Pub landlords and chefs are latching onto the idea of growing their own fruit and vegetables, and even rearing their own livestock, to meet a demand for better quality ingredients in the food they serve.
With diners growing increasingly discerning in choosing what to eat and where, there are, in many quarters, greater efforts being made to guarantee the freshest produce and flavours are going straight from field to fork.
Rebecca Burr, editor of the Michelin Eating Out In Pubs Guide 2015, picked up on the trend as she and her editorial team compiled a list of more than 590 pubs in the country based on the quality of their food.
“Pubs are a quintessential part of British life and the standard of food being served in them continues to reach new heights.
“The value of the local pub cannot be underestimated, particularly in rural areas. From the local darts team to the village cricket 11, from quiz nights to wine tastings, pubs provide more than just a meeting point - they are often the hub of the community.
“With this in mind, customers are now demanding that chefs use more and more local produce and want to see local recipes and specialities on the menu.
“Chefs and pub owners are not only embracing this idea but some are taking it a stage further by growing their own fruit, vegetables and herbs, and by keeping chickens and rearing pigs.”
Tim Bilton, chef at The Spiced Pear fine dining restaurant and tearoom in Hepworth, is one of a band of local chefs who pride themselves on growing their own, and he said he was not surprised that the trend was now spreading to the pub trade.
“More and more people are aware of things like air miles and where their food comes from and we were lucky enough, when we bought The Spiced Pear, to purchase just under four acres of land in a field across the road.
“It has always been a dream of mine, from when I worked with Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons - the romance of growing my own, picking it and putting it on the plate within minutes. I think more and more chefs are growing their own.”
To start with Mr Bilton ran a small number of pigs. Now, with the help of a full-time gardener, he keeps 30 chickens which provide eggs and grows a bounty of fruit and vegetables on the four-acre plot opposite his restaurant. He said he was well on course to become 75 per cent self-sufficient in fruit and veg next year.
Other award-winning local chefs are trying similar things to reap the benefits of what they sow for their diners’ enjoyment.
Chef, James Mackenzie, at The Pipe and Glass restaurant in South Dalton near Beverley, for example, has a herb garden which gives him a range of fresh flavours to add to his dishes.
While Provenance Inns, a group of pubs in North Yorkshire co-run by Chris Blundell, use fruit and vegetables from his kitchen garden on the Mount St John estate at Felixkirk near Thirsk. His chain of seven dining pubs was recently named ‘Pub Group of the Year’ in the Good Pub Guide 2015.
Elizabeth Balmforth, head gardener for the Mount St John estate, meets with the pubs’ chefs each growing season to plan what they are going to produce next.
“We crop every week for Provenance Inns and that produce gets distributed between each of the seven inns. It means we can have quite close relationships with the chefs and that yields benefits in what they can create.”
The estate has produced food to be supplied in this way for years but she can see why more chefs get a kick from doing something similar. “For our chefs to know that they are getting something different and seasonal at Provenance Inns is part of the brand and is why they do what they do in the first place.”
Sweet taste of recognition
There are 38 entries from Yorkshire in the latest edition of Michelin’s Eating Out in Pubs Guide.
New to the listings are four in North Yorkshire: Buck Inn in Maunby, Crown and Cushion in Welburn, Plough Inn at Wombleton and The Dunsforth in Lower Dunsforth which is also listed among the Michelin inspectors’ favourite pubs.
Others making the favourites list were: Blue Lion at East Witton, Star Inn at Harome, Angel Inn at Hetton, Dawnay Arms at Newton-on-Ouse, Rose & Crown at Sutton-on-the-Forest, Star at Santon and Pipe and Glass Inn at South Dalton.