Chef Barny Haughton has run three award-winning restaurants in Bristol over the last 25 years – Rocinantes, Quartier Vert and Bordeaux Quay – and he is now the director and lead teacher at the Square Food Foundation. He has a long history of engagement with local sustainable food and is passionate about the vital skill of cooking. He’s created a beautiful menu of food for the Harmony in Food and Farming Conference, in conversation and collaboration with a wide range of local producers and chefs including Jeremy Lee, Pat Browne and Josh Eggleton who will be working with him to orchestrate a culinary tour through West Wales across the Conference.
Barny, you are organising all the food at the Conference and the highlight will be the Harmony Supper on the Monday evening. What informed your thinking about the menu?
Well I knew the menu would be entirely based on the produce, but beyond that I really didn’t have a clue. It’s been a journey really – one that really started walking around the fields with [the grower, Nathan Richards] and grew through meetings and conversations that I had with all the people producing the food and talking to the other chefs involved in the menu, especially Josh Eggleton. It also comes from a long standing belief that the best food comes from good ingredients that are in season and doing as little as possible to them.
Tell us more about some of the stories behind the ingredients?
I was really excited by the huge effort, commitment and care that went into the food, especially the livestock like the lamb from Crynfryn and Huw Jones’ Welsh Black beef – I just know that the lamb and beef will be amazing because of this. I think also in the conversation that I had with Nathan in the field, we talked about one particular cavolo nero, called ‘Dazzling Blue Kale’, that he was growing. That was a real moment, in which I knew that one of the things I had to do was to pull out what were almost stand alone ingredients that would become symbolically representative of the stories behind all the vegetables and the philosophy and passion that lies behind it.
You’ll know that Wendell Berry said “eating is an agricultural act”. Why does provenance matter?
Through all my working life, as a teacher and a chef, I’ve known that the most important thing that any human being does is put food in in their mouth – and if we’re not able to recognise the relationship between that act and the body and the soil, then we’re missing something, we’re not awake to something that’s really vital. That’s why I feel that teaching people to cook – which is my work – is so important. It puts people directly between what they are eating and where their food comes from and that’s an essential part of the conversation, part of the truth that connects us with the world around us. It’s almost boring to talk about the fact that we’ve lost that connection. I really salute what Wendell Berry has said and his lovely, poetic statement about what eating is.
Tell us a little more about the Square Food Foundation?
I’ve been in the restaurant business for near on 30 years, but in all those restaurants there’s been an element of teaching and that grew, in the 90s, into a cookery school for children because I had children who were then in primary school. Food education is so critical. And learning to cook makes it real, otherwise it’s just an abstract idea. I have this dream that suddenly our food education becomes the most important thing that any of us are engaged in.
Square Food Foundation opened five years ago and its mission statement – to teach all people from all walks of life to cook good food from scratch – says it all in a way. But behind it all, what I more and more believe about my work and the business of teaching people to cook, is that that the story of food and exploring it through cooking and eating is a huge part of understanding oneself. So, it’s not just about the ‘life skills’ of being able to make a good stew or even eat healthily – it’s about engaging with one’s humanity. That’s what I think.
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