The secret culinary adventures of Dorset Pastry Chef Lynette Fisher
PUBLISHED: 16:09 14 February 2014 | UPDATED: 16:23 14 February 2014
Lynette Fisher successfully combined her life’s ambition to sail, cook and eat as a charter yacht cook. During her travels she was reunited with her long-lost grandfather and gained a boat full of sunshine-infused recipes from the Caribbean and the Mediterranean which she has mixed with the flavours of Dorset to produce a new book
Take a spoonful of Provence, add a teaspoon of Dorset and mix well with herbs, spices and sea breezes. The ‘mélange’ of recipes that I gathered together for my new book Recipes from Le Vieux Four are the very essence of my pâtissière in Beaminster where, over time and with trial and error, I have developed my own specialties.
Elizabeth David found such joy in all the specialties she discovered in her travels around the provinces of France: ‘in Toulouse the beguiling crystallized violets, in Aix en Provence the exquisitely melting little almond cakes called calissons d’aix. And even in the most unexpected places in France one might find that there is a first class baker or confectioner’. I hope that people will remember a similar joy from my coeurs d’amande, my gateau Basque, my Beaminster Buns and my Simnel cakes at Easter, carefully decorated with crystallised violets from Dorset gardens.
This collection of recipes also captures the very essence and flavour of my ocean-going history before I settled on dry land 22 years ago: from toiling over fine meals for celebrities in Cannes, to cheering up a miserable crew mid-Atlantic with lopsided cakes from a sloping oven.
I started sailing as a youngster with my father who shared a small wooden ketch called Anna, moored in the Beaulieu River. Later, after my parents’ divorce, my stepfather Willy took me out on his plywood catamaran which was moored in Mudeford. Sailing out over the Christchurch Ledge and pulling in five or six mackerel on one line became my passion. We sailed to Alderney, Guernsey and St Malo - my first taste of Sunday platters of seafood and homemade mayonnaise. I was soon hooked. I had found my life’s ambition; to sail and cook and eat.
I was keen to sail further afield, not simply to visit new countries, but also to find my long lost grandfather. Years ago he had left my grandmother with three small children and sailed to St Lucia to purchase a small fishing business. There he settled, away from the grand country life of hunting and shooting that he had known.
In order to indulge my love of the sea and follow my quest to find Grandfather Fisher I had to find a way to support myself through my adventures, so I embarked on a cookery diploma in London in my early twenties.
With diploma in hand, I flew to Spain and stayed with some friends on their beautiful charter yacht, Hawaita. They took me by sail to Gibraltar, as the border with Spain was still firmly closed. There I joined an American crew as a delivery cook bound for the Caribbean.
I was not initially hired as cook, only as deck crew, but when we encountered bad weather, the cook took to her bed and I filled her place on a full wage with return ticket. On arrival, the skipper asked me to stay on to sail north to Nantucket, but I had my heart set on charter cooking in the West Indies.
Luckily, I was soon part of the Nicholson charter crew and started my job as a charter cook. While sailing the islands I would often seek out local markets in the hope of finding ingredients to inspire but I was usually faced with a pile of plantains and yams. Luckily we caught a great many fish, but creating a grand menu never ceased to be a challenge.
Everywhere, on investigation, seemed to have its own specialties and recipes to make the best of the local produce available. With the help of local cookery books and experimentation, I struggled on, and many of those recipes have found their way into this collection.
Like any good chef I had brought along with me an amusing amount of equipment: knives, garlic crushers, mixers, but perhaps the most unusual thing was my smoke box, which I would use for smoking any fish we might catch along the way.
By chance, an American company heard of me cooking ‘down islands’ and I had just been crowned Charter Cook of the Year. They summoned me to Fort Lauderdale for my dream job cooking on Fei Seen a 103ft of sheer comfort and elegance. She was bound for Bermuda and then Europe and to return to sail the Antilles the following winter. There was some skepticism that this small sunburnt waif might not manage the weight of the saucepans, but I survived and spent five happy years working on her.
I fondly remember sitting on the back seat in the stern, writing menus on the way to the West Indies, and spending winters in Antibes. She would also be the boat who finally took me to my grandfather. By this stage he was in his eighties and terminally ill. We had a few precious hours together in which we wandered down to the sea for a swim and drank a glass of rum in a small bar. This was the first and only time we met, as he died shortly afterwards.
