After an incredibly busy 2020 despite all the challenges and interruptions caused by Covid-19, I have now found the time to sit down to get my thoughts together. I realised I hadn't written a blog since July 2020, so this post, bringing together my learnings from 2021 and highlighting where I see things headed in 2021 is well overdue.
2020 was hugely successful, after lockdown one, bookings went through the roof and all my focus went into getting through all the hard work and preparation and getting to the late autumn or early winter. It got so busy that I could have filled my September dates twice or moreover. November came quickly and after such a busy time, I felt I needed a rest. December was a great time where I spent most of the month enjoying time with my daughter after having little time to spend with her during that busy time.
Walking locally through the beautiful and varied Pembroke landscape during these tough times as been a huge comfort and as always, a source of inspiration. When I look out over my local waters and terrain, I quietly say to my self "oh, the possibilities" and with all this and looking back on 2020 I now feel I building something really special here. More parts of the puzzle fit together and it just feels right.
After lockdown one, I put a lot of focus on improving on the dining experience, and from the feedback and repeat bookings for 2021, I would say that has been well received by guests. In 2021 the intention is to refine things further and to broaden the scope of the ingredients (or elements) further, as there is so much quality on offer here in Pembrokeshire.
Unusually, 2020 wasn't a great year for fungi, lots of my normal patches didn't fruit at all, but every fungi I picked last year was from a new patch. As a foraging chef, this was very welcome. It will be interesting to see how 2021 turns out, but at least the challenges of 2020 have driven me to locate more sources, improving the chances of finding good quality fungi on each foraging outing.
The game season came and went and in fact, ended just a few days ago, and in 2020, I decided to utilise some of these wonderful creatures, sourced sustainably and humanely of course.
Utilising the best wild game is just thrilling to me, I don't use a lot of game and probably never will. If I use ten of each species I want to use a season I don't see a huge problem with it.
A few people didn't like the fact that I switched to using wild birds and animals, but I would rather use these wonderful creatures rather than an intensively farmed poultry. I also think that because of covid a lot of shoots haven't gone ahead and this is really good for wild game going forward. A break for game is a good thing, and in my local area, I have seen an abundance of wild species, probably due to a lack of people shooting.
The autumn saw me using Hare and Mallard.
I have learned so much in the last few years about what I can gather and find locally from suppliers here in Pembrokeshire. 2020 has seen me locate some new local small suppliers who share my passion for sustainability and quality, and I'm delighted to be able to introduce these quality products to my portfolio. An amazing variety of different shellfish and line-caught local fish such as this wonderful turbot below will be appearing on the foraging dinner menu in 2021. I have caught turbot myself in the past, but the larger fish I need come from deeper water, so finding someone to catch them for me was a must. Turbot really is the king of the fish in taste terms and this fish will become a solid staple for future fine dining experiences.
In addition to finding new local suppliers, Wintertime every year sees me going back to the drawing board to find new elements. The plan going forwards is to extend my operating season to 11 months of the year and not the 9 months that I am at the moment, so adding new elements to cover more months of the year has been key.
I use the term elements rather than ingredients and to me, elements feel more respectful to each individual plant, fungi or animal we use. They mean way more to me than just an "ingredient" and my goal is always to not overcomplicate things. letting these wonderful elements speak for themselves in the dishes I serve. So January has seen me busy looking at what I can provide on future foraging menus when life goes back to more normality in the winters to come.
Yes, foraging opportunities ease off a bit, but with a pretty mild Pembrokeshire climate, I can still find lots in the hedgerows and on the shoreline into December and throughout January. It is perfectly possible for me to run all year round without compromising on the variety of tastes or taking anything away from the quality. With a bit of thought and careful selection of flavour combinations winter dining can be every better than the more abundant seasons of Spring and Summer.
My small vegetable patch did really well and I still have root vegetables in there now for personal use. I learned so much about the garden during the lockdown, and this is a passion I want to build on.
As a chef that's determined to stay small and focused on creating a real food destination that is truly sustainable from an environmental point of view, every shred of waste needs to be looked at and cut down. I have found that lots of root vegetable trimmings can be used to flavour "maceration" vinegar and salts, and they work so well in sauces, and emulsifications to pair with their own base element and with other ingredients too.
Back in the late summer, I started focusing more on preserving the fruits that were on offer locally. Cherries, damsons and plums, crab apples and other varieties of apples, were preserved in different ways. In early autumn assorted nuts were shelled, blanched gently and roasted and preserved in their own oils.
The trends of preservation techniques across the world are so interesting, and so much so it is nice to be able to look at something like for example Japanese Umebochi and then use our own local ingredients to create something similar or try to improve on it. I tested the plums in the more traditional way by just salting plums. It didn't work! Too salty! But by taking the recipe to 80% salt, 20% sugar and a touch of pine I made something truly spectacular in taste.
The challenge for me is how to take our home ingredients and make them shine, make them so good that these simple local Welsh ingredients can stand on the world stage and still have a sense of place and belonging in the here and now.
This is where the future of fishing and foraging lies and the clear direction I want to head in. Each development that works feels like a huge victory and achievement, and with each victory, new ideas emerge for further experimentation.
I know times are hard and uncertain but if you would like to book in advance for this wonderful foraging and dining experience and most of all a wonderful learning experience, then please do get in touch. I am hoping to be up and running by April or May at the latest subject to Covid restrictions, and I do have bookings already into October already, so don't miss out.
My days out even if purchased now have an open valid time. So your money won't go to waste.
What could be better than being outdoors and enjoying the countryside and then enjoying the fruits of this wonderful county and country on a plate?
Telephone - 07308313107