As the summer hots up, David has picked a delicious salad which is a riot of sunshine colours on the plate. It is an exuberant, celebratory first course or an accompaniment to almost anything – a melting duck confit, fillet of trout or some grilled goat’s cheese.
David’s inspiration, as with most of the menu at Opus, comes from the ingredients that suppliers deliver each day to the Cornwall Street restaurant, which now also oversees the kitchen at the new Café Opus at the Ikon Gallery in Brindleyplace.
Since opening its doors almost eight years ago, Opus has blazed a trail for local, seasonal British produce. The day I was there, the pig farmer (from Stratford-upon-Avon) was paying a visit, a posse of chefs had been to visit the Westlands Wow farm near Evesham where vegetable supplier Edward Alain Cook gets its edible flowers and the fishmongers in Brixham were on the phone reporting the day’s catch.
All in a day’s work for David, whose menu is influenced daily by fresh ingredients.
“Some chefs think about techniques and combinations of ingredients all the time, in an abstract way, but for me the process is more tangible, sensory. I have to see, smell and feel the ingredients,” says David. “It’s all about what’s fresh and in season. This dish is light, healthy and full of different textures and flavour and it can so easily be adapted to whatever ingredients you can get or grow.”
Summer Beetroot Salad with Beetroot Puree and Pomegranate Dressing (Serves 4)
Beetroot and beetroot puree
125g each candy, golden and red beetroot
3 bay leaves
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
75ml rapeseed or vegetable oil
1 tsp caster sugar
Pinch salt & pepper
Place the beetroots in three separate pans of cold salted water (to maintain individual colours) each with a bay leaf, and bring to the boil.
Lower heat to a simmer and cook for two hours or until you can insert a knife easily.
Drain the beetroot and allow to cool, again keeping them separate to avoid the colours blending.
Wearing disposable gloves to avoid staining your hands, top and tail, then peel the beetroot. Keep at room temperature for serving.
Put the beetroot trimmings into a blender or small processor with the sugar, seasoning and vinegar.
Blitz until smooth then add oil gradually while blending. Alternatively put the trimmings in a bowl and blitz with a hand blender.
Set mix aside ready for use.
Pomegranate dressing and salad
100ml pomegranate juice
1 egg yolk
1tsp red wine vinegar
Pinch of salt
100ml pommace oil or light olive oil (not extra virgin)
50ml rapeseed oil
150g selection of salad leaves
Small mooli or a piece cut to the same size as your carrot
1-3 asparagus spears
A handful of red radishes
Baby herbs and edible flowers to garnish (eg Amaranth, Baby Coriander, Violas)
Fresh pomegranate seeds (from half a small pomegranate).
Put the pomegranate juice into a small pan and simmer over a medium heat until it has reduced down to about 50ml. Leave to cool.
Whisk the reduced juice, egg yolk, mustard, vinegar and sugar until lightened in consistency.
While blending, gradually add the light olive oil and then rapeseed oil. The mixture should become viscous and creamy looking.
Season with salt and pepper and a little more sugar if needed. Store in a refrigerator for later.
Using a potato peeler or mandolin, cut the mooli, carrots, radishes and asparagus spears into fine ribbons.
Place in bowls of iced water with ice cubes which will help them curl up and stay crisp and crunchy.
They can be left like this in the fridge overnight or for several hours.
Cut the beetroot into slices and arrange on each plate
Put some puree on each plate. For a professional touch, drag a teaspoon through to create a ‘cheffy’ stripe.
In a bowl mix a combination of salad leaves of your choice with ribbons of carrot, mooli, radish and asparagus and two to three tablespoons of the pomegranate dressing and toss until coated.
Place the leaves and other salad vegetables over the beetroot, dress with pomegranate dressing.
Sprinkle over fresh pomegranate seeds.
If you or any of your guests can’t eat raw eggs, just omit the egg yolk.
Your dressing will have more of a vinaigrette consistency rather than a creamy emulsified one.
