plans across the
business and will be introducing new menu items and products including a
Toblerone croissant for the cafe!!!

For more info on up and coming events at the Development Kitchen and at TOFS
head to The Old Fire Station website.