Passion for Provenance
The Gladwin Brothers own two restaurants in London: The Shed, a gutsy and vibrant eatery in Notting Hill, and Rabbit, a wild yet refined restaurant in Chelsea on The King’s Road. Both are an extension of their family farm in West Sussex. Seasonal British produce, sustainable cooking and foraging take centre stage in everything they do. Oliver Gladwin is the chef of the three brothers, the others being Richard, who manages the restaurants and Gregory, who works on the farm. Oliver describes what provenance means in their business and why it is important.
“My brothers Richard, Gregory and I were always brought up in an environment surrounded by growing fruit, vegetables and animals, both domesticated and wild, and were raised to respect provenance from the beginning. It’s this upbringing that started us on the path leading to where we are today, with two restaurants focused on farm-to-table and nose-to-tail cooking and focused on using British ingredients from within a 100-mile radius of where we serve our food.”
My real passion and appreciation for provenance started during my time working at OXO Tower. It was a great experience, but we were using 500 rumps of lamb a day and I felt very removed from what happened to the rest of the lambs. So I wrote a letter to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall saying I wanted to work closer to the land and particularly the meat I worked with. In Hugh’s team I had the chance to work in a seasonal and experimental kitchen, both on and off screen, and taught cookery and butchery classes with foraged and farmed produce. My experience working with Hugh further strengthened my respect for the provenance of food and grew my understanding of how it affects quality.
Quality produce is undoubtedly the first step to creating really delicious food and the only real way to know its quality is to understand exactly where it’s coming from. Let’s say it takes a carrot 6 months to grow. It takes about 4 minutes to prep it from start to finish and 2 minutes to cook it depending on how you are serving it. It only takes the customer 20 seconds to eat it. So it’s obvious where the hard work happens – it’s the farmer who makes sure the carrot grows into something delicious to start with.
Now that I have my own restaurants, in addition to respecting our grown produce I always use the entire animal if I can, which is made easier by our serving small plates. From a pigeon, for example, I can serve pigeon dippers as what we call a ‘Mouthful’, the heart as a snack and the breast as a showpiece dish alongside the beautiful carrots, mentioned above – that’s three exciting dishes that will impress my guests by respecting the ingredients and farmers who grow them.
Gregory, my brother who runs the farm where we get most of our food from, including all of our lamb, is so good at what he does that it makes it easy to be passionate and inspired to make better and better dishes for our menus. He inspires us to use every gram and ounce in a responsible and exciting way.
Every chef knows that you’ve got to start with the best to serve the best. When you respect food in this way you also respect your own cooking more, which definitely carries through to the customer experience. It all has to work together. They know when the produce isn’t at its best, just like they know if you don’t care about what you’re serving them.
As a lead chef in my kitchens, I take full responsibility for ensuring that the team understands the effort, time and care that goes into producing the ingredients they are cooking, so that this is passed on to the guest. Make no mistake, the guest cares about that now more than ever. By understanding the provenance of what I bring in, I can lead my team to cook in the best and most creative ways possible. Without knowing where each ingredient comes from, our food doesn’t have a story and without a story neither the chef nor the customer cares about our food as much, so our work is less effective – that why provenance is so important.
I think that we as chefs and business owners need to lead the way in respecting the environment and provenance of what we eat so that others will follow. It’s not sustainable, nor is it healthy, for us to continue to live or work in a way that doesn’t.
By Oliver Gladwin