Chef’s dish: Lesley Draper talks to Magna chef Paul Childs
The vast space once rang to the sound of giant hammers, cranes and blast furnaces as workers toiled within one of the biggest steelworks in the world.
These days the great cupolas and hulking hooks are just for show, but the site remains a hive of industry as Magna, science adventure centre and corporate events venue.
The former steelworks, near Meadowhall, caters for functions and events for parties from 30 up to 3,000, which presents a considerable challenge for the hospitality team.
But it doesn’t faze head chef Paul Childs. He runs the catering service as efficiently as the finely tuned machines that once filled this colossal site – now just silent reminders of the building’s industrial heritage.
Those who visit Magna vary as much as its history has done.
Over the years Paul has catered for everyone from local business people to the Duke of York, as well as celebrities including Delia Smith, Ricky Hatton and Pelé.
“I always aim to get everything just right, but I go that extra mile when we’re catering for a VIP,” he says.
And the building that was once shrouded in the soot and grime of heavy industry regularly plays host to awards ceremonies, weddings, conferences and special occasions such as the Olympic torch relay.
With themed events also on offer, Paul sometimes finds himself face to face with a full-sized fairground ride or the room transformed for a night at the theatre.
Magna has hosted conferences for blue chip companies including Mercedes Benz, Honda, HSBC and the Royal Mail, and speakers have included John Prescott, Michael Portillo and Robert Peston.
“Corporate events now have a turnover of more than £1 million,” says Paul, “so it’s a really big part of our business.”
But he can turn his hand to any challenge. The winner of a recent charity auction prize asked him to cook a TV-style ‘bush tucker’ meal. So Paul conjured up curried crickets and garlic mealworms, finishing with deep-fried sheep’s testicle.
“Needless to say, it was a memorable dining experience!”
Back at home with his wife and two children, Paul likes nothing better than to curl up on the sofa with a toasted cheese sandwich.
His wife loves his cooking and Sunday lunch is one of the family’s favourites – but they stick to a traditional roast. He’s not planning on cooking edible scorpions or beetle grubs any time soon.
One of Paul’s favourite banqueting specialities is braised beef feather blade: “It’s a pretty straightforward dish to make and plate but the taste speaks for itself,” he says.
Braised beef feathers blade
Served with horseradish pommes purée, honey and cumin-glazed carrots, buttered kale and a beef jus.
Paul Childs says: “It always goes down well and we can manage up to 1,000 covers with this dish.”
Try it for yourself.
The quantities quoted serve five people (medium sized portion), four people (large portion), six people (smaller portion)
For the beef:
2kg beef feather blade
2.5 litres beef stock
1 carrot, sliced
1 onion, sliced
1 stick celery, chopped
2-3 good size potatoes
salt & pepper
pinch of cumin
pinch of salt
salt & pepper
Place beef on top of the carrot, onion, celery, garlic and bay leaf in an ovenproof dish and pour over the stock. Cover with baking paper, seal with foil, cook 4hrs at 160C. When tender, remove excess fat and pull beef using a fork. While still warm, roll in a double layer of clingfilm to form a sausage 5cm diameter. Chill overnight.
Reduce stock until it coats back of a spoon; strain finely.
Peel and boil potatoes until soft. Force through a potato ricer, add butter, horseradish and seasoning to taste.
Peel and chop, cover with honey, cumin, oil, butter and salt; roast until tender
Pick, wash and shred, then gently sauté in oil and butter until lightly crisped; season to taste.
Recipe by Paul Childs