A week or so ago I hopped in the car with my chum Sarah and headed down to Riverford Field Kitchen, Buckfastleigh. We were booked on one of their spring vegetable cookery demonstrations with head chef Patrick Hanna and I’m not going to lie. We were pretty excited about it!
After a hairy last 10 minutes of our journey where we took the wrong turning and ended up in the backend of nowhere, we made it on time by the skin of our teeth. Thank goodness we did because I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this for the world.
A Little More About The Demo From Guy Singh-Watson
“I want the cookery demo’s and recipes to bridge the gap between aspiration and reality; to make a turnip or courgette exciting and to prevent a cardoon or artichoke from being intimidating. My dream is that a veg box will seem like an allotment without the work and that our chef’s will inspire you to help make veg the stars of your eating.”
True words from Guy when he says that artichokes are intimidating. I wouldn’t have the first idea on how to prepare one but that’s what these cookery demos are here for. To take away the worry and show people like me that cooking veg is easy, enjoyable and that the finished article is downright tasty.
As soon as Sarah and I entered, we were greeted with a smile by Riverford Field Kitchen’s head chef Patrick. We were welcomed alongside the other members of the demonstration group with freshly brewed pots of tea and a large cafetière of coffee. With a cup of tea in hand, we moved across the room to the demonstration table which would be our focal point for the next hour or so. Patrick got off to an enthusiastic start explaining his love of spring. For the chef, spring is an exciting time with the first salads and greens popping up with April being the season for asparagus, rhubarb, wild garlic and cardoons. A little later comes the first early potatoes and strawberries with new crops starting each and every week. For a chef and people like myself, it’s inspiring and opens so many more channels to get creative in the kitchen.
Our second recipe highlighted the humble cauliflower. Now, I love cauliflower but for many, it is deemed a bland and boring vegetable. Au contraire! Eating cauliflower raw changes the whole dynamic. Firstly there is texture with that wonderful crunch and then you get the true flavour. Mix that with plump sultanas and plenty of herbs and you have a winning Shaved Cauliflower Fattoush.
Next came the turn of rhubarb. Truly one of my all-time favourite fruits and so versatile. Not only can it be used in all manner of sweet recipes but it is great in savoury dishes too. On the menu that day was a wobbly custard tart with poached rhubarb. I couldn’t think of a dessert I would rather have at this time of year. What a celebration of the young pink Riverford rhubarb.
From the stunningly beautiful rhubarb tart we up-sticks and made our way to one of the Field Kitchens polytunnels. This was going to be our home for the next and final recipe in our demonstration.
The last recipe in our demo was wild garlic and walnut pesto which was particularly seasonal. The wild garlic season is a short one and probably by the time this post is published it will be sadly over. I adore wild garlic. The subtle garlic flavour works very well with cheese, eggs and of course in a pesto. Last year I made buckets of the stuff with my wild garlic crop and popped leftovers in the freezer. It’s great having that zing of flavour on hand when the season is long past us. This season I didn’t manage to get picking so to have wild garlic on the menu at Riverford Field Kitchen on my visit made me very, very happy. Patrick made his pesto with parmesan, toasted walnuts and plenty of good olive oil. The scent in the polytunnel at this point was incredible as you can imagine.
After the demonstration, we made our leisurely way back to the Field Kitchen. It was time for lunch and goodness me what a feast we had in store. The doors to the kitchen were flung open and the warm spring air filled the restaurant. Other guests started to arrive to join us for lunch service. Full to bursting with hungry diners, Sarah and I ordered drinks. A great selection of local organic beers, organic and biodynamic wines from further afield as well as my personal local favourite, Sharpham Vineyard were on offer. For the drivers, there were plenty of deliciously fruity soft drinks to choose from as well as complimentary tap water for the table.
With a glass of Sharpham’s Dart Valley Reserve in hand, the food started to arrive. Communal dining is the way forward at Riverford Field Kitchen. Big vintage plates piled high with scrumptious organic vegetables made their way to the table. Everyone helps themselves to a spoonful and then passes the dish on to their neighbour. I love this way of serving and eating. It’s the way I serve all my food at home. It gets people communicating and discussing what they are about to consume. Plus, you have complete control of portion size so this eliminates waste.
Delicious warm rye sourdough with salted butter to mop up the juices of our Piedmontese peppers to start followed by the purple sprouting broccoli with tahini yoghurt and cauliflower fattoush that we had witnessed being made in our cookery demonstration.
The delicious dishes kept on coming! sage and rhubarb porchetta for the carnivores, butternut squash galette for the vegetarians and celeriac steak for the vegans. To have alongside were hassleback potatoes and roasted carrots with wild garlic pesto. Oh my! The flavours were exceptional.
As if that wasn’t enough we were called table by table to the kitchen to choose our desserts. One full-size portion or two smaller if you fancied trying a couple. To be honest, I really don’t know how you could pick just one when you have the likes of sticky toffee pudding with custard, rhubarb pavlova or pear and chocolate tart to choose from amongst others. Sarah and I were savvy. We decided to share our desserts so we could try 4 between us. Clever right? Our choices were the sticky toffee pud with custard, lemon and pistachio baked yoghurt, pear and chocolate tart with cream and the rhubarb and custard tart that we had witnessed being made in our spring vegetable demonstration. After all of that delicious eating, we relaxed over tea taking in the atmosphere in the room. The gentle hum of diners was a therapeutic end to our fabulous morning of learning and eating.
The next Spring Vegetable Cookery Course is on the 12th May 2018. Click here to be transported to Riverford Field Kitchens coupes and workshop page for more information on this course and more beyond.
I was a guest at Riverford Field Kitchen Spring Vegetable Cookery Demonstration. All views are my own as always.
Additional photographs by Sarah Hale.