Here’s what happens when a lab-grown meat scientist turned farmer and Skip Garden’s eco-chef do the cooking. Welcome to a supper club like no other.
When farmer and scientist, Abi Aspen Glencross, and eco-chef Sadhbh Moore met over a shared interest for future food and farming, it was only a matter of time before an experimental supper club was born. We talk to them about pushing the boundaries of provenance beyond ‘farm-to-fork’ and seeking inspiration in heritage grains, lab-grown meat, foraging and even blood, in anticipation of their upcoming Sustainable Food Story at Borough Market.
What is the Sustainable Food Story?
A: We’re a roaming supper club, telling stories about the origins of food and what it means to grow, source and eat food sustainably, in a fun and delicious way. We’re so much more than farm-to-fork, but we don’t claim to be sustainable either. The supper club is very much an ongoing adventure and we want to bring people along with us for the ride. We grow our own produce and we have close ties with producers. We use surplus or underused ingredients, we forage and we try to demystify the issues and preconceived ideas that surround food and farming.
Let’s go back to the beginning. What inspired you to set this up in the first place?
A: We’re a team of scientists, chefs, storytellers and farmers. I’m a farmer, and previously worked as a scientist, growing meat in a lab. I went into it with a romanticised view of how lab-burgers could feed a growing population, but came out realising that far from solving a problem, it’s distracting attention from all the other issues surrounding our food system. For example, the massive waste of meat industry by-products. We need a mind-shift towards using what we have available.
“We need a mind-shift towards using what we have available.”
S: We also have a big shared interest in growing and using heritage grains. We’ve both spent time at Dan Barber’s Blue Hill Stone Barns, who’s amazing at embracing biodiversity and growing under-loved grains. I’m an eco-chef at Skip Kitchen behind King’s Cross, and I’ve been using diverse British grains to show how incredible alternative crops are, and teaching kids about it too. We’re really inspired by what Hodmedods are doing to grow and sell different types of British-grown grains to the public.
A: It’s grains, really, that inspired our first supper club.
Tell us more.
A: The wheat that we eat – and wheat is one of the crops that we humans eat the most – has long been grown for yield. Not only are we seeing a big drop in its mineral density, meaning it’s not so good for us anymore, but the fact it’s grown so uniformly and in such large amounts means it’s a crop that’s much more susceptible to disease and pests. It’s a bit of a crap crop really. We need more diverse grains to nourish the soil, protect our crops from disease and feed our population. By law, farmers have to rotate their crops and not just grow wheat, but the problem is wheat is the only crop that really makes them any income. It’s much harder to sell anything else and make a living off arable farming. There just isn’t a big enough market for human consumption, so they often go for animal feed.
S: For our first supper club, we made dishes that would showcase how good these alternative grains and pulses really can be.
“We served minty peas rescued from going into dog food.”
Can you give us a taster?
S: We served whole radish with their leaves, dipped into toasted spelt breadcrumbs, as well as salt-baked beets with goat’s curd and a grain-seed crumb crunch using farro I’d picked up in Italy. We also made einkorn bread, and crispbreads made from the sourdough starter that’s often wasted when making bread, and served them with minty peas that we rescued from going into dog food.
A: People think of wheat when they think of grain, so we’re using farro and einkorn, barley and corn, to show how diverse grains really are. My favourite dish has been carrot and einkorn berry-croquettes, using leftover rye breadcrumbs and surplus cheese rinds from the Cornish Gouda Company – Farmdrop actually supply them too.
S: As you can see it’s not just about grains, it’s about showcasing the alternatives around us. Even those rinds that would otherwise get thrown away, coupled with trying to source seasonally, locally and organically.
Do you only source seasonally, locally and organically?
A: No. We realise the limitations of trying to tick every box. It’s all fine to sit in London and say I’m only going to eat organic food from Wholefoods, but it’s not as black and white as that.
S: We want to tell a story and inspire debate. For the next supper club at Borough Market, we’re thinking of including an imported ingredient. Trade continues to exist and always will so how can we do this in the best way? Let’s talk about it, rather than shy away from the topic.
A: Saying that, we’ve used some great produce from within London.
S: We made a tartiflette using dehydrated mushrooms that were grown from old coffee grounds at Mercato Metropolitano by Article No. 25, as well as charred squash from Growing Communities and Wildes cheese made in Tottenham. We also had a Forty Hall white wine spritzer – their vineyard is in Enfield – with rowan berries we foraged on Elephant and Castle roundabout! The foraged ingredients are always complementary though.
“Sustainability isn’t all about doom and gloom, it’s a fun exploration.”
S: We forage, but only on a small scale, and only to complement the main event. I did a day down with Miles from the Forager. I love his attitude that the more people know about wild food, the more they can look around and become aware of biodiversity and the value in maintaining green spaces, hedgerows and wild spaces. Of course, over-foraging is never good, but to be aware of what’s around you can only be a good thing. And it’s a nutritious way to supplement your diet.
And are your supper clubs always vegetarian?
A: We’re not vegetarian, but we use offal to show that it’s not all about the prime cuts of meat. There are so many nutritious parts of the animal that get thrown because we don’t know or don’t want to use it. We did a workshop on blood recently and were surprised how difficult it was to get hold of fresh blood for consumption! We’re thinking we might introduce it as a surprise ingredient…
What should we expect from your next supper club?
S: We’re going to go back to focussing on grains again, but with lots of delicious seasonal produce and a few surprises thrown in. It’s a fun excuse to get together with mates and enjoy a good meal. Sustainability isn’t all about doom and gloom, it’s a fun exploration and can be really tasty too. That’s what our supper clubs are all about, and if that means people can spend their cash in a way that supports a better food system, then all the better.