The difference between an average meal and one that’s really special is all about the layers of flavour and seasonings that have gone into its preparation. For instance, a great soup is built upon an outstanding stock. And great stocks require someone to put hours of work into developing them using the best fresh vegetables and quality meat bones, taking care to use just the right amount of heat over a long period of time to extract all the goodness of the ingredients while removing fat and gunk. Creating just a couple of litres of top shelf beef stock can take 10 hours of effort from a cook who really knows what they’re doing. And this, I believe, is why too many of our day to day meals remain average. Who has the time (even if you have the skills) to build these kinds of layers into a Thursday night leak and potato soup or to make a killer sauce to drizzle over those local lamb chops on a Saturday night BBQ?
Fortunately, Shane Blake at Foundation Foods
has all the time, skills and gear to transform my average everyday meals into fantastic fare.
Shane grew up in Christchurch and started working as a butcher at the age of 15. After learning heaps on the job about all the various kinds and cuts of meats, he went on to Christchurch Polytech and studied to be a chef. As a chef, Shane had to build soup stocks as well as the more difficult to create consommés. Being a natural born researcher he wanted to know why the restaurants often did not have perfectly clear broths and sought out traditional techniques to make the pure, rich, cloudless consommé required for their dishes. This meant studying meat proteins, methods for removing impurities and the right tools and temperatures to get a perfect result. As time went on, Shane got bored with repetitive restaurant work and wanted to focus on creating the best stock and glazes he could for other professionals.
Like a lot of the producers we’ve profiled in this blog, Shane took a punt on what looked like an opportunity and started a business producing product of the highest quality for people who appreciated the end result but did not have the time, means or skills to create it for themselves. Shane figured there were enough kitchens around the country who would want this kind of foundation for their dishes. Thus was born Foundation Foods in 1995. Shane tells me that he destroyed a lot of cooking gear in his quest to get just the right techniques and thermal interactions to produce stock in large quantity, innovating methods along the way so that he could reliably scale what he knew how to do in smaller volumes at a commercial restaurant kitchen. He was part of the pioneering group of New Zealand chefs who helped develop the cook and chill methods which allowed Foundation Foods to produce an amazing product that could be kept in the fridge until needed (between 45 days and 6 months, depending on the stock or glaze).
After making his first production batches and sharing it with chefs around the country, he got orders that ran his fledgling company off its feet. They went from making 700 litres a week in 1996 to 10,000 litres per day today. Perhaps more amazingly, Foundation Foods have kept the same level of quality in their stocks and glazes throughout their expansion. This comes back to Shane’s ability to research and find the best cookery gear and processes available to maintain what he knows chefs need. The trial and error inherent in such a process is intense, from finding the best ingredients to keeping up with demand (including a commitment to NO PRESERVATIVES), to finding the perfect packaging for storage and simplicity of use in a commercial kitchen setting.
The success of Shane’s business means that many of the really great meals you’ve eaten in restaurants all over NZ probably have their foundational layers of flavour built using Foundation Foods stocks and glazes. I know this is true in the kitchen where I work where we’ve been using Foundation Foods stocks for ever. I can attest to the rich depth their beef stock adds to our beef cheek stout stew (see recipe below) or our slow cooked traditional french onion soup. I’ll pull out a five liter container for these dishes knowing the whole batch is going to deliver a fabulous and consistent flavour, aware that it would have otherwise taken me two days to create just the stock alone.
So here’s some good news: Foundation Foods are now selling their stocks and glazes at Raeward Fresh. Happy days ahead for my home kitchen and yours! This is a boon for anyone serious about quality cooking at home. I’ve tried powders and stocks from the mainstream brands, and they’re better than nothing but not by much. If you warm up a bit of your average supermarket stock next to one from Foundation Foods and do a taste test, you’ll experience a huge contrast in flavour, texture and if you’re a super taster, you’ll probably notice a distinct lack of preservatives from Shane’s brand. To get a feel for this, try the recipe below or even a simple chicken noodle soup using Foundation’s excellent and relatively inexpensive chicken stock. Getting this level of flavour, quality and, all without the preservatives typical in most stocks, will probably make you a believer like we are at Raeward Fresh.
Recipe: Beef Cheek & Dark Stout Stew
Down the road from the Raeward Fresh store in Queenstown, Kinloch Lodge makes a hearty beef cheek & stout beer stew. Hikers coming off the Routeburn or Greenstone tracks want a nourishing stew (which is why they add a local dark stout!) that has depth and a rich flavour to counter the cool weather outside. Foundation Foods beef stock is the perfect ingredient to both mellow and enrich the natural gelatinous nature of beef cheeks throughout this slow cooking process. Similar to a Boeuf Bourguignon, this meal is about browning the inexpensive but super tasty beef cheeks and then cooking them long and slow with some alcohol, in this case, a dark or chocolate stout beer. Bring on winter!
1 kg of beef cheeks (cut into 3cm cubes, leave the fat on)
100g unbleached white flour
sea salt and ground pepper
canola oil (enough to fry the meat in)
2 large carrots (chopped)
2 large onions (chopped)
2 leeks (chopped)
a splash of red wine (optional)
1 tsp dried tarragon
1 tsp dried sage
4 bay leaves
1 litre Foundation Foods beef stock
500mls dark stout beer (I like No 8 Wired The Big Smoke, although a chocolate stout works wonders too)
200g tomato paste
50g brown sugar
• Coat the beef cheek cubes in a mix of the flour salt and pepper, dust off the excess.
• In a large heavy bottomed pot, add enough canola oil to cover the bottom at a height of a few millimeters. Over medium high heat, brown the beef cheeks in small batches (so they don’t stew) and set aside.
• In the same pot, fry the carrots, onions and leeks all at the same time until they soften, and start to brown just a tad. Add a splash of red wine to deglaze the bottom and cook a couple minutes more to burn off the alcohol.
• Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil.
• At this point, you can either add the beef cheek cubes and bring to a simmer for a few hours, or (my preference), place the beef cheeks in a large casserole dish and pour the liquid / vegetable mix over them and cover with foil. Some like to add a couple of sprigs of rosemary.
• Bake at 170˚ for 3 hours, checking the fluid level once in the middle of the cooking. If you are simmering, keep the lid on and stir occasionally, watching your liquid levels. If you run low in either case, add some more beef stock.
To Serve: At the restaurant in Kinloch, we like serving this with a dollop of horseradish cream (horseradish mixed with heavy whipped cream or sour cream) alongside a parsnip mash.