Connecting back with nature; A collection of short stories from around the UK food scene



Interview by Pasture 
Photography by Zoe Warde-Aldam 

We interviewed a collection of chefs, gardeners, photographers and owners involved in the professional food industry to hear their stories. This mini-series is full of reconnection and tales of positivity while their industry has all but stopped. A love letter, perhaps.

1.
MARIANNA LEIVADITAKI - MORITO HACKNEY ROAD HEAD CHEF


It’s been 7 weeks, and we are still at home rather than in our bustling restaurant kitchens trying to orchestrate a smooth service and cook delicious food while keeping our cool.

It has, without a doubt, been a bumpy ride with a lot to keep our minds on. Some days are calm and serene, some days are busy and hectic, and there are days of enjoyment and appreciation. It is these days, of enjoyment and appreciation that have been the most important ones for me during this time. It has been a time where we have had to turn inwards and focus on things that we often take for granted and allow them to simply become invisible during our busy daily lives.

Spending time at home and making it a better place, showing unconditional love to my family, devoting the biggest part of the day in the kitchen and cherishing my daily walks have made me feel very lucky these days. I feel I actually have the time to enjoy nature and observe it as a chef.

Daily adventures in woods or simply by the canal, I find myself playing “I spy” in my constant search for nature’s edibles. Where there are no edibles, there is the unstoppable beauty of the never-ending trees in full blossom. I finally feel like an active participant in the connection we have with our surroundings.

I have never made so many wild garlic and nettle pies as I have these weeks. I have never followed the flowering of elderflower trees so closely or smelled so many rose bushes to find the best one for drying. I have never planted so many seedlings in my garden and never made so many things for my family from scratch. From looking after my sourdough starter and hanging homemade yoghurt to making granola for my baby son and hanging overripe avocados on the tree for the birds to simply opening the windows in the morning and allowing the warmth of the sun and the songs of the birds to enter and wake us all up.

Even though these times are far from positive, it is important to take a moment and realise what actually matters; good health, people to love and love us back and the ability to do what we love every day.

For our love of cooking, hopefully, we will return to our kitchens soon bringing new positives and sharing them with all sitting around our table.

2.
BETHANY SAVANNAH DAVIES - ORGANIC GROWER AT OUR FARM


As a grower, my day-to-day life feels much more in tune with these rhythms of nature, something that has become apparent now more than ever. I slow down in winter and speed up in spring, unaltered by the halt of lock-down. March, in particular, is a period where things begin to gather momentum on the farm and which, this year, also brought with it the closure of the restaurants for which we grow.

The day following this announcement was undeniably strange; but, as our manager says, ‘you can’t turn the taps off on the farm’ and so, despite lock-down, we were still faced with the responsibility of running a farm oblivious to the changing world around it.

5000 seeds were waiting to be sown that day for the crops we will harvest months down the line. What could we do other than carry on with little insight to when normality would return? And did we not have a responsibility to ensure our food reached people and not the compost pile? So many questions followed, but what was evident was that nature could not be paused and closure would not be an option.

We finished sowing those 5000 seeds that day while hatching a plan of action for the foreseeable future. Like many farms growing for restaurants, we made the decision to redirect our produce to the local community. Not only a sensible option but one we believed to be morally right. Needless to say, this was a test for the business mind as we transitioned our farm from restaurant sales to veg boxes, and it certainty took a week of adjustments before we got it right. But, once we’d learnt the ways of packaging and realised that a limit of 30 boxes a day was not achievable with four people and a farm to manage, we found our system and were thankful to be feeding people.

I don’t think I am alone in saying that, while this period has undoubtedly strengthened our relationship with nature, it has reconnected our industry even more with the people we feed. An intense focus on the food we grow, produce and cook has been somewhat softened as we ask instead what is it that people need and want, placing them firmly back into conversations on food. No doubt that focus will return when the restaurants reopen, but the relationships we’ve formed with people, as well as nature, will not be lost.

3.
CALIXTA KILLANDER - FOUNDER OF FLOURISH PRODUCER


A farmer’s life is entwined with nature. Seasons and the weather dictate farmers, every hour of every day, particularly in the spring and summer. Flourish is an enormously dynamic place. Before lock-down, we would rush from one thing to the next, another email to answer, another crop to harvest, something to irrigate, a million more tasks, squeezing never-ending to-do lists into every day. The closure of all of our restaurants has forced us to embrace a change of pace.

It is spring, and we are planting seeds, and preparing the soil for our growing season, in many ways it is business as usual, but because our sales have stopped, the usual pressure is off. We now have time to watch the birds, to observe the succession of hedgerow blossom and wildflowers, to notice how delicately and deliberately wildlife responds to spring. This time for observation has helped us appreciate the great importance of beauty, and to understand how much happiness it can bring in such a challenging time. We’ve decided to begin a beautification project, planting as many flowers as possible all over the farm. Behind the sheds and along the field edges, we hope the blooms will bring our team joy for the rest of the season.

We always have a big team, but we are a group of 17 at the moment. Chefs and those working in FOH have come to help us operate and to escape the city while their restaurants are closed. Particularly at a time like this, we are grateful for these deepening relationships. The richness that each person brings allows us the opportunity to get to know those who work with our vegetables every day. The simple pleasures of good conversations and delicious shared meals with the farm produce enrich our lives when there are so many unknowns, at it is something we will all cherish when this time is over.