The right source with chef Barry Vera

PUBLISHED: 10:02 15 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:14 20 February 2013



In the first of a regular column for Hertfordshire Life, chef Barry Vera explains the importance of keeping it local

A GOOD restaurant comes down a lot to the suppliers, because without good produce it is harder to create a great product.
I discovered a true gem on my own doorstep. The small village of Sarratt is home to The Watercress Farm. Now, I challenge anyone to find watercress that tastes as good as this. Jonathan Tyler is the fourth generation of the family running the farm with his father, Terry. The farm has been there since 1886. Terry told me that there were once 30 watercress farms in the area, now it is just them. The watercress beds look beautiful with crystal clear water running through them.

All in the water
Jonathan tells me the secret of good watercress is in the water. It is filtered through the chalk beds in the Chess River and is fed through the watercress beds, and there are eight Artesian wells used also. The watercress gets all its nutrients from the water and has such an intense peppery flavour; this is how watercress should taste. Unlike commercial growing they cut the watercress to the stems and then allow this to regrow, which in good weather will take 10 to 14 days.
These are true producers, producing for the love of the product. I did a test and bought a bag of watercress from a leading supermarket and a bunch from Terry. The taste and texture were so different, there was no comparison.

Cook from the heart
I like to find old-fashioned recipes and see what made them so good. I then recreate them and once they have been perfected they will go on the menu. As a chef I talk so much about food and traditions, and the more I speak with people about their thoughts and favourites they always come back to the days of our childhood memories. There was a scene in the movie 'Ratatouille' where the food critic was served a dish and as he took that first mouthful it took him straight back to his childhood memory of food from his mum; needless to say he was blown away.
Chefs need to remember this when cooking. I cook from the heart and for the customer; some of the cheapest or simplest ingredients can turn into the tastiest dish. You don't always need foie gras and truffles to turn heads or please palates.
Some dishes by name, texture or flavour will bring back memories, whether it be childhood, family meals, a romance or a holiday. In the end, a great meal is not just about the food and the wine. A great meal is a true emotional experience.

Laying the foundations
My chefs and I are obsessive about the culinary details and fundamental techniques that are the foundation of an exciting culinary imagination and a kitchen that delivers the very best products in Britain to the table.
We are so lucky as we have so much to choose from with regard to world food, but fly the British flag, support these humble producers and talk to them; they have so much to offer.

Barry Vera is executive chef at The Clarendon in Chandlers Cross.

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