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London’s burning… your dinner

London’s burning once again, but this time it’s only your dinner that’s getting scorched. Chefs across the capital are returning to the oldest form of cooking to give their discerning punters a depth of flavour – and a dining spectacle – that is unsurpassed.

Crackling embers, flickering flames, sizzling food and the elemental aroma of wood smoke all combine to create a dining experience with a difference. Restaurants are embracing everything from wood-fired grills, ovens and kilns to Argentine-style barbecues, braais and spit roasters to create a dazzling array of delicious appetisers, main courses and even desserts.

Cooking with fire may seem like a high-risk venture to the uninitiated, but those chefs who have mastered the techniques swear there’s no other way to replicate the flavours you get when fire and food combine.

Mastering the volatile heat source and learning to create delicious food over flames requires skill and vigilance. But leading outdoor barbecue chef, Cornelius Veakins, knows all the secrets – and is happy to share them. He is passionate about cooking with fire, and offers masterclasses to top chefs around the world, teaching them the skills and techniques required to produce gourmet food over a live flame.

According to Cornelius, the key to successful outdoor cooking is the quality of wood you use. Most of the problems encountered when cooking on wood fires – from over-smoking to inconsistent temperatures – can be attributed to having the wrong type or quality of wood.

Cornelius offers the following tips for choosing the best wood for cooking:

  • Make sure the moisture content is between 0-5%. Wood that is too wet is difficult to light, doesn’t retain heat and gives off too much smoke. Freshly chopped hardwood has a moisture content of around 50% and is a nightmare to cook with. Seasoning ensures the wood is dried out properly for optimum burning.
  • Buy species of wood, not just mixed bags of firewood. Whether you choose ash, birch, oak or beech, you’ll find that each type of hardwood burns differently and produces a different flavour.
  • Choose wood of a consistent size. As you develop your skills, you will need different sizes of wood for starting, prolonging and boosting your fire.

Many talented chefs in London and increasingly across the UK, are playing their part in reviving and refining this ancient form of cooking – and it seems the restaurant-going public can’t get enough of it.

See more outdoor cooking tips from Cornelius Veakins or visit his website.

In our next blog we’ll take a closer look at two of the new restaurants on Dalby Firewood’s chopping block.