Food is always exciting at the cutting edge and today’s leading examples have taken growing to heart and are producing some extraordinary results. Three chefs in particular sum up this new revolution: Simon Rogan, Andrew Fairlie and Sat Bains.
Chandos Elletson went to meet them.
Fifteen years ago, whilst working on Restaurant Magazine, I predicted that farmers would be the next chefs. However, what I didn’t see coming was that chefs would become those farmers. Today, farming is at the forefront of cooking.
The first chef to really delve into the whole idea of being a farmer was Simon Rogan at L’Enclume in Cartmel, Cumbria, introducing what was a natural extension to foraging. That came first. A small holding followed and from that came the addition of more land and, as a consequence, more production.
What excites chefs such as Simon Rogan is being able to pick a fruit or vegetable at a precise point and to serve it within hours of picking. The freshness is the key component of flavour and the farm has enabled Simon to open up in Manchester and London and to expand the number of different ingredients that are appearing in his dishes.
Andrew Fairlie, on the other hand, up in Scotland at Gleneagles, has invested in a chef’s garden and now sees it’s produce as the way forward for his menu.
“Our food is getting simpler,” he told me. “We have this beautiful product which is so delicate and seasonal that all we want to do is keep the simplicity. It inspires us because we are growing it ourselves.”
Sat Bains, with his restaurant with rooms in Nottingham, doesn’t have room for a sizeable vegetable garden let alone a farm but what space he has he makes full use of.
He composts kitchen waste, grows his own mushrooms, works greenhouses and plants seeds in special conditions. In short, he runs a brilliant urban garden and celebrates rather than hides his location shortcomings.
All this was demonstrated in a typically brilliant Sat Bains dish of, what appeared to be, strawberries and ice cream but what turned out to be baby home-grown tomatoes re-hydrated in strawberry juice (his own strawbs) and served with a jammie dodger (sable discs filled with tomato jam) and a perfect vanilla ice cream plus some extra virgin olive oil just to confuse you a little more.
The tomatoes looked like strawberries but tasted like a cross between a tomato and a strawberry. They were sweet but with that hint of acidity that get from a tomato.
“I’m inspired by Japanese Kaiseki,” he explained. “I love building a menu of tastes that keeps you feeling light and yet excited. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t get to eat delicious. Everything we do has to be world class. That’s our job.
“Every component of a dish must hit those standards and that means we need to be vigilant about technical skill. The sable in the jammie dodger is classic French and so is the ice cream. They have to be flawless. Our guests don’t want to look at technical skill. They want to eat and enjoy.
“Food has become produce led,” Sat explained. “We want to give our guests a journey. Our guests are really into where their food comes from and who the growers are. But it has to be delicious.”
Sat gave me a tour of the garden and its outbuildings, some of which are now bedrooms., and others are for research and development. R&D is very chef trendy but Sat Bains, in his own inimitable way, has taken this a step further.
He used to have a regular research kitchen where guests could sit at the bar and be cooked for but this was ripped out and replaced with Nucleus. The idea behind this is revolutionary.
“Nucleus has six covers or three tables of two” said Sat. “It is a separate restaurant with its own bathroom and what you eat is cooked right in front of you. Everything you eat here has not been on the main restaurant menu and won’t be for at least two weeks. So, when you eat at Nucleus, you’re tasting what we are developing.”
This level of innovation is now taking place up and down the country as chefs star to expand their knowledge base to include growing, farming and science.
Time will tell whether chefs go the whole hog and move into animal farming with their own herds of cattle. A world of possibilities is opening up that could see the chefs profession change forever.