WE went for a Nando’s with a difference at the Real Junk Food Project. The difference? It didn’t come charred and coarsely spiced with industrial chips. This was Professional Masterchef star Matt Campbell using flash-chilled raw chicken from the popular chain that would have gone to waste and turning it into something quite special.
It was the only protein-led dish on a vegan-leaning dinner menu he served at the Project’s Cafe on Oxford Street – the latest in their 'Real Junk Food Challenge’ evenings, where the chef is given what is available from the markets that morning that would otherwise be chucked away. The challenge – to turn it into a feast.
Matt’s six courses rose to the challenge brilliantly. His ‘Coconut Nando’s Chicken’ (above)was influenced by his peripatetic path to fame, working as a private chef across the globe. A peanut crumb on top, a roasted aubergine satay below, the moulded chicken was sumptuous. Maybe an Indonesian chef wouldn’t have added blobs of mango to the plate but, following the brief, Matt was utilising what was fresh and to hand on the day.
After his two sell out guest residencies in the RJFM kitchens 28-year-old Matt is competing in this Sunday’s (8th) Manchester Marathon and his vitality is testimony to his own pursuit of what he calls ‘Nutritional Gastronomy’. What is immediately obvious from our dinner is that plant-based plays a big role in this.
On Masterchef The Professionals he surprised judges with a ‘vegan tender cacoa delice encased in a Jerusalem artichoke rosti tuile’. A version of this concludes his Manchester menu and it is utterly delicious, coffee and the nutty artichoke compote an inspired match.
The vegan pre-dessert was equally impressive, a sugar-free date and nut cake square a dense and delicious backdrop to an concentrated cacao and banana delice.
After learning his trade at Michelin-starred L’Enclume in Cartmel and, aged 20, finishing second in BBC’s Young Chef of the Year competition. Subsequent forays as a private chef in France, India, Thailand, Peru, Central America and Iceland obviously informed the eclecticism first three courses. Thai hot and sour soup with edamame beans and coriander came in a glass tumbler and was followed by the most obvious bits and pieces dish with a tangle of roasted broccoli, kale and pickled shallot given a certain elegance by a basil cashew cream.
One vegan treat but bettered by the next, very cute take on the hot dog with a roast carrot replacing the dog, crispy skins the onions, all smothered inn hoisin inside a bun.
The in-house team did Matt proud. He is definitely a talent to watch and good to hear him in his opening spiel demonstrating his commitment to battling food waste. Keep an eye on the Twitter feed @realjunkfoodmcr for some equally amazing guests who’ve agreed to take the challenge in coming weeks. As with Matt’s meal, they will be served on a "pay what you feel" basis.
That principle will apply too to the nibbles/snacks that will be served by RJFM 6pm-8pm Thursday April 19 at A Rubbish Night at the Museum, an event organised by Upping It, the UoM Sustainable Consumption Institute. The event is for residents, neighbours, policy makers, international and UK students, academics, businesses, waste operators, and everyone interested in reducing waste and rubbish across Greater Manchester. It’s free. Further details and to register via this link.
Real Junk Food Cafe, 85 Oxford Street, Manchester, M1 6EQ.