According to his mate Curtis Stone, 39-year-old Brendan Collins is a “pub-loving meat man” who’s a “big softie” at heart.
The two chefs worked together over 15 years ago at Marco Pierre White’s Quo Vadis restaurant in London and have followed similar paths, now both whipping up storms in the hot and fancy kitchens of Los Angeles.
Indeed, Stone loves his friend’s food so much, he raves about it in the foreword of new book Cooking, Blokes + Artichokes. But despite having all the knowledge and skill to create dainty and delicious dishes, Collins loves nothing more than good, home-cooked fare.
“My views on food are quite simple: it should be fresh, tasty, and no more complicated than it needs to be,” says Collins. “That isn’t some kind of ‘ethos’ dreamed up over days spent gazing philosophically at a bunch of radishes. It’s the only thing that makes sense to a bloke raised above pubs in the north of England.”
Collins’ parents worked as pub relief managers, so he found himself moving around England, learning a lot about life, and a little about cooking along the way. At 15, the Nottingham native enrolled in culinary school, becoming classically trained before landing his first job at none other than London’s two Michelin-starred Le Gavroche.
“I got my degree on a Thursday and by Sunday was on a train to London looking for work. I was 17, and that was the beginning of a restaurant career that’s taken me through some of the best and swankiest restaurants in London and Los Angeles,” says the father-of-one, who lives in LA with his wife Eden and daughter Saffron.
“Most people who meet my missus are quite jealous when they hear that her husband’s a chef,” he adds. “They must think I come home from a 70-hour work-week, pull on the old apron and start boiling stocks, cracking lobsters, harvesting the home garden and milking the dairy cow that we keep tied up out back…
“The truth is, by the time my day off rolls around, I’m usually knackered and want nothing more than to enjoy my limited time with my family, eating good but simple food and having a laugh together.
“The country cooking of my boyhood has always remained at the front of my mind, and I’ve never lost sight of what a good, honest home-made dinner looks like.”
Sounds good, doesn’t it? Why not follow Collins’ example and cook your dad a proper man-sized meal this Father’s Day?
He recommends pouring yourself a shandy (“It’s a family drink; mellow, refreshing and light enough that it won’t put a tired chef immediately to sleep”), then you can roll up your sleeves and get stuck into these ‘pa-fect’ recipes…
- 15g unsalted butter
- 100g sliced white mushrooms
- 900g minced lamb
- Sea salt
- 4tbsp Caramelised Onion Compote
- 4 slices Gruyere or other Swiss cheese
- 4 burger buns
- 20g rocket leaves
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Olive oil for drizzling
- 4tbsp Special Sauce
For the Caramelised Onion Compote:
- 120ml extra virgin olive oil
- 900g white onions, thinly sliced
- 1tbsp brown sugar
- 1/2 bottle stout or porter beer
- 2tbsp beef stock
- 1tbsp balsamic vinegar
- Coarse sea salt and freshly cracked pepper
For the Special Sauce:
- 115g Greek yogurt
- 1tbsp diced roasted red pepper
- 1tbsp diced cornichons
- 1tbsp diced capers
- 1 1/2tsp fresh lemon juice
- 1 1/2tsp harissa paste or harissa powder
- 1tbsp chopped fresh mint
- 1tbsp chopped fresh coriander
- Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- To make the Caramelised Onion Compote, heat the oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan set over a medium-high heat until it shimmers.
- Tip in the onions and brown sugar, stir to coat them with oil and spread them evenly in the pan. Reduce to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until you smell the sugars release and the onions become soft and translucent (about 30-45 minutes).
- Chuck in all the liquids and cook until they’re three quarters reduced, continuing to stir the onions regularly – or else they’ll burn. Season the mixture with a good grind of pepper and a teaspoon or two of salt, to taste.
- Remove the onions from the heat and let them cool completely.
- Load the onions into a sterilised jar and close it tightly. The compote will keep in the fridge for around two weeks (if it lasts that long).
- To make the Special Sauce, chuck all the ingredients in a small bowl, mix them well and season the sauce with salt and pepper.
- When you’re ready to make the burgers, heat the butter in a cast-iron pan over a medium-high heat until it melts and begins to foam. Add the mushrooms and cook until soft and golden (about four to five minutes). Set aside.
- Prepare your grill for medium-high-heat cooking.
