Fresh, fast food to relish
Forget burgers from vans, the new way to eat al fresco is by embracing street food, a traditional culture of cuisine that only uses the best local ingredients. Emma Harrowing talks to two guys who are bringing the concept to Norwich.
It's a dining experience worthy of a Michelin star. The sounds of orders being called into the pristine kitchen, the sizzle of the griddle, the enthusiastic shout of 'yes Chef' and the opportunity to watch your meal being prepared, cooked and presented makes it a food experience to savor.
But this is not a description of the latest restaurant establishment to grace Norwich's eating out scene. In fact, this is not a depiction of a place made from bricks and mortar at all but an original 1968 Globetrotter Airstream caravan, which is made its debut at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival (NNF) in Chapelfield Gardens.
It seems contradictory to say that van food usually found at the side of the road or at an event or festival can be in the same league as a high quality restaurant, but a new revolution of street food has designs on the East Anglian food scene, aiming to educate and change perceptions of food that you can buy from a mobile van.
Relish is founded by head chef Mark Blake, who has over 25 years in the industry and was and to some extent still is the executive chef of The Crown in Stoke by Nayland, a pub that became the critics' choice in the 2011 edition of Michelin's Eating Out in Pubs guide. Together with co-founder Anthony Reilly from Norwich, who has a background in working on the PR for international brands such as Jack Daniels, their mission is to bring high quality food to the streets, festivals and private events in our region.
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For Anthony and Mark the opportunity to set up their own business and take the street food revolution on the road has given them a new lease of life. Both used to live and work in London but moved to Norwich to bring up families. For a while both were working in a similar field to the jobs they left behind until one evening when a mutual love of locally produced food led to a change of career path.
Says Anthony: 'Mark and I knew each other through my partner Amber and one night after a few pints we talked about setting up a new food venture. I wanted to change my lifestyle after working behind a desk for a number of years and Mark wanted to travel around the region to give more people the chance to try his creations. We both love food and so bringing street food to Norfolk seemed to be the ideal new venture.
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Adds Mark: 'Street food is very different to traditional burger and fast food van cuisine as it takes fresh local ingredients to make the kind of food that you would expect to eat in a high quality restaurant. This way of serving gourmet food is popular in places such as New York and London – it's about time Norwich and East Anglia got a taste of it!'
Far from being a greasy food van, the 22ft Airstream has been revamped with a shiny aluminum shell and kitted out with an impressive fully fitted and equipped stainless steel kitchen.
It's a far cry from the bruised and battered exterior and interior that greeted the boys when they discovered the Airstream in California.
Says Anthony: 'We wanted an iconic caravan to spread the word about street food and the Airstream is the idol of caravans. It was in desperate need of a revamp and in a way we rescued it from the scrap heap, but it was brought back to health in Germany and it certainly makes Relish an eye-catching spectacle.'
It is certainly prominent at the NNF Spiegeltent in Chapelfield Gardens, but the 22ft Airstream, lovingly called Talulah, is not the only highlight of Relish. The menu is poetic and is in tune with the increasing popularity of fresh, locally produced fare. Organic salmon and dill burger with honey, saffron, pickled fennel, red onions, sun blushed tomatoes and a citrus mayonnaise; dressed crab with a red onion and caper salad, mango, watercress and curried egg mayonnaise; asparagus with poached egg and hollandaise sauce, join burgers such as the venison bacon cheeseburger and the deluxe burger made from 28 day Suffolk beef.
'Creating a menu that includes fish dishes is unique for a mobile catering service as fish needs to be refrigerated and cooked to order and it has a shorter shelf life,' says Mark.
'We only order what we calculate we will need for any given day so that we reduce wastage.
'In fact having fish on the menu has opened up many doors for us as we provide an alternative to the majority of traditional mobile food outlets.'
Both Anthony and Mark are passionate about the food and service they deliver and are keen to educate people that street food can be just as appetising and, importantly, as safe and hygienic as eating in a reputable restaurant.
'Hygiene and food you can buy from a van don't usually go hand in hand, but we have recently received a five star hygiene rating,' says Mark.
With many years at the helm of a busy kitchen Mark keeps a tidy ship and is meticulous when it comes to storing and preparing food. The Airstream is equipped with refrigeration drawers, has hot and cold running water and is spotlessly clean.
There is a clear distinction between the street-style food from Relish and the fast food usually associated with a mobile unit. Instead of purely offering a choice of ready cooked burgers and sausages, all Relish's food and sauces are freshly made from a diversity of local ingredients and produced for each event with each dish made to order in front of the customer, enhancing the restaurant style service.
Says Mark: 'Most of the dishes only take about three or four minutes to create and we have found that no one really minds the wait, especially as you can see your food being prepared and cooked in front of you.'
Street food constitutes up to 40pc of the daily diet in the developing world with places such as Akume in Togo and Pho in Vietnam celebrating locally produced food. The simple, yet exotic flavours created using local ingredients also make street food cuisine an increasingly popular food in the West.
Says Anthony: 'There are many organizations campaigning to preserve street food life. Globalisation and the rise of big fast food chains have threatened the age-old tradition of making healthy, fresh and locally produced food easily accessible to the masses.
'We aim to bring street food to Norfolk and as well as going to local festivals and events we can also cater at private events and we are hoping to set up on the streets of Norwich in the near future.'