OK, so this isn’t an official accolade, but the COOK Kitchen in Sittingbourne, Kent is like no other. It takes 300 people, working day and night, with immense care and pride, to create our meals. We love showing people round, but if you never make it to our corner of Kent, here’s a virtual guided tour.
1. Goods In
We check in all our ingredients with the same diligence as a sergeant major inspecting his troops on the parade ground. No ingredient enters the Kitchen unless we’re 100% happy and, as our suppliers will tell you, we are very, very fussy.
Under the watchful eye of Big Rob, the Prep Team prepares all the ingredients for the chefs. Vegetables are topped and tailed, peeled and sliced. Meat is trimmed and diced. In the Spice Room, herbs and spices are mixed for marinades. Prep is home to the Mincer of Truth, where we mince prime joints of beef, lamb and pork (after trimming off the fat), to ensure that nothing but top quality meat goes into our mince dishes. It’s where we roll our meatballs by hand - more than 4,000 in one go. And it’s where we marinate our meat for anything up to 24 hours, to ensure it’s tender and flavoursome.
While every COOK dish is most definitely a team effort, it’s the chef who takes the glory and gets their name on the label. To cook many of our dishes we use big, steam-heated saucepans called bratt pans. In these pans, our chefs brown onions; make sauces and reductions; and slow-cook our casseroles for anything up to six hours. They need to season and taste every dish to make sure the flavour is just right.
Finishing is where the final dish gets put together in the tray. Most food companies would use machinery to do this – for example, to squirt out just the right amount of sauce. But we believe people can do a more thorough and detailed job, with real care that makes a difference to the look and taste of the meal you serve at home. Assembling a dish can be very simple – ladling the right amount of Chilli con Carne into a tray – or involve as many as eight different processes. Laborious, but worth it.
Our team of pastry chefs is led by Debbie. Her and her team have decades of experience of working with pastry and they prepare all of our shortcrust by hand, along with our sponge mixes, crumbles and quiche bases.
There is no point in having great tasting food if it is not packed and labelled correctly. Miles heads up the Packing and Labelling team to make sure this all happens smoothly.
Not long after Edward and Dale started COOK, they discovered some phenomenal frozen puddings in a farm shop in Redhill. Ed tracked down their creator: a local lady called Liz Dove, who was making them in the garage of her suburban home. She agreed to supply our little shops in Farnham and Tunbridge Wells and was soon making her puds exclusively for COOK. In 2003, she moved to a farm in Somerset, setting up her puddings kitchen in a converted cow shed.We opened the purpose- built COOK Puddings in 2015 in the nearby village of Ilton. It’s like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, but without Oompa Loompas (we’re working on it...)