Thursday, 19 September 2019

Adventures in Sustainable Cheffing at Riverford

Me: Yasmine 

My name is Yasmine and I’m currently on my third-year work placement in Devon England at an organic farm and restaurant called Riverford. 

I have always been environmentally conscious, now so more than ever. So I knew I wanted to work somewhere that had an environmentally sustainable ethos that focused on a mainly vegetable based menu. I also wanted to try to acquire some knowledge and experience in a garden or farm that would aid me in better understanding where my food comes from and how best I, as a chef, can use that food.  I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant in terms of a job, if I’m honest I’m still not 100% sure what it means in terms of a job. However, after some research online I was able to find some organic farm/restaurants and hotels with onsite gardens.

Although I wasn’t sure what I could offer these places, having little to no knowledge of organic farming or even vegetarian cuisine. I tried my luck and got a placement at my top preference! Riverford Organic Farms is an LTD company that supplies 100% certified organic vegetable and recipes boxes to customers all across the UK.  The company was founded 30 years ago by Guy Watson. The company has since grown to encompass 3 other farms across the UK. The company has official been 87% employee owned for an entire year now and is driven by an ethos of fairness, equality, organic, fair trade or local products.
Riverfords' Logo

Ten years ago on the original site of Riverford (Wash Farm) the Riverford field kitchen was opened. The field kitchen is a quaint, cosy restaurant that serves a mostly vegetable based menu. They are certified as an organic establishment, meaning 95 -100% of the food served on the premises is organic. The food is sourced from either the Riverford farms, or other organic retailers. All our meats, dairy, fish, spices, oils, flours, wines, spirits, teas and coffee are also certified organic and fair trade wherever possible.

The Field Kitchen is a reservation only restaurant in which only two services are done in a day, lunch and dinner. Customers call up to make a reservation, they are asked how many guests, their dietary restrictions and their preference of a vegetarian or a meat main course - this excludes Mondays, as they are a designated meat free day and on Fridays’ we offer only fish as a meat main course. We cater to all dietary restrictions (Gluten free, dairy free, vegan, vegetarian, etc.) We also cater to individual allergens or pregnancy related dietary restrictions.

Field Kitchen

Event Yurt and outdoor seating area for the Field Kitchen.

Riverford: Path connecting the main building, the Field kitchen and the staff canteen and smoking area. 

Field Kitchen inside, set for service. 
Guests are asked to arrive 30 mins before service, 12:30 for lunch/6:30 for dinner in order to be seated. Customers are also welcome, and often do, stroll around the farm to check out the Field Garden (the polytunnel and attached field used to grow some products for the kitchen and well as cut flowers used for decoration in the Field Kitchen.) The restaurant works in a ‘self-service’ style, where platters are brought to the table for customers plate themselves. Any individual plates sent are due to dietary restrictions. In order to ensure there is enough for all, servers do remind customers to be respectful of their fellow diners.

Menu: Each lunch and dinner service menu is different. No menu is ever repeated, although some aspects might be the same or similar. The menu is completely dependent on what food we have available to us at that time on that day. 

As a part of my placement I am working in both The Field Kitchen and The Field Garden. I work (most) Mondays and Tuesdays with Penny (the incredibly informative gardener) in the Field Garden where I am learning about organic planting, growing and harvesting. This has been a wonderful experience for me so far, I am really enjoying being able to work outside and with my hands. I am learning so much about plant identification, plant variety and all the different uses for plant parts.
Field Garden: Beds at beginning of summer ready for the season.

The Field Kitchen Polytunnel

Field Garden:Smaller polytunnel and crops

Pop-up BBQ: Open fire cooking outside the polytunnel, dinner served inside the polytunnel. 

Field Garden beds

Pop-up BBQ 

Field Garden: Cut flowers grown for decoration in the Field Kitchen.

Field Garden: Cut flowers, grown to be dried in the Field Kitchen as decoration. 

I also work in The Field Kitchen alongside the very talented chefs. As it is a vegetable-based restaurant a lot of my time is spent sorting, storing, washing/scrubbing and prepping vegetables. I love it though! I’ve already seen and tasted some delicious vegetable varieties I’ve never had before. I’ve also learned how simple additions to a plate of vegetables can really make it a meal... my new favourite thing is pesto dressed greens, AMAZING!

It’s the 19st of September which means I’ve just begun my 4th month (of a total of six months). I have to say so far, I’m loving this experience. It’s been an adjustment, being away from friends, family and home, but it’s been so wonderful getting to learn so many new things. I’m really looking forward to learning more! Although I’m excited to share Riverfords’ sustainable-organic ethos with others I know I will miss working with such incredible ingredients and my inspiring colleagues who share my passion for sustainability.

If you are thinking of following down a sustainable path in your career, I cannot recommend Riverford enough, the thought and care that is put into the food (and the general work life) is beyond repute. Although it can be difficult being in such a quaint area of England, there are no night clubs or pub crawls to be had any where near me, the beauty of this area makes up for it. I’ve seen some of the most unimaginably beautiful gardens and heritage sights. However, if you are looking for a bit of excitement, Plymouth and Bristol are both on the direct train line from Totnes, both are college cities and full of the craic!

If you'd like to see some of my never regular posts about my life here in Totnes and all I've been learning so far feel free to look up #AdventuresInSustainableCheffing on instagram, where I have shared some experiences and I will try to be better with sharing more about life here in Totnes and working in Riverford. 

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