In the winters when we were not expected in the Caribbean the boat was docked in Antibes. There I found the only place in the world I am truly at home. I was able to refresh my ideas with the most wonderful produce to hand, eat in some of the simplest but finest restaurants in the world and lurk amongst the most beautiful pâtissières I had ever seen.
Here I bought my first wooden boat Galuette, the name means a small kind of gull. She became my home and my place to hide when I was not working. Later she was to be followed by Sea Witch, a slightly bigger wooden ketch with a diesel stove in which I was able to bake cakes. My final boat was a forty foot ketch that I renamed La Tortue, (the tortoise] as she was so slow and heavy through the water but with luxurious accommodation for a sailing yacht of that size. I eventually sold her so I could put down a deposit on bricks and mortar.
In 1991 I became a landlubber and returned to Dorset where I bought a derelict butcher’s shop in Beaminster - a listed building with paperwork going back to the 18th century. It was cold, extremely dirty and in need of total renovation but my pâtissière Le Vieux Four was open two weeks later just in time for our first Christmas. Hidden down a side street in a very small West Dorset town, its survival was shaky, but 22 years on little has changed although it is a little warmer and much, much cleaner. I still rise at 5am and cook as many tartelettes, cakes and sweet creations as I can to sell that day, as well as some savoury items for a light lunch or soup to warm cold winter walkers.
A good friend once told me ‘just because there are hundreds of cookery books out there, it does not mean there is not room for another one’. So, finally, here it is ...another one.
Le Vieux Four
Lynette opened her pâtissière in North Street, Beaminster in 1991. The name was ‘borrowed’ from a friend’s restaurant in Antibes though Lynette subsequently discovered a plaque in Beaminster church dedicated to Henri Lex Vieux of North Street, a serge maker by trade. In 1996, ’97 and ’98 Lynette won several Taste of the West awards including a Gold for her Tartelette au Citron. You can find more recipes on Lynette’s blog at lynettelevieux.co.uk.
Recipes from Le Vieux Four by Lynette Fisher with illustrations by Marion Taylor is available from local book stores and Lynette’s pâtissière at £15.95.
West Bay fish soup recipe
Across France there are several versions of the culinary masterpiece that is a tasty fish soup. In the south, a Bouillabaisse, indeed a meal in itself; from Brittany comes La Cotriade; La Bourride is the soup from the Midi and La Chaudree originates from the Atlantic coast.
With many a delicious catch being landed at West Bay, I decided our own personal recipe would be a very good idea.
Ingredients for 4-5 people:
1.5kg of local fish, gurnard, dogfish, bream, a small crab or two, whiting or pout.
3 large onions
4 cloves of garlic
4 large waxy potatoes
3 or 4 ripe tomatoes
2 tbs tomato concentrate
Bouquet garni fennel
A piece of orange peel
3 pieces of saffron
Golden slices of bread from the oven rubbed with garlic.
For a tasty rouille sauce:
6 cloves garlic
1 egg yolk
Cayenne pepper and sweet pimento powder
25 ml olive oil
1 Clean, gut and descale the fish, wash, keep the heads and cut in chunks. Chop the onions finely and slice the peeled potatoes into rounds. Peel the tomatoes, scrape out the seeds and mash the flesh to a pulp. Peel and crush the garlic.
2 Put 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy pan, or marmite as the French would call it, and place in the rounds of potato, the onions, the bouquet garni, the fennel and the orange peel. Place all the fish and the crabs onto this base, placing the most delicate fish on the surface. Now add the tomato pulp, the concentrate and all the seasonings; sprinkle with the rest of the olive oil and allow to rest in the fridge for 2–3 hours.
3 Before cooking, set the delicate fish aside and pour 3 litres of boiling water over the rest. Bring to the boil for 15 minutes, replace the other fish and cook for a further 5 minutes.
4 To prepare the rouille, put the crushed garlic, having removed the shoot, in a bowl with a little salt and mix with a few drops of olive oil until smooth. Add the egg yolk and incorporate the oil little by little as for mayonnaise, with a small whisk or a fork . When the sauce is firm add the seasonings.
5 To serve, carefully lift the fish and serve on a large warm serving dish with the potato. Sieve the bouillon and serve the soup alongside the fish, giving your guests large pasta bowls so they can incorporate the bouillon and the fish and spread the rouille on freshly made croutons from the oven.
