Opening the Old Stamp House back in 2014 was one of the hardest and most challenging things I’ve done in my life, never mind career. Giving up a job that I loved at The Cottage in The Wood, leaving behind great bosses and a wonderful team of staff. Not to mention the security that comes with being employed by someone else. But all that said I’d always wanted to own my own restaurant, it was the was my main career ambition, even more important to me than my other long held ambition to win a Michelin star.
Sometimes, now I’ve been lucky enough to achieve both these things, I think back, and try to remind myself of all the people who helped me get here, my parents, previous bosses who taught me, industry legends who guided me and the ‘John’s’, as my daughter calls them.
The first, John Watson, who farms at Yew Tree, Coniston and supplies my Herdwick and the second being, John Stott of Cartmel Valley Game. Not only did they both give me credit with no trading history: “just put an order in lad and we will sort it out.” They also acted as references, so that other suppliers and businesses would open trading accounts with my new business. But more importantly than perhaps anything else they listened to me, when I was unnecessarily tying myself up in knots about the decisions I’d made. They took stock and just reassured me, coming back with the same answer ‘’you’ll be fine.’’
A totally unintended aside from this and now one of the things that means the most to me as a chef, is the fact that the Old Stamp House as a business now sources most of its meat from these two suppliers. That means that it all either comes direct from the farmer or is from a wild source - but always Cumbrian.
This means we can guarantee the meat we use is the best available, we know with total confidence that the animals have been cared for and nurtured, that they haven’t been industrially or intensively reared, and as a chef and as a person both of these things are hugely important and make me happy.
For this month’s dish I use Roe deer, which we source from John at Cartmel Valley Game. It’s the most common of the two UK native deer, but you could use either for this recipe, the dish also works really well with Herdwick loin if deer isn’t your thing.
Roe deer isn’t the easiest meat to find, but head to your local a specialist butcher and they should be able to pre-order it for you. If you do this though I promise you won’t regret it, Roe deer is delicious, tender, high in protein and low in fat and much less gamey than Red deer. Because the wild Roe deer population is large, they are culled to manage numbers, so the chances are the animal you’re going to eat wasn’t bred and killed just for the dinner table, which always sits well with me.
Cartmel Valley Game is a true family affair, which John runs with his wife Sue and his daughter Georgina. They can be found near Cark-in-Cartmel, in the south of the county, close to Holker Hall, where John was previously Lord Cavendish’s head game keeper. As a business they produce a superb range of products, using the freshest naturally reared ingredients without ever detracting from the origin of those products. John’s products are simple, honest and straight to the point, a real taste of the Lake District, they’re not over-complicated or over-packaged, this is the proper Cumbrian way of doing things, which happily for me is just the way I like things, and to my mind the way things should be.
John’s smoked salmon (we now spend 90% of our time talking about salmon fishing), is the perfect way to start the day and his burgers and sausages are always worth searching out if you planning a barbeque in the summer or something hearty and filling in the winter. They don’t have their own shop but they do supply smaller independent shops across Cumbria, and if your just passing through the County and aren’t able to wander of course you will find his products on sale at the legendary Tebay Services on the M6.
Keep an eye out for Stotty delivering in one of his van’s or floating in a boat on one of the lakes, but to be honest you’ll probably hear him before you see him!
The garlic emulsion is time consuming and will produce more than you will need for this recipe. However, it’s really versatile and goes well with a wide range of things, especially vegetables. At the restaurant we finish it with pickled wild garlic capers, which I really recommend adding when the season comes around again. For the Roe deer try and get hold of a younger animal, because the younger the more tender the meat will be, so it’s worth asking when ordering for the smallest saddle possible.
Roe Deer Tartare (serves 4)
250g peeled garlic
300ml double cream
Pinch of salt
A 400g loin of roe deer, deboned and all sinew and fat removed. You need 100g per person
50g Dijon mustard
50ml olive oil
Tabasco to taste
Maldon sea salt
Nasturtium flowers and leaves (use watercress if unavailable)
1 Banana shallot
Rye bread (I use Aiden’s from Lovingly Artisan)
For the garlic emulsion, cut all the cloves in half and remove the germ. Place in a pan and cover with cold water, then bring to the boil. Remove from the heat as soon as they boil, strain and cover once again with cold water repeating the boiling method three times.
Place the blanched garlic in the pan with the cream and pinch of salt and reduce by half, transfer to a blender and blitz to a smooth puree pass through a sieve and set aside to cool. The puree can then be kept in the fridge for 5 days.
In a small bowl mix together the mustard and oil to a paste and season with tabasco, this can be adjusted to personal taste but I recommend just a couple of drops.
Thinly slice the rye bread and sprinkle with a little olive oil and sea salt, bake in a hot oven at 180oc until crisp.
Thinly slice a banana shallot and wash the nasturtium leaves
Dice the roe deer loin into 1cm cubes, and place into a metal bowl at fridge temperature. This should be done last minute just before you wish to serve it.
Once all the above is done you are ready to plate,
Firstly season the deer with Maldon sea salt and a splash of olive oil, then use you mustard paste to coat the diced meat. Its best to taste regularly at this point as it’s easy to put too much on and over power the taste of the meat.
Spread a spoonful of the garlic emulsion on to a cold plate and place some of the tartare on it, add the shallot rings and pickled wild garlic capers if available. Add the rye bread croutons and finish with the nasturtium flowers and leaves. Serve at room temperature.