Transparency is the order of the day for Britain’s booming street food. Meet the small family farms and pioneering farmers behind them who are starting a field-to-curb revolution.
Before the UK street food revolution really started to pick up speed in 2011, you could only have so much fun in a municipal car park.
How things have changed, for some of the best restaurant-grade food is not necessarily coming out of a 40-brigade kitchen in Mayfair anymore. Rather, in an industrial estate car park; at a mud-flung festival in Yorkshire; or out the back of a converted horsebox at your local shopping mall. Meanwhile, each new street food market – whether it’s in London, Tiverton, or Hull – is a hot topic.
The nation’s street food scene is positively sizzling thanks to a set of entrepreneurial farmers who are finding new ways to diversify and are starting a field-to-curb revolution in the process. Just ask The Flying Cows: Michelin star-trained chef Dan Batchelor set up his shiny Airstream trailer as a way of selling his family farm’s grass-fed Dexter beef. His burgers – which regularly do the rounds at Birmingham’s Digbeth Dining Club award-winning street food event – are so on point, he’s competing for the biggest prize in street food at the British Street Food Awards in Manchester this September.
Surely this is just the kind of attention farmers are after. Among talk of snubbing British produce in favour of more affordable (*cough* chlorinated) food, and the uncertainties of Brexit, and the ‘silent’ decline of small family farms, a few independent growers and producers are becoming more and more of a driving force in the street food world.
“The diversification into street food made the farming pay.”
They’re bringing higher welfare food to UK pavements. They’re putting rare breed minced beef directly into the hands of folk more accustomed to the taste of Zinger Burgers. They’re reminding us that the best food is not found 500 miles away but down the road, past the pond, and the next track on the left. Never has the phrase ‘farm-to-plate’ (or in this case, ‘farm-to-carton’) been more true.
As such, a street food branch of the business is a superb way of communicating what farmers do, and often to a much wider audience. Broughgammon farm dished up their goat offal and chorizo taco to several thousand punters at the British Street Food Awards final last year, bringing home the award for ‘Best Snack’, and lots of juicy press in the process. Burger & Beyond lay on 90-day aged chuck and brisket patties – from their own farm in Colchester – for the hordes of punters at KERB Camden, leading many, including Eater’s Sean Evans, to ponder whether it’s the best burger in London.
The closer the source, the better the dish
Then you have someone like Paternoster Farm and their street food offshoot Slow Pig. Michelle Evans took up the idea of preparing her farm’s produce for hungry punters from a handsome Citroën H van back in the summer of 2014. ‘The diversification into street food made the farming pay,’ she says, ‘and enabled us to move to a much bigger farm.’
Slow Pig have a step on many other traders running the circuit, as their access to, ergo knowledge of, their Saddleback and Mangalitza pigs means they happily use the whole animal – tails, ears and all. But more significantly, Slow Pig are able to have the utmost control over their final product. ‘The Mangalitzas are pretty hairy and hardy,’ says Michelle. ‘And do well outdoors, making them the ideal breed for us.
They’re great for charcuterie – another reason we chose them. Keeping our pigs longer, typically 18 months as opposed to the average commercial pig killed at around five or six, gives a firmer texture and better flavour.’
Generally speaking, the closer you can get to the source, the better the dish you end up with. Is it any coincidence the Seafood Shack, this year’s BBC Food & Farming nominees, have close ties with local family fish farmers? Meanwhile, people are wanting more transparency when it comes to farmed food (70% of shoppers in a survey noted their objection to fake farm names on supermarket shelves, for example). Who can offer that more than the farmers themselves?
Street food is a democratic thing – anyone can start selling burgers on a street corner, and anyone with a few quid in their back pocket can buy them. And, a bit like a certain ethical grocer, finally it’s somewhere farmers can have more of their own say.