Ethicurean adj: the pursuit of fine food, while being mindful of the impact of food production and consumption, on the environment.
The ‘Ethicureans’ are four, bold young food enthusiasts, who have based their principles on their namesake. They won the Observer’s 2012 Best Ethical Restaurant award, and now they have produced a cookbook – a compelling, earnest, yet playful account of their efforts to put seasonality, sourcing, and environmental sustainability at the centre of their business.
They suggest we should be mindful and involved with the touch, taste and smell of our food system. The book is essentially a manifesto – a statement of how they are trying to live. The result, a collection of recipes shaped by the seasons, and a richly textured story of their relationships with producers, the land and its history.
The Ethicurean restaurant lies ten miles south of Bristol, and is housed within the walled garden of a hillside Georgian estate. The book’s vibrant photography shows bountiful borders, abundant herbs, and vegetables reaching out to old walls that supporting pear, plum and cherry trees. ‘Paradise,’ the Ethicureans’ say, it’s no wonder they never leave.
The Ethicureans’ approach to British food is diverse, inquisitive and refreshingly unbridled by conventional kitchen politics. There is no grappling of interests between the chefs as they celebrate old Somerset traditions, adapt world cuisines and pay homage to the modern gastronomes from whom they’ve drawn inspiration. All the while, the boundaries of local and ethical sourcing shaping their creativity.
The book follows a year in their kitchen, and dishes featured include: soused mackerel with morels, steamed rabbit pie, caramelised chicory, and everything from middle-eastern influenced labneh, to a traditionally English macerated strawberry salad. Preserving methods such as pickling, brining, curing and smoking feature throughout, and they have re-discovered a Victorian-influenced love of sweet and savoury jellies. At times, the dishes are complex, but they are also adaptable, and the tongue-in-cheek editorial supports the reader, giving practical advice about what could go wrong, and a variety of different solutions depending on the quality of the tools you have to hand.
What is particularly engaging about this book, is that the Ethicureans’ are not Somerset natives. This is partly a tale of their adventure, an account of the leap of faith that they took in their lives, after first setting eyes on the garden, less than three years ago. Their joy is infectious – this book will kindle in the reader a thirst to discover what produce is available to you, and whether or not your neighbours will show you their best foraging spots.
The detail and interest in the stories of the people behind the food means that this book contains more information than you could possibly handle in one sitting. The pages are a beautiful collage of food history, molecular gastronomy and niche personal interests. This is a book to dip into, visiting the recommendations on favourite English varieties of sea weed, wild mushrooms and botanicals, on the day when you too feel compelled to make your own vermouth.
Let’s be straight, this is not a cookbook to turn to for a quick fix, or neat ways to use up the last three items in the cupboard. Instead it’s more likely to inspire some adventurous sourcing, (re)introduce some under-used ingredients, or add little-known, and potentially endangered, cooking traditions to your repertoire.
This unique, fresh and lively book is a testament to the Ethicureans’ knack for marrying the fruits of nature (and the ecological concerns underlying its preservation) with the needs and desires of a changing food culture. It demonstrates that whatever the arguments against ‘sustainable’ food, the strongest case to be made for it is this: it is food that is delicious, diverse, and will ground your diet in a sense of time, place and relationships with passionate and committed individuals.
The Ethicurean Cooknook is out now on Ebury Press and can be purchased here.
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