This week I was fortunate enough to be invited on an urban ramble around North Liverpool by the good guys at Liverpool Food People. Our guide for the day was Lucy Antal who you may know better as the face of the fantastic Grab Your Spoon- purveyor of the most deliciously fresh chutneys and jams (my favourite is her Strawberry Jam made from Claremont Farm strawberries! Yum!)
I have such a passion for sustainable and ethical food sourcing. Ever since listening to Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall tell us all about the chicken farming industry I have educated myself on many areas of food production. We now only ever buy farm assured poultry and meat as a minimum requirement, and buy free range wherever possible. I am a meat eater, and I accept that my beef does not grow on a shelf in a shop- therefore I insist on humane animal welfare while that animal is alive. Certain food standards such as the red tractor logo on food packaging allow us in the UK to identify a certain level of care in the welfare of the animal.
I was recently commissioned by chef Paul Askew to create a Pheasant painting for his new restaurant The Art School, Liverpool. Chef Askew was very precise about one aspect of the painting- he wanted me to illustrate what the Pheasant ate within the piece i.e. grubs and seeds. It was a fantastic concept that excited my inner animator at the chance to tell a story within my painting. The reason for Paul's request was to demonstrate that when you eat the pheasant, you are also tasting the diet of the bird- the food that nourished the pheasant throughout its life is now nourishing you. It encourages us to think about the life of the bird, its habits and quirks, and its subsequent arrival to your table. I felt overwhelming respect for what I was about to paint and this is reflected in the end result. I will do a blog post on this very topic next.
Back to our North Liverpool ramble. I am so keen on sustainable farming and food production. My organic cotton clothing is certified at one of the highest levels of cotton production. All pickers get fair pay and there are no chemicals sprayed on the crop that would then contaminate water supplies, kill wildlife, and damage the environment, not to mention the damage to the cotton pickers' health. My connection to the natural environment both personally and professionally is extensive.
Our ramble took us to parts of Liverpool that I usually drive past on my way to the match (Goodison Park if you're interested!) in more deprived areas of the city where genuine regeneration is taking place.
We started at Friends of Everton Park Allotment where local volunteers educate the surrounding school children on nourishment and encourage interest with the fascination of enormous prize winning vegetables! They grow everything from troughs of herbs to tomatoes and rare chillies with a few lettuces in between. Locals are encouraged to pick their own. I left with a pocketful of tomatoes, black chillies and some particularly healthy rosemary. I only managed to squish one on the way home. Please vote for them to win some much needed funding. They are called Tale of Two Cities on the voting form.
Next we walked along to The Rotunda where I was extremely impressed indeed. The Rotunda have their own Jo Malone sponsored garden that has become a focal point of the local community. Locals can sit in the garden sipping tea during the Summer in their own little haven amongst the urban backdrop. There is also a fantastic programme for offenders at The Rotunda where they take part in the growing and producing of vegetables with many becoming very attached to the practice and going on to become volunteers and paid workers. It really is a stunning building that has a delightful tea room and state of the art conference rooms and office space to encourage and motivate the local community to dive into a world of opportunities. I feel there should be thousands of these nurturing places dotted around the country.
The final leg on our journey took us to Anfield Homebaked- a community land trust and co-operative bakery. We enjoyed a fantastic lunch of freshly made soup and sandwiches made with bread baked on-site. For the LFC fans out there it is the bakery that looks out onto Anfield.
I really did enjoy my day out with Liverpool Food People and was honoured to be invited along. I look forward to their special trip to Claremont Farm in the Spring where we will be going on a walking tour of the infamous farm and learning all about seasonal produce, particularly their exquisite asparagus!
I came home inspired to cook a great deal more from scratch and to explore some of the new flavour combinations that I had learned about during the day. Thankfully, I can report that my first use of black chillies was a complete success! But do use them (very!) sparingly!