Nothing quite matches the feeling of making something yourself – be it a slow-cooked pasta ragu instead of store bought, or the garden tomatoes you’ve planted and watched grow, and then picked at just the right moment and served with the best extra virgin olive oil, a sprinkle of sea salt and torn basil – a celebration of natural simplicity.
I’m making the “grow-your-own” food trend sound simple, which, of course, it isn’t. Founder and CEO of Evogro, Jason Hirst, creators of state-of-the-art indoor plant growing appliances, says the idea for their innovative technology began with personal planting failures. ‘I was living in London and started watching a lot of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and became very interested in the idea of self-sufficiency. Then we moved into a cottage in the countryside and I started growing but I didn’t quite know what I was doing.’
Thus his quest began to find how he could create a reliable system for producing consistently great quality plants in a shorter amount of time. After years of development, the outcome is Evogro – an appliance that allows its users to have fresh salads and herbs every day, by combining LED lighting, hydroponics and smart cloud software, with minimal maintenance from the customer – they have even developed a customer app to make it even easier. A giant leap forward from the humble allotment.
Evogro’s main market is currently fine-dining restaurants, and we visit one of their clients Fera at Claridges to take a look at the appliances. Placed just behind the swinging doors to the restaurant, the Evogro is neatly packed with the greenest leaves, micro leaves and herbs – ready to be peeked at by a Fera diner’s wandering eye and then picked and plated.
It is well-suited here. Fera, after all, is supposed to be an experience inspired by the rhythms of nature – the word itself meaning “wild” in Latin, reflecting ‘both the primal influence of nature and the highly seasonal ingredients used in chef Simon Rogan’s cooking.’ Simon, himself, is famed for his “grow-your-own” approach to food – most of the other produce at Fera is from Rogan’s own farm in Cumbria, a resource that also supplies his restaurant in the idyllic Lake District, L’Enclume.
And Jason insists the product is superior to any other growing or supply option – no pests, no contamination in the soil, electronically managed lighting specifically for each plant, and each item is growing until the moment the chef decides to snip. ‘There might not be the trials or the sweat,’ he says, ‘but does that really make the plants taste better?’
New pub The Culpeper’s spacious rooftop allotment, with views of East London
The “grow-your-own” food trend is not just reserved for fine dining or the technologically advanced. Due to a rise in consumer interest in the provenance, treatment and supply chains of produce, paired with a wider interest in the environmentally responsible and sustainable, chefs have increasingly been growing and using their own produce in restaurants all over London.
Lettuce ready for the picking at The Culpeper’s rooftop allotment
The Culpeper, a massive pub on Commercial Street that first opened its doors last week, is such a restaurant. Go up three floors and on their rooftop you will see over 20 types of plants and vegetables blooming – a stark and welcome contrast to the concrete East-London landscape that surrounds.
The Culpeper’s impressive “grow-your-own” green space
Head chef Sandy Jarvis, previously of Terroirs, wine bar and restaurant in Charing Cross, admits there is something fantastically romantic about the “grow-your-own” food trend. ‘The ritual of coming up in the morning and cutting down the salads is a nice feeling…and every time I cook some of the roof-garden chard for the pork chop it puts a smile on my face.’ But then, The Culpeper has a head gardener, Jack, to ensure the plants’ success.
The Culpeper’s head chef Sandy Jarvis talks us through the pub’s “grow-your-own” produce
Proving the trend’s attractiveness throughout the industry, The Culpepper’s menu is worlds away from Fera’s elaborate tasting courses – serving seasonally driven, product-centric modern pub food. ‘The last thing I want is for people to spend two hours analysing my food’ Sandy adds.
Whether it’s the personal nature or simply the quality of the flavour that makes the “grow-your-own” food trend so appealing, as our cities get bigger so does our desire to create these growingly efficient pockets for natural, living resources.