A good friend of mine has been looking for work that befits his 30 years of experience as a restaurant chef. It has been a struggle, which was puzzling – until someone at the recruitment agency confided what the problem is. He is what they call a “fresh chef”.
It turns out that his ability to cook from scratch doesn’t mesh well with an increased reliance on pre-made and frozen food. Cooking skills have been nudged out, in favour of the ability to babysit an increasingly deskilled (and therefore lower wage) brigade of chefs, who reheat food rather than cook it.
This revelation led me and my (quite rightly put out) friend to reminisce – about meals cooked, skills learnt, and how useful those skills have been, in our lives as much as at work.
For my part, I realised how lucky I am to work somewhere like the veg box company Riverford, which encourages cooking skills. Many of our customers are already excellent cooks, and seek to be inspired with fresh, veg-centric ideas. Others are learning from scratch. I hope that, through our recipes, we can spur curiosity, confidence, and eventually capability.
We want every customer to be at ease in the kitchen; it makes a veg box less intimidating, reduces food waste, and empowers you to get more fruit and veg into your diet. After all, we deliver the raw materials of your meals. It would be remiss of us not to include user instructions.
Over the years, I have watched Riverford’s recipe writing evolve. I could probably even date them roughly by the style (a bit more cream and butter ten years ago, more vegan options and fermentation today). Sometimes they can be aspirational, reflecting the playful innovation of The Riverford Field Kitchen restaurant. But we have always sought a good balance of helpful, educational, and, above all, joyful.
I hope we are never too dogmatic; I would rather we sparked ideas for what you could cook than tell you what you should. And we try to freight the recipes with knowledge from the farm, too. An understanding of how your food is grown, and by whom, is as delectable a seasoning as any.
Part of my job is to foster and celebrate our community of “fresh chefs”. That is what fresh ingredients need – and appetites deserve.