A few years ago, the great Alice Waters told me that I had to raise my eyes up above the stove.
She was so right and it’s true for all chefs – we have a duty to do more and go further. There is more than enough food on the planet to feed the world, but unless we make better use of what we grow. then the planet will not be able to sustain us.
That was one of the main reasons why I decided last year that I had to do something at Spring to tackle this issue. The other reason was that I had made a commitment to the people who run the main farm that grows for us, Fern Verrow, that we would take all of the fabulous produce they grow. I looked at how much of this gorgeous fruit and veg was ending up in the bin, like the cauliflower leaves and herb stalks.
Also, I’d never wanted Spring to be exclusive and thought wouldn’t it be great if we could create a menu that is more affordable, especially for young people, so they can appreciate really good quality ingredients.
So, we introduced what we called the Scratch menu: delicious, nutritious dishes using ingredients that would otherwise, for one reason or another be discarded, but still using really fantastic produce.
A year on and it’s been absolutely amazing – the response from the kitchen team and customers has been incredible. I handed over responsibility for the menu to the chefs and they have more than risen to the challenge. They feel validated as they can paint their own picture, coming up with new ideas every single day – like today when we had lamb shank with middle eastern bread, over-sized lettuce leaves and yogurt made from the milk left over from the coffee bar.
It’s been such fun. We have a dedicated Scratch shelf in the fridge and we’re constantly experimenting and trying new dishes.
I think the most exciting discoveries have been the yogurt we’ve made using the leftover coffee milk, and most amazingly, making cake from leftover bread – drying it out, re-milling it and re-creating flour.
The amazing produce we get from Fern Verrow really doesn’t require that much work. The Scratch menu pushes the chefs to work that bit harder, to be that bit more creative. But they love it and it’s wonderful to see a younger crowd enjoy three proper, affordable courses. Taking the outer cauliflower leaves, blanching them, grilling them and serving them with coffee milk labneh is such a joy. Another of my favourites is using all of the stalks from the herbs and making them into delicious sauces for grilled meats.
The whole process has changed my attitude too. I am now less cautious about what I think can go on the menu as well as more forward thinking, not just thinking about today. I know I can always use a good product, even if not immediately, whether fermenting or pickling or perhaps making it into a liqueur. It’s also helped me fulfill my commitment to sustain the farm.
To be honest, it’s how I imagine people used to cook when we all valued food more and some of the dishes have been elevated from the Scratch to the main menu, like the thinly sliced, oversized beetroot that we cook for eight hours and serve with the beet juices mixed with muscat grape juice and served with crème fraiche.
To start with, we were using 70% of Fern Verrow’s crop. They are very fussy about what they sell, but we insisted we wanted the seconds too and now we take 86% of their crop. Beauty is such a subjective thing, but I think a salad leaf with holes in it or a large beetroot is more attractive.
Happiness is a no waste, no cost menu
From a commercial point of view, it’s been good for Fern Verrow and good for us as a business too. Effectively, there are no food costs for the Scratch menu. The customer is getting to enjoy quality food at a reduced price and we are wasting practically nothing now and, as I try to be a part of the solution, that makes me feel really joyful and positive.
I think all restaurants can learn something from this. My advice to chefs would be, when you’ve got some downtime, experiment. Cut the stems of the broccoli and try doing different things with them to see what works. Try pickling and fermenting. You’ll create delicious food, reduce your waste and save money.
By Skye Gyngell, Spring
See Spring’s #OnePlanetPlate at oneplanetplate.org