I Love Rugby!
THOMPSON St Albans’ Owner Phil Thompson took time out of his busy kitchen to tell us all about his well-known love of rugby.
When did you first get into rugby?
I first got into rugby during PE sessions at senior school and loved it, so I decided to try out for the school team. Believe it or not, I was one of the smallest on the team, but the quickest! Being small I used to get battered in every game as I used to go in for tackles with kids twice my size. Nine times out of ten, I’d lose my gum shield in the first 5 minutes. That, coupled with having braces on my teeth, meant my mouth was generally a mess by the end of each game!
Do any of your staff enjoy rugby?
I think I’m the only one now that loves rugby, or “egg chasing” as the other chefs call it. When an international game is on I always record the match and watch it after Saturday service, so about 2am in the morning. So far, I’ve got a pretty good track record of not finding out the score in advance. I do have to go dark on social media, with radio silence in the kitchen and the odd threat to sack anyone who even mentions anything to do with the game! My nephew has texted me a few times saying “did you see the game? What a great result.” Cheers Harry! The last one was after the England v Scotland 6 Nations game… bless him!
When cooking for rugby players, what sort of food tends to go down well?
It is always wise to ensure the portion sizes are ‘adequate’! Actually, a lot of players I cook for are really into their food and cooking. They really enjoy and appreciate what we do. We are proud sponsors of the Old Albanians and we’re into our fourth season with them now. We get quite a few players eating in the restaurant and some of them have tried out the kitchen experience with us which is great. It’s always fun to see their very competitive, great big sausage fingers trying to perform the delicate work necessary for fine dining preparation.
Do you have plans to travel and watch any of the international rugby games?
I’d love to do a Lions tour one year but that involves money and time – that’s two things I don’t have to spare at the moment! I did get to Australia in 2003 to watch England win the World Cup, which will be hard to beat as one of the best days I’ve ever had. The whole experience with my mates and the atmosphere over a week was beyond brilliant. What an experience to be there, watching Jonny’s drop kick coming towards me. Every now and then I get to go to Twickenham if I’m lucky enough to have tickets. I love it there. The whole day is an amazing experience and of course, even better if England win! I often end up not going though due to the love and passion for my restaurant!
Who is your favourite rugby team and player?
I am a lifelong Wasps supporter and the list of legendary players from the team is awesome: Dallaglio, Thompson, Betsen, Haskell, Lewsey, Shaw, Vickery, Worsley, Voyce, Andrews, Birkett… the list goes on and now players like Wade and Elliot Daly are on the scene. Can you tell I like my rugby?
Have you ever combined your love of food with rugby?
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to cook with Ben Foden, to produce a cookery book entitled ‘Cooking with Balls’, celebrating England, British-Irish Lions and Leicester Tigers player Ben Kays Rugby Testimonial year, with the Matt Hampson Foundation.
I also had the Wasps rugby team cook with me twice. In the first instance, we held a Beef Wellington competition judged by the local paper. I took part in the competition and they nominated me in 3rd place! They were bigger than me……! On the second occasion, we hosted a charity night in support of Help for Heroes, where the players cooked with me and my chefs. Once we had finished cooking, the players went out to the tables to chat with my guests. It was a fantastic evening, everyone had a great time.
Over the years I’ve done a lot of charity work with rugby clubs and have had many players eat and cook in the restaurant. The OAs have been in a few times to do a cook-along with me which is always a great laugh. I’m usually at the front demonstrating and the boys each prepare dishes (or at least try to!) around a horseshoe-shaped table. It’s a fantastic team-bonding exercise and a really good opportunity for me to meet and get to know the players who we support.
See my Beef Wellington recipe tried and tested by the Wasps rugby team the OA Rugby boys.
Beef Wellington Recipe
Ingredients – (Serves 4)
800g-1kg beef fillet, whole
500g wild mushrooms (button mushrooms are fine as an alternative)
1 small onion
1 tbsp fresh thyme (1 tsp of dried as an alternative)
100ml white wine
100ml Madeira (optional, adds a nice sweetness)
8 slices of cured Parma ham
4 pancakes (as thin as you can get them)
1 sheet of puff pastry, 500g
1 tbsp olive oil
Sprinkling of flour (for dusting)
Once constructed, the beef Wellington can be kept and stored in the fridge for up to 24hrs ahead of your dinner party.
- Heat oven to 220c (fan assisted ovens 200c) / gas 7, with the tray you will use to cook the beef Wellington inside the oven, so this heats up also. This is important as it will cook the pastry underneath and stop it from going soggy.
- In a hot frying pan, add the oil, season the beef and sear until golden brown in colour, place on a piece of kitchen paper and leave to cool.
- While the beef is cooling, pulse blend the mushrooms in a food processor to a breadcrumb consistency or chop by hand as finely as possible. Place the chopped mushrooms inside a piece of kitchen paper and squeeze out the excess water.
- Chop the onion finely, heat the butter in a large saucepan and cook very gently at a low heat, to ensure the onion does not colour. Add the mushrooms, turning the heat up to high, stirring to avoid the ingredients from catching on the bottom of the pan. More water will come out, keep cooking until the pan is dry.
- Add the chopped fresh thyme, white wine and Madeira, reduce again until the pan is dry and all liquid has evaporated. Season to taste and leave to cool.
- Cut the pancakes to the same width as the fillet of beef and double the length.
- Lay out and overlap 2 pieces of cling film to achieve a surface area of 30cm x 30cm.
- Lay the pancakes on the cling film, then the Parma ham on top of the pancakes in 2 rows of 4 slightly overlapping, to cover the pancakes. Spread the mushroom mix over the top of the Parma ham, nice and evenly and finally place the fillet of beef on the side closest to you / the edge of the work surface.
- Use the cling film to roll the fillet into a sausage shape, making sure all ingredients are encased, twisting the ends of the cling film to tighten as you go.
- Place the cling filmed Wellington into the fridge for around 30 minutes.
- Dust a clean, dry work surface with flour and lay out the sheet of puff pastry.
- Place the chilled Wellington in the centre of the pastry. Using a small knife and the beef as guide, cut away all corners to leave a cross shape, allowing the Wellington to be wrapped up by the pastry as the final layer.
- Whisk the egg and brush the remaining edges of the pastry, to help them stick together.
- Bring 1 of the large sides up to go over the chilled Wellington, then the other large side to slightly overlap the first side. Finally, bring up the first end piece of pastry, then the last piece, again slightly overlapping the first end piece.
- Take a piece of greaseproof paper and turn the Wellington over so the pastry folds are on the bottom and place onto the greaseproof paper.
- Coat the pastry in the remaining egg and place the Wellington back into the fridge, allowing to rest for 30 minutes.
- Once chilled, using the back of a knife, mark the Wellington with long diagonal lines both ways to form a criss-cross pattern, taking care not to cut into the pastry.
- Sprinkle the top with Maldon salt before cooking. Using the edges of the greaseproof paper, lift the Wellington onto the pre-heated oven tray, cook until golden and crisp: 25-30 mins for medium-rare beef, 35-40 mins for medium.
- Allow to stand and rest for 10 mins before serving.