“I’ve never heard anyone say a bad word about Bill Baker, although he may not be his doctor’s idea of a model patient, Bill is one of the very few wine merchants who embraces what he eats as enthusiastically as what he drinks”. From Vintner’s Tales. 1991 Jancis Robinson

The late Bill Baker was an eccentric and gregarious wine merchant who regarded the epithet bon vivant as something akin to a parallel profession. If he had ever been called to the Shakespearian stage, Falstaff would have been the casting director’s choice. It was a sad day for the wine profession when Bill died, quietly in his bed in 2008; he was only 53. Like other enlightened wine merchants, Bill understood that food and wine were inextricably linked and he followed the French maxim; “No wine without food. No food without wine”. His rotund girth displayed how energetically he promoted this mantra. I would bump into him (sometimes quite literally) at the wine tastings our profession regularly held and in a crowded exhibition hall, one just followed the conversational cacophony, only to find Bill at its core.

His contribution to the hospitality industry in the UK was substantial and he was often professionally closer to chefs than he was to restaurant owners. His consultancy spread beyond our shores, but his favourite haunts were the Michelin starred restaurants across southern England. He was lifelong friends with chef Simon Hopkinson, who ran the kitchens at Terence Conran’s Bibendum in London, and spent many years at his holiday home in Cornwall curating the wine lists for outlets of another close colleague; Rick Stein. It was to Rick that Bill bequeathed one of my favourite seafood tarts – Langoustine and Clotted Cream Quiche.

Langoustine and Clotted Cream Quiche with Tarragon and Parsley from Rick Stein’s Food Heroes (2002) Rick Stein

Quantity of rich Shortcrust Pastry
1 egg white
750 g cooked langoustines in the shell
175 ml milk (Bill recommended 175 ml single cream instead, which I prefer)
100 g clotted cream
3 large eggs
2 tsp finely chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6
Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured work surface and use it to line a 4 cm deep 22 cm loose-bottomed flan tin
Prick the base here and there with a fork and chill for 20 minutes
Line the pastry case with a sheet of crumpled greaseproofpaper and baking beans
Bake blind for 15 minutes
Remove the paper and beans and return it to the oven for 5 minutes
Remove once more and and brush the base of the case with the unbeaten egg white
Return to the oven for 1 minute
Remove and lower the oven temperature to 190°C/375°F/Gas Mark 5
While the pastry case is baking, remove the langoustine meats from their shells
In a bowl, gradually mix the milk (single cream) into the clotted cream until smooth
Beat the eggs and stir in the tarragon, parsley, ¾ tsp of salt and some freshly ground pepper
Scatter the langoustine meats over the base of the pastry case and pour over the egg mixture
Bake the quiche for 25-30 minutes until just set and lightly browned
Remove and leave it to cool slightly before serving

Wine thoughts

I will stick with Bill’s Francophile tendencies and opt for the best of the Chardonnay grape from the tip of Burgundy in northeastern France – Chablis. Grown on limestone, which accounts for it’s noticeable mineral nuances, it is still firmly supported by a range of vibrant fruit flavours. If a simple, less expensive and uncomplicated lunchtime is your plan, give Petit Chablis a try. It’s soil is somewhat different as most of the vines are rooted in Kimmeridge clay, a geological fault line it shares with Dorset, and one which offers a softer style that many feel emanates from the millennia-old crushed oyster shells beneath. Both work wonderfully well with shellfish.