The head chef at The High Field in Edgbaston, Ian Meek grew up on tinned fruit and vanilla ice cream and reveals his love of Indian food – and why he wouldn’t say no to a crocodile sandwich!
Tell us about your cooking
I’m a big believer in keeping things simple. A dish should be able to work with only three or four key elements on the plate.
How did you become a chef?
I started off in hospitality at 16 clearing tables and pouring drinks before finding my way into the kitchen. Soon after that I couldn’t imagine ever doing anything else. I spent three years cooking in Australia, so that’s had an impact on the way I see food. I worked in London at the Northbank in a fast-paced bistro kitchen where we served a small daily changing menu to city types. Next I really challenged my creativity by cooking with a limited larder from a tiny kitchen in a chalet in La Plagne in the French Alps. Just 50 ravenous skiers to feed every day. It was brilliant though ¬– and I also learned to snowboard! I moved to Birmingham in 2010 and my first job was at Hotel du Vin where I cooked classic French food with the excellent Mark Nind. When Jamie’s made their first foray into the city, I went with them. It was probably only after I left that I appreciated how solid their recipes are, especially for how many plates they do every day. Some of those ideas, and all of the energy from working at Jamie’s came with me here.
What do you eat when at home?
I have a two-year-old daughter who can be quite fussy but even at that age she shares my love of Indian food, so a homemade curry makes quite a regular appearance in our house.
Who’s the best chef in the world and why? And who’s the best in Brum?
There are lists published all the time to tell you who the best chef is. Whose restaurant you’d like to eat at and whose food is the most interesting is a much more subjective question. For me at the moment, I’d love to go and eat at any of David Chang’s places in New York. In terms of the UK, I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from the guys down at Pitt Cue. In the last six years so many great bars and restaurants have opened in Birmingham – it’s really exciting to be part of the scene. Without a shadow of a doubt Glynn Purnell has played a huge part in making that happen.
Is the customer always right?
In a literal sense, no. However, people come to The High Field to have a good time. Often to celebrate anniversaries, birthdays, or even a wedding. So we strive to accommodate everybody’s needs and ensure that all of our guests leave happy.
Share a cooking tip
Whenever I’m cooking at home I try and do as much in advance as possible so that when it comes to serving up I’ve got plenty of time to make sure everything turns out how I planned it. The recipe for mustard glazed pork belly is a good example of that.
What was your favourite food as a kid?
Back in the 80’s my mum’s idea of pudding was tinned fruit and vanilla ice cream…
Food heaven and food hell?
Heaven would be a baked Camembert with a nice glass of red and some charcuterie. Hell is tough because there’s very little that I don’t like. Probably Quorn. There’s so many great things you can do with vegetarian food. For me using a meat substitute that’s nowhere near as good as the real thing seems crazy.
What’s the most unusual thing you’ve eaten?
I’ll always regret not trying deep fried cockroaches while I was in Thailand. I had a crocodile sandwich in Queensland, Australia. That was quite unusual.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
I used to DJ around the bars where I grew up. I also played on a pirate radio station although I don’t know if there’s much of career in that.
What do you recommend from this evening’s menu?
One of the specials is a falafel salad with mint yoghurt and hot sauce. The falafel is made with broad beans instead of chickpeas which makes it much lighter. It’s a dish I think anyone would enjoy, not just vegetarians. For those dedicated carnivores we have a 35-day aged Hereford 10oz ribeye steak.
Ian’s awesome recipe for Mustard Glazed Pork Belly, Devilled Beans & Slaw
This recipe is best prepared the day before as the pork belly needs to be chilled before you slice it. Doing everything the day before will also mean you’ll be able to spend more time with the people you’re cooking for. Ideally you want a whole pork belly with skin and the bones still on. You’ll have pork trimmings left over which can be made into pulled pork, turned into a hearty pasta sauce or even just stuffed into pitta bread along with any left over beans to make a tasty sandwich. Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients. It’s well worth the effort. I’ve listed the recipe we use at The High Field to make our slaw but really you can use pretty much any veg you have in your fridge. Also, if you can’t find chipotle you can use any type of fresh or powdered chillies and the black eyed peas can be substituted with any kind of tinned bean.
For the Pork Belly:
- 1 Pork Belly, about 2kg in weight
- 2 Carrots
- 2 Onions
- 2 Sticks of celery
- 20g Thyme
- 15g English mustard
- 50g Honey
- 2 tbsp Red wine vinegar
For the Beans:
- 3 tins Black eyed peas
- 150g Tomato paste
- 1 Onion
- 1 Carrot
- 2 tbsp Black treacle
- 1 tbsp Cumin
- 1 tbsp Smoked paprika
- 1 tsp Chipotle Chilli Paste (or more if you like it hot)
- 3 Garlic cloves
- 2 tbsp Red wine vinegar
- Olive oil for frying
For the Slaw:
- 1 Red cabbage, shredded
- 1 Pomegranate
- 2 Carrots, grated
- 4 Spring onions, sliced
- 40g Coriander, chopped
- 80g Radish, sliced
- Juice of 1 lemon
For the Pork
- Place the pork belly in a deep tray along with the carrot, onion, celery and thyme.
- Top with water and cover before cooking at 160°C / 325 °F / Gas mark 3 for 4 hours. Don’t add any salt at this stage.
- The pork should be tender without falling apart.
- Chill the pork. Discard the vegetables and reserve the cooking liquid.
- Pour 1 litre of the liquid into a pan. Add the mustard, vinegar, and honey and, on the heat, reduce to one quarter in volume to make a glaze.
- Place the pork on a board with the bones showing. Slice along the gaps in between the bones. Reserve all trimmings.
- Remove the skin and crisp up in the oven with plenty of salt.
For the Devilled Beans:
- Finely dice the vegetables and garlic. Heat the oil in a pan, add the vegetables and garlic and cook gently.
- Add the cumin and paprika and cook for 2 minutes stirring constantly.
- Add the tomato paste and cook for a further 5 minutes being careful not to let it catch.
- Add the black eyed peas and 300ml of water. Add the treacle and vinegar and reduce until the sauce coats the peas.
- Add the chipotle a little at a time to the peas, tasting as you go to ensure the right level of heat.
- Season to taste.
For the Slaw:
Combine all of the ingredients and it’s ready.
- Season the pork belly chops and heat in the oven for 15 minutes at 180°C / 350 °F / Gas mark 4.
- Once they’re piping hot spoon over the mustard glaze and return to the oven for a further five minutes.
- Ensure the beans are hot and serve in a bowl alongside the slaw with the pork and crackling on top.