Getting pickled by the beach

We meet Kentish chef and restaurateur Jason Freedman

By Anthea Gerrie, February 17, 2012
Freedman has many Jewish regulars at The Minnis

Freedman has many Jewish regulars at The Minnis

On the Kent coast, overlooking a sunset painted by Turner, you can tuck into a exceptional serving of salt beef. But it is not salt beef as we know it. Jason Freedman, chef-proprietor of The Minnis eschews brisket in favour of the finer-textured rib, and cooks it for hours at low temperature in a water bath rather than the long boil that bubbe would have administered. And then - shock horror - he cuts all the fat off before serving it.

This break from tradition is down to the fact that The Minnis is a fine dining restaurant rather than a deli, and that, although Jason had a traditional Jewish upbringing, the salt beef and pickled herring he makes for his diners were not part of his childhood heritage: "My mother made latkes, fish balls and chopped liver, but my interest in curing and pickling foods was stimulated by that done by the Romans who used to live round here," explains the self-taught chef who came up the hard way, through kitchen portering
rather than catering college.

Minnis Bay sits between the old Roman settlement of Reculver, and Birchington-on-Sea, a genteel village to which many former residents of the popular Jewish community of Cliftonville moved out as the seaside resort gradually ran down over the past 20 or 30 years.

There is still a small Jewish community in nearby Margate, which has been revitalised by the new Turner Contemporary. After nearly a decade at the beach - including a devastating fire, which burned down the kitchen two years ago to the month - Freedman's business is booming.

"I have quite a few Jewish regulars, and they seem to like the salt beef - one or two even get me to cut them a chunk to take home," he laughs.

Naturally the smoked fish - he smokes his own salmon and haddock - go down well too, along with the pickled herring, which he infuses with non-traditional spices like Szechuan peppercorns and coriander seeds before steeping in malt vinegar.

"The only herring in our house was the shmaltz variety my father bought in from a deli in Cliftonville, but a couple of years ago I took to pickling when I became interested in the really old cooking techniques practised thousands of years ago in this area," he explains.

"I started curing and salting beef, progressed to pastrami and salami, and then turned my attention to fish. I pickle my own vegetables too."

Herring as served at The Minnis

Herring as served at The Minnis

Salt beef and pickled herring are not the only traditional dishes Jason takes liberties with. Bubbe would be astounded by his apple pie for which he uses the kind of flaky water pastry more commonly associated with traditional English meat pies, and slices sweet apples thinly on top of it to serve raw and crisp with a scoop of home-made custard ice-cream.

Unorthodox, perhaps, but if you are feeling nostalgic, you could always order one of his retro desserts - peach melba, pear belle Helene and Black Forest gateau all live on chez Freedman.

Last updated: 4:03pm, February 17 2012