- Divide your lamb into four 225g portions. Season them generously with salt and roll each into a ball. Wrap the balls tightly in cling film and then flatten them with the heel of your hand into patties about 12.5cm in diameter and 1cm thick; the plastic will help mould and pack the meat. Use your thumb to make a dimple in the centre of the patty (this helps the burger keep its shape as it cooks). Remove the cling film.
- Gently place the burgers on the grill over direct heat. Resist the urge to mash them into the grate with a spatula, which does nothing to help them cook nicely. Leave them alone for three minutes for medium-rare; add a minute or two for a better-cooked burger. Flip them, and after two minutes, top each with the Caramelised Onion Compote, mushrooms and cheese. Cook the burgers for a further minute, then remove them to a serving plate or baking sheet.
- Place the buns on the grill cut-side down for a minute or two to warm them. In a small bowl, dress the rocket with salt, pepper and a bit of oil.
- Spread the bottom of each bun with Special Sauce, then transfer the burgers to their buns. Top them with the rocket, close with a bun and serve.
- 900g Maris Piper or russet potatoes
- Sea salt
- Rapeseed oil for frying
- Scrub the potatoes under cold water. Using a sharp knife, square off their round edges slightly, then slice them 1.5cm thick.
- Preheat the oven to 190C/gas mark 5.
- Chuck the chips in a pan and cover them with cold, seawater-salty water by at least 2.5cm.
- Bring the water to the simmer over a medium-high heat. It’s important to always start potatoes cooking in cold water and heat them gradually, which allows them to release starch and prevents them from becoming gummy. Leave the potatoes to cook all the way through, five or so minutes after the water begins to simmer.
- Line two baking sheets with greaseproof paper. Gently remove the potatoes from the hot water to one of the sheets and place them in the oven for two minutes to dry – this will help them crisp in the fryer and develop a really crunchy outside shell.
- If you’ve got an electric fryer, use it, because they’re way safer. If not, take a heavy pan and fill it half full with oil. Position a thermometer in the oil and heat it nice and slow over a medium heat until the temperature reads 150C.
- Transfer the potatoes to the fryer in batches and fry them until pale golden, for about two minutes. Remove them from the fryer with a slotted spoon or skimmer to the second parchment-lined baking sheet, and place them back in the oven for a further two minutes. At this point, the chips can be cooled and stored in a sealed container in the fridge for a day or two.
- Increase the oil temperature to 190C and return the chips to the fryer once more, again working in batches. This time, cook them until deep golden and very crisp, for two to three minutes. Move them on to kitchen paper and hit them with salt. Serve immediately.
Sticky Toffee Pudding
- 55g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
- 500ml double cream
- 100ml muscovado sugar
- 2 1/2tsp golden syrup or molasses
- Fine sea salt
- 8-10 pitted Medjool dates
- 1tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 175g plain flour
- 1tsp baking powder
- 150g granulated sugar
- 4 medium eggs
- 1tsp vanilla extract
- 1tbsp brewed espresso
- 1tbsp black treacle
- Whipped cream, ice cream or creme fraiche, to serve
- Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4 and butter a 22cm porcelain souffle dish (or a baking dish of a similar size).
- Knock together the toffee sauce by bringing the cream, muscovado sugar, golden syrup and a pinch of salt to the boil in a medium saucepan over a medium-high heat, stirring often to melt the sugar.
- Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring constantly, for about five minutes, until the mixture is thick and coats the back of your spoon. Pour half of the sauce into the prepared souffle dish and place in the freezer. Set aside the other half.
- Now to the pudding. Heat the dates and 240ml of water in a medium saucepan set over a medium-high heat. Once the water begins to boil, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the bicarbonate of soda. Set the pan aside someplace where you can keep it slightly warm.
- Grab a medium bowl and sift together the flour, baking powder and half a teaspoon salt.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (hopefully – or you can do this by hand), beat the butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the eggs, then the vanilla extract, followed by the espresso and black treacle. It’s going to look sort of curdled, but that’s normal.
- Stir in half of the flour mixture, then the dates and water, then add the remaining flour mixture until just barely mixed. Don’t overbeat the batter or it will raise up like a 15th-century Scottish rebel group when you cook it.
- Remove the souffle dish from the freezer and scrape in the batter. Bake for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the pudding comes out with moist crumbs attached.
- Spoon portions of the cake into serving bowls and douse it with your reserved warm toffee sauce. Serve with whipped cream, ice cream or creme fraiche – whatever takes your fancy.
Cooking, Blokes + Artichokes by Brendan Collins is published by Kyle Books, priced £19.99. Available now