16 June 2019, 08:15 AM
  • The renowned chef and Great British Food Awards judge shares what he's most excited about in food today
Chef Nathan Outlaw on the UK food industry

Having lots of wonderful produce to choose from is always exciting and, as a chef, it sets my mind racing with exciting ideas for new dishes. I’m sure it’s much the same for enthusiastic home cooks and with increased knowledge about ingredients, people are more aware of what they’re eating than ever before. It’s largely down to the plethora of cookery and food programmes on our screens, as well as social media. The way food gets from farm to shelf or restaurant table is no longer a secret and with more knowledge, I think people are doing their best to go for quality.

10 years ago it was virtually unheard of to see English wines on a restaurant menu, let alone in shops – now they appear regularly and are winning prestigious awards all over the world. It’s fair to say, though, that English wines tend to be more expensive than those from the traditional wine-making countries, mostly because our wineries produce less so need to charge more to be viable. Winemaking is a relatively new industry in Britain, but with the gradual change in our weather and warmer summers, the quantity and quality of homegrown grapes has really increased, thus improving the yield. It’s an area that could really do with some major investment and I’d love to see our wine producers be able to flourish and grow.

On a similar note, a decade ago the idea of having a beer in a fine dining restaurant would have been frowned upon. It’s historically been seen as the beverage for the masses, once being served because it was safer to drink than water! However, the upsurge of craft beers has changed all that; no longer the poor relation, it’s a flavour-packed drink that can pair beautifully with food. In my experience, the people who brew craft beer have a real passion and take great care to producing the very best they can.

Foraging as an activity has been around since the dawn of time but has re-surfaced in the last few years and become very fashionable. Foraging is great; it means you can have lovely hyper-seasonal produce for free! However, it’s important to make sure you know what you’re doing before grabbing a basket and setting off into the woods. And remember not to take too much – only what you need for your purpose at any given time. The only way that foraged produce can remain sustainable is by enough being left to re-seed the area. It’s a sharing activity, please take heed!

I’m a seafood chef and it still amazes me that, as an island race, we use so little of what literally surrounds us. In my opinion we have the world’s best fish and seafood around our coasts and we should really be eating more rather than sending it abroad. I’m often asked what my favourite species is and my answer is always mackerel. It’s tasty, sustainable and very versatile. I’m also a great fan of cuttlefish; again, sustainable but really underused in the UK. And then there’s all our lovely shellfish and crabs, most of which end up on dining tables abroad. Don’t even get me started on that!

The Great British Food Awards can be entered here.

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