Wild Shropshire | James Sherwin

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I did a blog a while ago about "Wild Shropshire" - the name I've given to my pop up restaurants. In that blog I talked about the importance of foraging to the “Wild Shropshire” concept and how the concept developed to what it is today.

 

I thought with this blog I could talk more about what the concept actually means and the various strands to the concept that aren't obvious when eating. Is the name just a convenient name that buys into the people of Shropshire's pride for their county? Or does it have substance, a political agenda perhaps?

 

A few years ago a very clever man (Ian Mackaye of obscure noughties punk band Fugazi) stated, "never-mind what’s been selling, it’s what you’re buying." This is something that’s always stayed with me, through my idealist vegetarian teenage years through to my cynical late 30's.

 

What I think he meant by this, is that we are responsible for ourselves and what we choose to do. And eat.  This is very much how I feel about "Wild Shropshire" - Shropshire is full of restaurants whose only concern is to make money and though that is fine, for me it’s not enough just to be another pop up or another soulless restaurant. I needed to reflect a consciousness and an ethos, a concept that stands for something. It needs to mean more than a few nice photos on social media and a few happy customers. It needs to part of Shropshire in a very real way, and not just in name or image.

 

Back when I decided to do the Wild Shropshire pop ups, I thought about what’s important to me in terms of food:

Hyper locality

Zero waste

Community

Terroir

 

I spoke about foraging at length in my last blog but this is just one part of being hyper local. It seems that the word "Local" has been bastardised over the last few years; everyone sells something local or are local, but in all honesty it means very little nowadays other than their postcode.

Foraging, working with Gamekeepers, allotment owners, working with farmers and Artisans, these are some of the core principles of Wild Shropshire. If I’m honest these are all things I am still working on to some degree in my pledge to be hyper local. You may be supporting a local shop by shopping at your local greengrocers but if you're buying raspberries in December I'd guess that you’re not supporting a local farmer as well.

The idea with the pop ups is that it supports and is informed by the producers directly - if we are going to talk about how important being local is then let’s support it in our actions.

 

We are very lucky in Shropshire in that we are blessed with some outstanding produce and producers, which is something I'll talk about further later on.

 

Zero waste. What do I mean by zero waste? As a chef, how can I use every part of everything that comes into the kitchen? How can I only pick or harvest exactly what I need? I suppose in some ways it's the local version of cutting air miles!!!!!! I think as a chef I need to take responsibility not only for what I use but more importantly what I waste - think Hugh Fearnley Whittingstal’s nose to tail ethos but apply that to every single ingredient we use and if possible, every process. Without meaning to sound too much like a hippy, everything wasted will have a consequence whether that be financially or environmentally.

The challenge is not only finding a use for everything but finding a use that’s delicious, and this doesn't stop with the food. Can we use the coffee grounds that get thrown away to grow mushrooms? Can the alcohol left at the end of the night be used to make vinegars? Can the food left on plates be used for compost therefore feeding future ingredients and entering an almost cyclical system whereby the past feeds the future? The great thing is that this sort of thinking leads to flavours and ideas that aren't always obvious when you're looking at the same ingredients every day.

We have a great tradition of pickling, fermenting and curing in this country. Summer’s glut can be used into and out of the winter with almost every imaginable ingredient and these processes are really the foundations of zero waste.

 

I talked earlier about Shropshire's produce and producers. This extends beyond just food to artists, wine makers, ceramicists, brewers, film makers - all very disparate things but all connected in some way either directly or indirectly via our landscape.

I’m very lucky to be supplied with Moyden's cheese, Shropshire Salumi, Paso Primero wine and Bennet and Dunn Rapeseed oil, all local artisans creating local products but doing incredible products and in turn using what's around them to make and define those products.

These are the people and the products that in some way define the flavours and food of "Wild Shropshire". They embrace Shropshire's terroir (knowingly or unknowingly) they dictate what I can make. I’m sure there are other great cheeses, or oil, or wine made in this country but these people make edible reflections of where we live and where we spend time. This becomes the core then of the product I produce - it would be very hard to have events celebrating Shropshire while serving French cheese, Italian Olive oil or fruit from South America and it to have any sort of credibility.

 

The French boys love to talk about "Terroir" when they describe their wine. The dictionary definition of terrior is, "The characteristic taste and flavour imparted to a wine by the environment in which it is produced" The theory being that the grapes will be flavoured by what’s around them, the soil, the rain etc etc. Why is this only associated with grapes? Surely if they are flavoured in a very particular way by their surroundings surely then that is true of all plants? The Spanish talk about their Iberico pigs being the best in the world due to the acorns they eat - again surely then the wild game and the farmed meat we produce here in Shropshire will also have its own particular flavour?

Someone once told me that we have the best grass in the country so for me it’s not too much of a jump to then think, "if we have the best grass, this should then translate into the tastiest meat, the best milk which will then become the best cheese etc etc" I’m sure any farmers reading this in other parts of the country will be shouting at their monitors furiously, and you know what I may be completely wrong but it feels right to explore this!

 

I hope you don’t feel that I have waxed lyrical too long on this – I just feel so passionately about it! I really feel that in today’s very consumerist and shallow world we need some things of real depth. In a time where we can order anything from anywhere it's important to still have a grounding, an understanding and an appreciation of where we are. For me Wild Shropshire with its almost Dogma l (near insane film production company) like rules achieves this.

 

Thank you for reading, and for making it all the way through to the end! Hopefully I'll see you at one of the Wild Shropshire pop ups!

 

xx James xx



James Sherwin from SMN film on Vimeo.