A chef’s essential ingredient

Some chefs may talk about salt, pepper, garlic or a certain herb being the key ingredient to their dishes.

But one thing all chefs have in common is their reliance on water.

As sous chef Zac Smith says: “You can’t cook without water, it’s that simple.”

Zac, 20, knows just how vital water is in the preparation and cooking of a meal.

The chef stumbled across his current job at the Brewers Arms, in Rattlesden, Suffolk, when searching through the job section of the East Anglian Daily Times.

Starting from the bottom of the catering business Zac has worked his way up over the last year and a half.

“You can’t substitute the enjoyment of doing something you’re passionate about as a job,” he explains.

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Zac previously worked at another local restaurant but left to work under the Brewers Arms’ head chef Rino Scalco when the restaurant first opened in April 2011.

Throughout his day-to-day role water features heavily.

We all know how we use water in the kitchen – for boiling, washing and steaming – but water is used for far more than just cooking vegetables for Sunday lunch.

According to Zac, the Brewers Arms uses water in a variety of ways.

Cleanliness is perhaps the most important – ensuring hands and kitchen work surfaces are clean, hygienic and suitable for preparing food on.

There are also the kitchen utensils, cooking machinery and the food itself to think about.

As well as its role in hygiene, water has a multitude of other functions in the kitchen.

Certain cooking methods, such as boiling and sous vide (cooking food in a water bath for a long time), require water to cook the foods and there are many ways water is used in the preparation of stocks and sauces.

Water is also used in the form of ice for cooking and for cooling, Zac explains. Ice is placed under seafood to keep it fresh, and ice and water are used in the making of ice creams and sorbets.

But the role of water in cooking goes back even further than that – without water we would not be able to enjoy many types of food.

“It goes back to water helping the crops and vegetables to grow,” says Zac.

In fact, it is vital for the animals to have a healthy life before their meat comes into the kitchen, and for the rivers where the Brewers Arms get their fish produce from.

It’s also used on site to feed the chickens that are kept for free range eggs.

The chickens, which are kept as pets, are the pub’s only resource of eggs and all are free range.

When asked if he thinks water is important when creating a meal, Zac said it is one of the most important aspects. He goes on to say: “Not only does it go into a meal but water to drink aids digestion, and keeps us awake and functioning, and more able to enjoy food.”

It helps the kitchen workers, too, says Zac, who adds that a cool drink of water can be the perfect relief for those in a hot kitchen.

The number of people dining at the Brewers Arms for lunch or dinner can vary hugely.

Having to cook for 60 people on a Saturday evening is no easy feat and remembering to be conservative with water could sometimes feel more of a burden than help.

However, the Brewers Arms are conscious to recycle and use as little water as needs be.

To ensure they are environmentally friendly they have water usage limiters in their cisterns and showers.

Water that has already been used is recycled for the chickens, and water used in cooking can sometimes be reused to help in making sauces and other dishes.

When asked what water means to him, Zac said: “Water means everything to me.

“It’s easy to forget how lucky we are in the developed world when it just comes out of a tap every time you turn one on.”

He goes so far to say: “I certainly couldn’t do my job without it and none of us could live our lives the way we do without it.”