I was lucky enough to grow up in a house where life revolved around the kitchen, and a larder stocked with homemade hams, butter, bread, and preserves, as well as experiments with curing.
My mother was a tirelessly inventive and imaginative cook, who gained her inspiration from the produce around her on the farm and in the garden, with occasional input from Jane Grigson, Elizabeth David, Mrs Beeton and Joyce Molyneux; all deeply unfashionable in the 60s and 70s when, with unruffled calm and little thanks, she served daily lunches for her five children plus several farm staff around a long table.
In her own understated way, she shaped all five of us, and what Riverford and my brother Ben’s farm shops have become; we all love food, care deeply about how it is produced, and have had the good fortune to be able to build businesses and lives around what we love.
In retrospect, I realise I have spent much of my adult life subconsciously trying to replicate those lunches, and the wholesome, utilitarian, inclusive, easy way they were shared. The veg boxes were an attempt to share food as directly, affordably, and unfussily as possible.
We hosted farm visits for our early customers, ending in a shared meal. As those visits grew in scale and frequency, they evolved into our farm restaurant, The Riverford Field Kitchen, opened in 2005. By cutting out the cost, waste and compromises associated with long menus (we serve a set daily menu), and by using what grew in the surrounding fields, plus graded out produce from the veg boxes, the prices were affordable and the quality uncompromising.
Though we won a host of awards and made many people happy, profit eluded us until I married Geetie Singh, an organic restaurateur and publican, who brought some rigour to our naïve enthusiasm. Two years ago, Geetie and I opened her 4th pub: The Bull Inn, in nearby Totnes. Although not a part of Riverford, both share a common purpose.
The chefs, Lewis Glanvill at The Field Kitchen and Jonny Tilbrook at The Bull, are as talented as they are calm and modest; they have the freedom, skill and dedication to create a new menu daily according to what’s in season. To this day I still love watching customers, particularly in large groups spanning three or four generations, enjoying an extended, leisurely lunch with children running amok outside. I’m pretty sure my mother would have enjoyed it too.
The Field Kitchen is up for two awards in the Food Reader Awards, the best of South West Independent restaurants in ‘Best Chef’ and ‘Best Restaurant’ categories. Please consider voting for them here.