How I Cook
I love the way cooking creates celebration and community. Food brings people together. When I’m cooking a feast, the food is served in abundance. Platters of beautiful food and tasting morsels for people to share and pass.
As we create community through food, the community supports us, thereby creating a natural network. This way we know what we’re buying, and from who, without having to trace an ingredients provenance.
If I get half a chance to bring an element of the outdoors into the kitchen I will, utilising ancient and primeval forms of cooking, like earth ovens, and foraging. One of my fondest culinary memories is of cooking outdoors in Portugal. I cooked black bream straight on the coals of the open fire with nothing to protect it but the scales. The skin peeled of in one clean piece revealing the most succulent firm flesh, slightly smokey and salty from the sea air.
The foundation of my cooking experience is from Spain and Italy. My first chef and best friend Ben Hodges taught me from a strong Spanish influence. He lived in the Granada province with his mother while growing up, so our food was really hearty. We made ultra rustic dishes like fabada, bacalhau salad and caponata. We spent three years together travelling around little Spanish pueblos collecting samples of delicious organic olive oils, recipes and taste memories before returning for the festive season to cook all day and night serving up what we’d learnt.
Ben now lives in the Philippines cooking simple food and running an eco-farm. Ben showed me that the provenance of food was important and that good organic seasonal produce could not be bettered for quality and freshness.
I now base my menus on the seasons, I have a simple method of creating a menu – Study the seasonal ingredients (from wild foraging to cultivated veggies and game) – pick what seems instantly inspiring or I’m told is a particularly good year for – Haazzzarrr! a menu appears. I’ve taken to writing menus and ideas in a sketchbook, it helps me expand on ideas creatively with drawings and flowing text.
Caring for the environment has always been paramount to how I operate a business. In our kitchens we minimise waste by preparing not only meat but vegetables with thrift in mind. One might serve the beetroot leaves wilted alongside the roasted beets for instance, or keep veg offcuts for a stock. All other waste is composted and recycled.
Recently I have partnered up with Taste of Freedom, a charity that works with food destined for landfill. Intercepting perfectly good crates of ripe fruit or imperfectly shaped vegetables. The menus Ive been creating alongside them are inspired by ‘freeganism’… we’ve had donations from food packing companies, fishmongers in Hastings and our local butcher.
We want to show that waste food used wisely can be made into dishes that could be used in any restaurant. I recently cooked for Feast on the Bridge (organised by the Mayor of London’s office).
The menu started with a canape of char-grilled cod livers with preserved lemons and toast buttered with roasted bone marrow. The main course was a Galician style fish stew made with fresh fish that fishermen had discarded at the shoreline for us to retrieve and put to good use feeding hundreds of people instead of throwing it dead into the sea. The meal is finished with my twist on summer pudding, made using scrumpy apples and gluts of berries from the hedgerows.
I am now looking for a premises to open a restaurant based on these principles, the whole restaurant will be recycled even the space itself and the furniture!