Navarin of lamb recipe
This is the best navarin of lamb I have ever made, based on an old French recipe, of course. It loses none of its charm if frozen and produced mid-Atlantic in steaming bowls with garlic bread.
1.75kg shoulder of lamb, boned and cut into pieces
½ glass oil
½ litre water or stock
20 small onions, peeled
12 small carrots
8 small long turnips
150g petit pois
150g green beans
1 medium onion with 2 cloves pressed in
2 sprigs rosemary
2 sprigs summer savory or sage
1 tbs flour
Salt and pepper.
1 In a heavy oven proof dish, heat the oil and butter and brown the onions and meat. When everything is golden, sprinkle with the flour and continue to cook, stirring until the flour browns. Add the water or stock, the onion with the cloves, the herbs and seasonings and bring to the boil.
2 Peel the carrots and turnips and add to the dish. Blanche the green beans for 5 minutes in boiling salted water and add them with the petit pois to the meat. Cover and cook in a moderate oven for 1½ hours. Sprinkle with fines herbes on serving.
Faisan Aux Raisins recipe
Not dissimilar to pork and prunes, or duck with orange, pheasant and raisins make a good combination.
250ml grape juice
100g crème frâiche
1 liqueur glass cognac
Salt and pepper
Soak the raisins for 1 hour in the juice. Melt the butter in an oven dish and brown the pheasants on all sides. Drizzle with the cognac and flame. Moisten with the grape juice and cook for 1 hour on a gentle heat or slow oven. Ten minutes before the end of cooking time, add the crème frâiche and soaked raisins. Taste and season the sauce before serving.
Blood Orange Cheesecake recipe
I adore cheesecake, one of my big weaknesses. People always say, ‘how can you not eat all that you bake?’ The answer is I do eat it all, but I do have my favourites. I like cheesecake of the chilled variety as opposed to the baked variety, to be quite tart in flavour and the juice of blood oranges give just that, in the right degree with the addition of a little lemon juice to make it really zingy.
In a 9” loose-bottomed tin, make a base with digestives crushed in the food processor with melted butter. I use about 10 biscuits with 60g melted butter. Pack this down hard with the back of a wooden spoon, and chill.
For the filling:
200g soft cream cheese
200g crème pâtissière (see recipe below)
100ml softly whipped double cream
Juice and zest of 2 blood oranges
Juice of 1 lemon
3 leaves gelatine
Dissolve the gelatine in the fruit juices, either in the microwave or in a bowl over hot water. Stir and make sure it has completely dissolved. Beat together the cream cheese and custard until there are no lumps of cheese visible. Stir in the gelatine mixture and the zest. Chill until beginning to set and finally fold in the cream. Pour onto the biscuit base and chill until set. Decorate with slices of blood orange and fresh lemon balm.
This wonderful, creamy custard is well worth making yourself. As long as the method is carefully followed it will never curdle or misbehave.
1 litre milk
8 egg yolks
250g castor sugar
1 vanilla pod
1 Mix the egg yolks and sugar together in a large bowl using a hand whisk, until white and creamy. Whisk in the flour, but do not overwork the mixture at this stage. Bring the milk to the boil with the vanilla pod. When it’s really boiling and starting to rise up the pan, pour a little of the hot milk onto the egg mixture, whisking well to amalgamate smoothly before adding the rest of the milk.
2 Remove the vanilla pod and return the custard to the saucepan. Bring to the boil over a gentle heat, stirring carefully all the time, and cook for 2 minutes until the mixture is thick. Cool and chill.
Columbo De Giaumon recipe
Pumpkin is a very important vegetable in the West Indies and Bermuda and is used for both sweet and savoury dishes. This curry is easy and tasty and can be served as a main dish with rice or with meat or poultry.
2tbs vegetable oil
30g unsalted butter
1 medium onion
1 bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 tsp curry powder
¼ tsp ground cloves
2 medium tomatoes peeled and chopped
500g pumpkin, peeled and cut into 1” cubes
Salt and black pepper
1 large clove of garlic, crushed
Heat the oil and butter in a heavy saucepan, add the bacon, onion and pepper, and cook, stirring from time to time, until the onion and pepper are soft but not brown. Add the curry powder and cook for a minute or two, followed by the cloves, tomatoes, pumpkin and seasonings. Stir to mix and cook on a very low heat, covered and stir from time to time to prevent burning. When the pumpkin is very soft almost a purée, stir in the garlic and cook uncovered for a minute or so.