For this dish use only the top end of the asparagus spears – save the rest of the stalks for soup.
All garden centre violas and pansies are edible, as long as they haven’t been sprayed with pesticide while in bloom.
If in doubt, remove all the flowers when you get the plant home.
This will help the roots when you re-pot the plants and they will flower again quite quickly.
For a professional finish to your salad and many other dishes besides, a plastic squeezy bottle with a fine tip will enable you to drizzle and dot vinaigrettes and sauces with flair as well as keeping them fresh in the fridge.
Opus buys beetroots, baby herb leaves and edible flowers from Edward Alain Cook, specialist fruit and vegetable wholesalers, Unit 88, Birmingham Wholesale Market, Pershore Street.
* Have a go at this recipe and tweet pictures of your finished dish to @birminghampost
Kitchen Confidential with David Colcombe
What’s your first food memory?
My mum was always one for bargains and the fridge was full with whatever she’d bought cheap from Birmingham markets like mince and lamb’s heart. As she worked long hours, I would have to cook tea for me and my brother – I was seven, he was three. That’s what you call Home Alone! Cooking wasn’t a calling or something that I always wanted to do – I was football mad and cooking/eating was something to be done as quickly as possible so we could go out and play football.
Who taught you to cook?
I was self-taught out of necessity rather than inclination but my interest grew after I did a catering course at Solihull Technical College from 16 - 18 where one of my lecturers was Bill Farnsworth, now retired from UCB Birmingham, who is still a friend. When I finished I decided to work in London as Birmingham’s food scene was nothing like it is now. In those days, hotels were the places renowned for the best food and I sent off about 100 letters, ending up with an apprenticeship at The Dorchester under Anton Mosimann who taught me everything I know about classical cooking. He had a brigade of 98 chefs and everything was done in-house – butchery, fishmongery, baking, everything from scratch. I started as a fourth commis – there’s no such position any more but it was a good way of paying you nothing, but you learned so much.
Favourite TV dinner?
No cooking required – cheese and red wine!
Favourite food to eat?
I love fish – particularly turbot and scallops, which you will frequently find on the menu at Opus. It’s all about the produce, simply done, no messing about.
Three desert island ingredients?
Assuming I can forage for the fresh ingredients, it would be salt, pepper and olive oil.
Who has been your biggest inspiration?
Apart from my teachers and mentors like Mosimann, I was inspired as a young chef by the book White Heat which was like a bible to fine dining. It was the first book I bought and I was in awe of dishes such as Oysters on a Tagliatelle of Vegetables with a Glazed Sabayon.
What’s your pet hate in the kitchen?
Noise, sloppiness, bad hygiene. I’m a bit obsessive really. Maybe not quite as bad as David Beckham turning all the labels the same way in the cupboard but everything has its place. The fridge has to be well organised, the worktops clean and clutter free. That’s not to say I want to inhibit the chefs’ creativity and inventiveness – I’m all for innovation as long as there’s some order and discipline.
Apart from a knife, what’s your go-to gadget?
Pestle and mortar and a spatula, which I call Maurice – not like a pet name, it’s actually mourice in French and is a flexible spatula that has a square, concave spoon-like shape.
Most memorable meals?
I’m lucky to have dined in some of the world’s best restaurants but if I had to name one place which provides the magical combination of a beautiful setting and perfect food, it would be Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons. I’ve eaten there once every decade in my 20s 30s and 40s and it’s as good now, if not better than the first time I ate there.
It’s been the old gas breakdown on more than one occasion. Once we had to shut the restaurant entirely, on another we served up cold dishes to valiant customers who decided to stay put.
Cooking for eight world leaders at the G8 Summit in 1998. I was working at the Swallow Hotel (now Marriott) at the time which was taken over by President Clinton and his entourage for the whole summit. At Opus, we’ve had everyone from the Governor of the Bank of England to comedians David Walliams and Matt Lucas.