The Perfect Roast: Executive Chef Alex Hall on British Roast Dinner Week

British Roast Dinner Week is back from 24th September to 1st October. Pubs and restaurants across the country will be serving up roast dinners every day for a week, with one taking the title of ‘Best British Roast Dinner 2017’ and winning £10k in PR support to make their roast famous. We caught up with Alex Hall, executive chef for Unilever Food Solutions (who sponsor the campaign) to find out why the roast dinner remains so popular, what makes the perfect roast, and how restaurants can get involved in British Roast Dinner Week.

Why are roast dinners so important to British diners?

Britain has a long history with roast dinners, they are part of our cultural identity. Famously the French refer to the British as Le Rosbif. It’s both a comfort food that people have strong associations with, and a national dish.

Aren’t roast dinners traditionally served only on Sunday?

Traditionally a roast dinner is a family meal, it’s a meal which brings everyone together and that was often on a Sunday. At heart, it’s a very social meal, you can get people involved in carving the meat, have people serving each other and sharing dishes. It’s very interactive.

Over the years as families have become more dispersed and lifestyles have got increasingly busy, there’s been a shift from the roast at home on Sunday. With so many places offering roast dinners, you can go out with friends and family for your Sunday roast, or enjoy your favourite roast dinner midweek.

Pubs and restaurants are increasingly offering roast dinners on their menus. Are they a cost efficient menu option for restaurateurs?

The great thing about a roast dinner is that you can balance the cost to fit your margins. Meat costs can vary and some cuts, such as a rib of beef are always going to cost more. However, options like chicken and pork are much more cost effective. Then you have vegetables and garnishes; for the most part these can be the same regardless of the meat used, so you have less wastage. It also makes prep a lot easier!

How can publicans and restaurateurs get more creative with their roast offering?

There are some ingredients that you want to keep simple, for example, good quality roast potatoes. These can then be paired with seasonal produce, which gives each roast a little personal touch. Changing your vegetable dishes to reflect the season is a great way to add variety. Leafy vegetables, such as kale, really complement roast beef and are in season now.

“Roast beef continues to be the number one choice for diners”

Are diners becoming increasingly discerning about the quality of their roast dinner?

Absolutely. It’s a general trend across the industry, people want to know what they’re eating and where it comes from and pub restaurants in particular need to tap into this trend. It doesn’t need to be additional work, just give your butcher a call and ask them. Once you have the info, tell your diners! Reference the farm on your menu, or highlight the fact that your vegetables are organic or locally sourced. And of course, if you win the Best British Roast Dinner competition, you can spread the word even further with PR help from the British Roast Dinner Week sponsors, Unilever Food Solutions.

Do pubs and restaurants need to think more about how they cater for dietary requirements?

It’s a challenge, but yes they do. We’re starting to see that happen more and more with the addition of dishes like vegetarian Wellingtons made with goats’ cheese and beetroot. It’s delicious and provides a more substantial offering to vegetarian diners than a risotto or pasta dish. Overall, more consideration of dietary requirements is needed. As I said, a roast dinner is all about inclusivity. If you’re coeliac and go out for a roast dinner but can’t have Yorkshire puddings or even gravy, it’s not a great experience. These challenges aren’t insurmountable, but they do require a bit of thought.

“Dining out with dietary restrictions can be stressful, anything a restaurateur can do to take that stress away is likely to be appreciated and remembered.”

As a bit of a connoisseur of the roast dinner, what does the perfect roast look like for you?

That’s a tough question! It’s very much down to personal preference. For me it’s got to be beef, with really crisp roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings. In autumn I love to add roasted vegetables and then good old fashioned gravy with a splash of Ale to add to the meaty flavour. That’s my top tip. Oh, and it has to have English mustard. Colman’s, of course!

Is a Yorkshire pudding an integral part of a roast dinner, or something that should only be served with roast beef?

I think a lot of people would be upset to lose it. Put some Yorkies in the middle of the table and let everyone tuck in.

We’ve heard the debates over the best way to cook the perfect roast potatoes. Settle it for us once and for all: goose fat or duck fat?

Controversially, I’m going to say sunflower oil. Duck fat at home is great, it makes delicious potatoes, but it means you can’t serve your potatoes to vegetarians. My advice is to make sure you blanch your potatoes first, then rough up the side and roast in hot sunflower oil.

Can a restaurant roast ever beat your mums roast dinner?

That is a dangerous one! I would say treat your roast dinner as a family occasion, take the pressure off your mum and take her out instead.

Nicely dodged! Ok, what tips do you have for making the perfect roast dinner at home?

It’s all about timing! Plan what has to go into the oven and at what time so you stay on track. If you’re serving steamed or boiled veg, don’t put those on until you’re resting your meat so they don’t overcook or go cold. Carve the meat at the table and let people serve themselves so you don’t have to worry about bringing out hot food and juggling lots of plates. It gives people the chance to interact and talk. Failing that, just go to the pub!

Always a good plan! So, how do restaurateurs and pubs get involved in British Roast Dinner Week?

To get involved in British Roast Dinner Week, just get your roast on your menu every day of the week. And if you think you serve a great roast, you should definitely enter the Best British Roast Dinner competition. All you have to do is go to www.britishroastdinnerweek.co.uk and tell us what makes your roast special.

 

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