Lewis Glanvill isn’t your typical head chef. Aged 22 and with two young children (he got his first head chef job aged 17), he has the kind of CV that almost makes you question what you’ve achieved in life.
His latest role, taking over the reins of Riverford’s award-winning Field Kitchen restaurant, comes after a stint at Gara Rock, the hotel-restaurant perched on the cliffs near Salcombe, where he worked as a head chef during its relaunch last year.
From even a brief chat, Glanvill has the kind of modesty that is rarely seen in a head chef persona, think Gordon Ramsay’s rages or the kind of macho TV arrogance carried by several celebrity chefs – not a coincidence as he describes that style as “old school” and “not something I have”.
Beginning his career as a kitchen porter aged 13, he seems to put his success down to being in the right place at the right time, as well as an early mentor in the form of Michel Roux-trained Tim Bouget, who owns the acclaimed Ode group of restaurants and cafes in south Devon.
He took over as head chef at Gara after being put forward by Bouget, staying on to oversee a major relaunch where he was involved “in much more than the kitchen”. “When you put it like that, it does sound a bit ridiculous,” he smiles, conceding, before returning to his preferred tone of understatement: “I worked my way up from the age of 13, and progressed quite quickly, mainly through taking on more responsibility.”
Clearly it wasn’t all about availability: Glanvill has racked up a small but high quality list of former employers including Shoreditch hotspot Brawn, as well as the guesthouse and restaurant enterprise from Tom Adams and April Bloomfield, Coombeshead Farm, in Cornwall.
That’s about as far as he’ll go with the name-dropping, and he is at pains to point out that he prefers to follow smaller chefs on Instagram, rather than the more mainstream celebrities.
What he does care about is the provenance and quality of his food, something he credits Bouget with inspiring. “The Ode group are into organic and sustainable farming, and we did a lot of cooking by the seasons,” he says. “I enjoy doing a lot of foraging and seeing what’s outside, it seemed a bit wrong to order anything that wasn’t in season. At Gara, it was 90 per cent UK produce.
“I had a random idea to build a kitchen garden so there’s quite a lot that can be grown around there now.
“I don’t like spending the whole day cooped up in the kitchen. And it made it more enjoyable for my team to be able to go out and maintain the garden and I quite enjoy the idea of finding something and cooking with it,” he says.
It’s an attitude that will no doubt serve him well at the Field Kitchen, situated as it is on Riverford’s head farm and within walking distance of its own polytunnel and a treasure trove of new varieties.
Glanvill’s laid-back approach is more understandable when you discover that surfing is his main activity outside of work and family. You get the feeling that it’s this quality that has been spotted, alongside his culinary skills, and helped secure his early rise to the top: a calm pair of hands leading a busy restaurant is not to be underestimated.
It’s something he recognises the value of himself: “When you’re leading a kitchen, people take on your ethos,” he says. “If people are enjoying working, they’ll work better. If everyone gets that it isn’t just my show, then they’re more likely to come up with their own ideas.”
He describes his own cooking style as “not over-complicating it”. “There’s a lot of chefs who will try and dissect a tomato in 10 different ways. Serving it on its own with olive oil and salt, that’s all you really need if it’s a good tomato.
Alongside seasonality and good quality food, Glanvill also seems to have a penchant for DIY – his kitchen team at Gara made their own salt by evaporating seawater, and produced the entire range of soft drinks, including such delights as gorse flower cordial.
“Often I make it harder for myself by making everything from scratch, like the entire soft drinks range. Or all the peanut butters and the jams for the breakfast table,” he says, adding that, unsurprisingly, his family didn’t see much of him during the 17-hour long days at Gara over summer.
His love of seasonal food will be well matched at the Field Kitchen, which has built its reputation around veg as the star of the show and a farm to fork atmosphere, but does he have plans in mind for the restaurant?
“The style is definitely going to stay the same,” he says. “I want to keep the menu as interesting as possible and come up with more ways of introducing people to different vegetables, and combinations they wouldn’t expect to see together.
He won’t name a favourite vegetable, but says he likes working with unusual produce like agretti, or monk’s beard, and the popular Italian leafy green cime de rapa.
What three words would he choose to describe himself? “Creative and modest,” he begins, pausing before adding, “and fun, because otherwise that’s a long time to spend with someone in a kitchen.”