Having been Head Chef at River Cottage now for over three years, Gelf sure knows a thing or two about field to fork cooking. Realising his passion for the kitchen at a very young age, Gelf has worked behind many stoves over the years, but none more inspiring than the one at River Cottage.
We talk to Gelf about RC’s SLOW food philosophy, his thoughts on sustainability, how he deals with food waste and a few of his favourite autumn recipes…
ABOUT BEING A CHEF
Tell us about your background. What inspired you to become a cook?
School wasn’t for me so I left at sixteen; I always loved to help my Mum in the kitchen from an early age so I got a job as a KP at a local hotel when I was 13 and loved the buzz of being in the kitchen.
How did you come to work at River Cottage?
I was working Killerton House on a 6,500 acre farmhouse estate so I was very familiar with working field to fork, so when I saw the RC job come up I could not resist applying. I have been Head Chef for just over three years, which have been the best three years of my life.
Describe your food philosophy and cooking style…
I follow the River Cottage SLOW food philosophy – seasonal, local, organic and wild. I like the ingredients to speak for themselves. My cooking style is about using fresh, honest ingredients and not over complicating dishes.
What keeps you excited about being a chef?
I am spoilt working at River Cottage as there is always something different and new coming from the kitchen garden and farm. It is also really exciting to raise our own livestock as I get to see a real connection with the ingredients I am using.
Can you tell us a bit about the cookery classes your run at River Cottage…
We have a huge range of courses, from bread making to fish cookery. The build and bake course is great fun as you get to learn how to build a clay oven. We also have get growing and smallholder courses as well as foraging and fishing – there really is something for everyone!
What do you think is the most effective way to inspire people to cook at home?
I think it is all about education; when I talk to customers about how bad some of the ready meals and similar food products they eat actually are, and how quick and easy it is to create delicious home cooked meals, they are amazed and inspired to cook for themselves.
ABOUT THE FOOD
The majority of your ingredients travel a very short distance to the restaurant from the River Cottage’s vegetable garden, can you tell us how you source the rest of your ingredients?
We only use local organic farms who I visit to check that I am happy with the way they are producing the food – even if they have the organic stamp. We use Trill Farm who are next door to us, Haye Farm which is an organic conversion, Ashclyst Dairy, Lyme Bay Fish Shack, and Higher Hacknell Farm to name a few.
Obviously the seasons have a big influence on your menu, can you tell us what autumn dishes you are making at the moment?
Lots of pears at the moment – one of my favourite puddings is pears poached in red wine or Perry. There is an abundance of squash which is great for soups, I particularly like a squash, apple and chilli soup, lovely and warming.
Celeriac is great pureed or roasted and you can even use the roots and leaves so nothing is wasted.
Can you tell us about the different ways you preserve food for the winter months?
We pickle, jam, chutney and ferment our gluts of fruit and veg! We also cure our own meats and make chorizos and charcuterie.
What’s your favourite way to cook James’ ‘kid’ goat meat?
I love the goat liver with a tough of merguez spice, a touch of yogurt and flatbread.
What does sustainability mean to you as a concept and a practice?
Making sure we have enough food for the future and looking after our planet; that’s what it means to me as concept. In practice, I try to use less factory farmed meat and only cook with organic veggies.
How do you deal with food waste and what other sustainable practices do you employ in the kitchen?
We don’t have any food waste – even peelings go back into the compost to grow our veg. We operate on a zero to landfill policy.
What is the importance of people learning how to make active, informed decisions about the food that they eat – and what tips do you have for a more sustainable way of consuming and cooking?
It’s extremely important that people are making informed decisions. My tips would be to eat less meat, eat organic veggies and don’t let anything go to waste.
FIND OUT MORE ABOUT GELF & RIVER COTTAGE HQ