Remains of the day
Chef skye Gyngell on the joy of leftovers – crusts of bread and all. By amy Bryant. Photography by Beth evans
How Skye Gyngell makes a feast of leftovers
‘It’s an idea I’ve harboured for about 15 years – that food can be a creator of community’
‘You should have seen the menu t wo mont hs ago. It fe at u re d ever y bra s sic a you ca n i mag i ne i n a lmost ever y dish. and la st yea r t here was st r a wb er r y- g at e …’ sk y e Gy ng e l l smiles, recollect ing t he glut of f r uit that drove her potty (‘just so many of t hem!’) at spr i ng, her re st aura nt i n somerset house. I n a d i ni ng room whose high ceilings allow the morning light to flood across the white-clothed tables and blush-pink banquettes, Gyngell ser ves dishes t hat celebrate our farming heritage: there is grilled lamb with asparagus and lovage; trout from the River Test; Jersey Royal potatoes – headlining as a main course – with soft herbs. Yet t he v iew beyond t he t a ll, f rosted-glass windows is not of pastures or tilled fields but of traffic jams over Waterloo Bridge.
It’s a far cr y from Gyngell’s former surroundings at Petersham Nurseries in leafy Richmond, south-west london, where she was head chef at its glasshouse-café for seven years from 2004 and won a Michelin star (an achievement she has since admitted to ruing because of the pressure it placed on the kitchen). ‘I had a tiny vegetable garden which provided the sum total of five or 10 per cent of my produce, but it placed my feet in the soil every day,’ she says. ‘It defined my cooking because I could see what was growing.’ Before opening spring in 2014, within a neoclassical building that is magnificent, yes, but undeniably concrete-bound, Gyngell felt torn, ‘I remember t hinking, “I’m moving to the middle of the West end, how am I going to make any connection with the land?’’’
she found her answer in america, where legenda r y Chez Pa nisse chef alice Waters does in Berkeley, California, precisely what Gyngell dreamed of tr y ing in london WC2. For over 30 ye ar s Wat er s ha s co o ke d a l mo s t ent i r ely wit h fr u it a nd veget able s g rown by Bob Cannard. ‘I spent time with them both on Bob’s organic farm,’
Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4.
Place a pan, large enough to hold all the shanks, over a medium heat. Add a little olive oil to the pan.
Season the shanks generously all over with sea salt and a little freshly milled black pepper. Once the pan is hot, add the shanks and brown them well all over.
Once brown, remove the shanks from the pan and transfer to a roasting tray. Pour off the fat from the pan, leaving any meat juices and delicious sticky bits on the bottom, turn the heat down slightly and deglaze the plan with the wine, allowing it to bubble and reduce slightly. Pour the pan juices over the lamb, ensuring it is submerged. Scatter over the ground fennel seeds, oregano or marjoram, chilli and garlic and cover with foil.
Place on the middle shelf of the oven and cook for 20 minutes then turn down the heat to 170C/gas mark 3½ and cook for a further 1½ hours, removing the foil for the final 20 minutes. The meat should be sticky, very tender and deeply flavoured. Remove from the oven. Serve with potato-skin mash and slow-cooked broccoli stalks. Gyngell explains, ‘and saw such amazing ing redient s coming in.’ Inspiration, too, came from Love Apple Farms, also in California, where for a decade org a nic produce was g rown exclusively for t he t hree-michelin-star red Ma nr e s a re s t au r a nt . Or ga n ic ve g, grown with a menu firmly in mind and handed over to a chef who supports the farmer with regular orders and decent pay… ‘I came back and thought, I really want to do that.’
Today in the Spring kitchen (bright, clean, calm), the crates of cima di rapa (also known as broccoli raab, a stalky bundle of frothy dark-green leaves) and caulif lowers, not to mention Barbiepink radishes to be ser ved whole for dipping into anchoïade, are the result of Gyngell’s vision. They, as well as over 90 per cent of the restaurant’s fruit and vegetables, are grown by Fern Verrow, a 16-acre biodynamic farm in the Black Mountains in Herefordshire. Having come across farmer Jane Scotter at her market stall, Gyngell ‘basically coldca lled her ’, f ully ex pect ing her proposal for a direct fa r m-to-restaurant contract to be rebuffed. But she was in luck. Scotter was fed up with her 15ye a r r out i ne of a F r id ay s ch lep to London for a 5a m st ar t on Saturday morning to sell. She and her par tner Harry Astley had been farming for 21 years: ‘We were writing our cookbook a nd felt we had re ached a tu r ni ng point,’ Scotter tells me.
Spring now takes everything grown at Fer n Ver row, and chef and fa r mer discuss planting lists and quotas regularly, whether for a batch of baby beetroots to ser ve raw, more salad leaves grown from heritage seeds, or slightly le s s so r r e l . The ar r a ng e ment ha s reduced the farm’s waste by at least 30 per cent: ‘There’s nothing coming back f rom a market st a ll dest ined for t he compost heap.’ As for Spring, ‘It completely steers the menu’, Gyngell says. Gluts and ugly veg have their value, too. Forty-odd pounds of leeks, which Scotter needs to clear in order to redrill the field, a spinach crop hole-punched by hail, or those never-ending strawberries? ‘We star ted to make pickles and preser ves, then launched our Scratch menu last year,’ Gyngell explains.
This £20 set menu uses everything from pea pods to potato peelings and is