Any onlooker wandering past the glass doors of the trendy ELEVEN Kitchen venue in Woodstock would have sworn the “one ingredient” at Matt Manning’s supper club was wine, and lots of it. Even though wines from Nitida wine farm were plentiful, the evening was in fact centred around salty, succulent and slightly smokey bacon. To those asking “Why bacon?” Manning had one response: “Are you stupid?”
Guests were greeted and served bite-sized “bacon and eggs” by Chef Manning and milled around sipping Nitida’s fruity and crisp Method Cap Classique as they got to know one another. The first amuse-bouche was a date purée ‘devil on horseback’ spread across bruschetta, while a second bruschetta was topped with smoked beans, bacon and a dainty quail’s egg. These little bites of happiness roused our taste buds and set the tone for an evening absorbing Manning’s unique approach to the art of cuisine.
Chef Matt Manning – who trained under Gordon Ramsay – enjoys cooking with English produce in a French style. The point of the One Ingredient supper club, he says, is to show every self-declared chef, instagramming pictures of their bacon and eggs on toast, what real food is and how to cook it.
And he did exactly that. After a smooth shot of pea velouté with bacon foam, we watched our master demonstrate a BLT starter. With poached and marinaded quail, herb-cured bacon and tangy ranch dressing, this was not your traditional BLT. Manning arranged the starter effortlessly across his plate explaining how he “uses the parts of the dish to add height, because that’s what makes it beautiful”. We were then given five minutes to do the same at our own work stations.
The best presentation was promised tickets to the next One Ingredient and a bottle of Nitida MCC. A voice piped up from the sea of aprons asking if she could make her own creation to which Manning replied, “No. You do as you’re told. Smiley faces and writing on plates will not win you prizes. You’re on the naughty table.”
With the competitive air in the room, and Manning eyeing and commenting on each ‘creation’ as he walked around, there was a certain amount of bickering to be heard as we raced to assemble our starter. After devouring it in the dining room along with bottomless glasses of Nitida’s French oak-wooded Semillon, we headed back to watch the preparation of the main course: BBQ glazed pork belly with pok choi, baby carrots, smoked mash, and apple-and-smoked bacon marmalade.
Manning cooked the pork belly in a pan with the pok choi and baby carrots, explaining as he went that the pork belly had been in the oven for nearly ten hours prior to this stage. He then decorated the plated with smoked mash and apple and smoked bacon marmalade. Nostrils and attention had strayed to the slab of crackling next to him and a few cheeky fingers even picked off pieces when they thought he wasn’t looking.
Manning then drizzled his barbeque sauce over the plate saying, “I can’t give you the secret ingredient, but it’s HP”. Off we then scuttled to cook the mains – though I have to use “cook” in the loosest sense as 90% of the preparation had already been overseen by Manning prior to our arrival. Back in the dining room again, sipping gustily on Sauvignon Blanc, the volume started to crank up as our fellow guests became more attractive and downright hilarious. Though we were fully into our ‘chef mode’ it was perhaps fortunate that we did not need to leave our seats again.
Dessert had been pre-prepared and was placed before us as once again our wine glasses were topped up, this time with a naughty Shiraz as we brought our eyes in to focus on a scoop of dark chocolate parfait, coffee meringue and sprinklings of coffee-infused candied bacon.
“It’s like borderline chocolate mousse and… something else” slurred the guest to my left. The chap opposite declared, “I like the bacon, but I don’t think it adds to the flavour. I like the idea even though I can’t understand it”. Heads around the table nodded sagely in agreement as the last morsels were scraped from the plates.
In a nice touch, Manning not only thanked us all for coming but took the time to move around the table, squatting down to have a chat with each guest (wisely securing his balance by holding on to the back of our chairs). Guests lingered long after the 10pm finish time, partly to sober up, perhaps, but almost certainly to savour the last crumbs of what had proved to be an evening that fulfilled all we could possibly hunger after.
Matt Manning’s One Ingredient currently takes place twice every month. We attended on 28 March for the Bacon Menu.
Images by: www.francoispistorius.com