This week Celebrity Chef from Ready Steady Cook & Fellow Master Chef Steven Saunders, proprietor of The Little Geranium, entertains Chico and his family at his restaurant in La Cala.
IT’S Chico time! That simple catch phrase is remembered across the world as the introduction of my friend Chico Slimani (born Yousseph Slimani).
Wherever we go I hear people calling out ”What time is it?” and because Chico is a born entertainer and people pleaser he always responds, shouting back “It’s Chico time” and has a laugh a dance and a picture taken with them.
In the earlier days when I was better known as one of the chefs from Ready Steady Cook I would stand next to him in shock that so many people knew and loved that catchphrase.
They loved him and chanted at him (he had a No1 hit single knocking Madonna off the No1 spot with It’s Chico Time in 2006) whilst I would go unnoticed!
I first met Chico at a Hells Kitchen TV recording in about 2007. I was newly single and went with a girlfriend who had just won the Miss UK competition (but was not as pretty as my Michele!) However I was proud to have her on my arm and I wondered over to the seating plan to see where we were going to sit and with whom.
At the event there were many well known people not least the main chef Marco Pierre White and in the kitchen working as Marcos’ commis chef was Anthea Turner who I know well.
Anthea spotted me and called out. I went over and she asked if I knew a chocolate fondant recipe that is better because hers kept collapsing! Marco shouted out at her and back into the kitchen she hurried.
As I turned around Chico was behind me, he said “we are on your table bro!” So I said “what time is it?” (as you do) Chico laughed but deep down I was thinking I might have got Gordon Ramsey, Gloria Estefan or even Lionel Blair, but no I get Chico time!
A little unsure how this evening would go I introduced my date and we sat at a table next to Aled Jones who was a child star in 1985 for singing Walking in the Air a hit from the animated film, The Snowman.
Aled is Welsh lad and Chico was born in South Wales and they are about the same age so immediately they hit it off and we lost Chico’s attention!
After a little while Chico turned to me and said, “My wife Dani is in love with you!” What she meant was that she loved my cooking and that she followed me on Ready Steady Cook. I was her favourite chef!
“Thanks Chico” I said, “I was about to introduce myself”
“No need bro” he replied and we chatted all night after that and I think he forgot about Aled next door! That night we discovered a bond that would ensure a friendship for many years to come.
Chico came to my 50th Birthday celebrations and gave a tear jerking speech, he was so funny! Chico always kept in touch and wherever I went with Formula 1 (I operated the catering) I would invite Chico because I loved him, but I also knew that if we were late delivering food he would work the tables make people happy and then they would forget that they were waiting… Pure genius!
Then one night about a year ago my brother Stuart called me when I was busy cooking at The Little Geranium. I took the call because my brother never rings unless it’s urgent.
“Stu what’s up?” “Have you heard the sad news?” he said.
“What sad news?” “Chico has died!” “What! Are you kidding me?”
No Stu said that everyone was talking about it. I put down my spatula and walked out of the kitchen with tears in my eyes. My wife Michele asked me what was up.
“My friend Chico the X factor legend has died” I told her. She immediately googled it and found out that he had a stroke and was very much alive trying to recover. I sighed with relief but couldn’t hold back the tears.
That night I contacted Dani (Chico’s wife) and invited them over when he was fit and well and that is why he came over to see me this week.
We talked for at least two days and had a lot of fun. We even wrote a new TV series! I cooked some stunning surprise tasting menu dishes for Chico and his family (he has two children Lala and Zac).
Lala land as I call her will be a No1 recording artist as she has a voice of an angel and Zac will be a professor of wisdom like a Stephen Hawking.
“Great to see you Cheeky” I said “I am so pleased that you are ok now – guess it wasn’t your time!”
Time for Chico´s favourite Duck!
I have cooked many dishes for Chico over the years and recently I cooked him a nine course tasting menu at my Little Geranium restaurant. He cried out for me to stop! “I can’t eat any more he said!” “What was your favourite dish?” I asked. “They were all mind blowing” he said “but I loved the smoked duck.” So here it is;
Ingredients for four
2 breasts of duck with skin on (magret)
2 onions peeled and thinly sliced
Approx. half a bottle of red wine
4 tablespoons of wine vinegar
2 tablespoons of honey
For Cherry sauce
250 ml of chicken stock
3 tablespoons of tinned deep red pitted cherries pureed
1 tablespoon of pomegranate syrup (grenadine)
2 pieces of Star anise
For Smoking the duck
1 bunch of dried grape vines (or dried wood from the BBQ centre)
A cloche (glass) to cover the dish
Cook the duck
Score the fat on the duck with a sharp knife many times close together so that it is covered in neat cuts. This allows the fat to render away when you cook it. Season the breasts with salt and then skin side down in a warm but not hot pan cook for about 1 hour. Do not turn the duck over. Note if pan is too hot it will cook and burn the skin we don’t want this. We want to render the fat away from the duck and by cooking it slowly the heat will eventually rise up from the skin through the meat keeping it rare but making it tender.
Now whilst slowly cooking the duck, make your red onion marmalade and sauce.
For the sauce
Reduce the chicken stock until syrupy and now add the puree of cherries and the grenadine. Stir in the star anise and cook on a low heat to infuse all the flavours. After about 30 mins remove from the heat and pass through a fine sieve.
Once passed put back into the sauce pan and keep warm
For the onion marmalade
Simply cover the thinly sliced onions with the red wine and add the vinegar and honey and cook on a medium heat for about 30 minutes.
When the liquid has been absorbed by the onions they should be quite dry and they should taste like sweet and sour, If not amend by adding more vinegar or more honey at this stage.
Allow the onions to cook slowly on a low heat until you need them.
Finishing and smoking the duck
So when the duck looks like its cooked but still rare (because you haven’t cooked the other side) now turn it over and seal the flesh side for one minute only and then remove and rest and spread a thin layer of honey onto the warm crispy skins.
Slice the duck breasts long ways to get long very this rare slices and place them neatly overlapping in a bowl. Put a little of the onion marmalade at the top of the duck slices and spoon a little sauce into the well of the bowl but do not cover the duck or it will cook it.
Now ignite the wood using a blow torch and place the glass cloches onto the bowls. Lift the cloches one at a time and carefully push the smoking wood keeping hold of it, underneath until you fill each cloche with smoke.
Remove the wood every time of course. Serve each guest a plate with the cloche still remaining and after a few minutes of them gawping at the dish remove the cloches and enjoy the smoky rare duck with sweet and sour onions – Chico´s favourite!
Follow Steven on Instagram: saunderschef