Thackerays bangs the drum for local food
Thackerays, arguably the Tunbridge Wells area's top restaurant, has become the first eatery in the town to sign up to the "Just Ask" local food campaign. Just Ask was launched by rural economy experts the CLA earlier this year at 10 Downing Street with former PM Tony Blair in a bid to get people interested in where their food comes from, and encourage them to buy local produce.
Appropriately during British Food Fortnight, TV chef and Thackerays joint proprietor Richard Phillips, has put his weight behind "Just Ask" because he believes passionately in the virtue of local, seasonal food. "Joining Just Ask means we're happy to be asked by our customers where the food on their plate comes from – delighted in fact. Wherever possible we source locally, and in season, because this makes all the difference to flavour. Seasonal food is also cheaper and when it's local, it keeps down food miles."
Examples of local sourcing include asparagus from New Park Farm in Groombridge and venison from the Abergavenny Estate near Eridge. From slightly further afield but still in Kent is beef from The Splendid Meat Company on the North Downs in Hucking, Lamb from Romney Marsh, apples from Westmore Farm in Rainham and Oysters from Whitstable.
Richard is even starting up a joint-venture with a farm in East Sussex, so he can produce as much of his own meat and vegetables himself for Thackerays, as well as his other restaurant Hengist in Maidstone, and a new restaurant which he plans to open near the farm. This will not be the first time Richard has taken food sourcing in his own hands. Weekends often see him foraging for wild mushrooms and shooting ducks near Staplehurst, and he shoots woodpigeons for near Horsmonden. It all ends up on his customers' plates.
"People in Tunbridge Wells appreciate good food," says Richard, "and the proof is that Thackerays is always busy. Interest in food is definitely growing, and I guess the fact that guys like me are cooking and talking about food on TV has helped.
"At Thackerays we're always open to new local suppliers. We have a market menu midweek which changes daily according to what's available, so anybody out there producing good ingredients should let us know. It all comes down to flavour for me. People get too hung up about perfect shaped fruit for example, so the supermarkets follow the tune, but this has got nothing to do with taste. We are privileged in this country because we produce some of the best meat, fish, fruit and vegetables in the world, and Kent itself is hard to beat with all sorts of wonderful ingredients.
"It's not just about eating in nice restaurants either. Keep your eyes open and you can buy fantastic local stuff at the side of the road. And farm shops and farmers' markets are a great source of local, seasonal food."
CLA South East communications advisor and Tunbridge Wells resident Jonathan Roberts said: "We launched Just Ask because each time somebody goes out for a meal at a pub, restaurant or café, we want them to ask if the food on their plate is from a UK supplier and even better, a local one.
"Buying British food is better for the environment, better for animal welfare and ensures that local farms and producers have a future, which is why we are keen to gain the support of as many Tunbridge Wells food businesses as possible. We are delighted to have Thackerays on board with this - they show perfectly how excellent food and a healthy British farming sector go hand-in-hand. But it doesn't just have to be 'fine dining' establishments. We've had food outlets of all descriptions signing up to Just Ask, because there is nothing exclusive about local sourcing.
"We hope people in Tunbridge Wells will support our campaign by making sure that each time they buy a meal out, they ask if the food they are being served is provided by local suppliers or, at the very least, produced in Britain, crushing food miles and carbon footprints across the board, and keeping our countryside healthy and productive. Of course you can't produce everything locally or even within these shores. But remember that Kent's countryside is so attractive because it has been farmed to produce good food. Let's try to keep it that way by encouraging food outlets in our area to choose local produce wherever possible."
Any other food businesses which are happy to be open about their food sourcing can join the campaign – just contact Jonathan Roberts on 01892 614013, email@example.com.
Facts and figures:
The total UK expenditure in the food service sector is worth £74 billion and provides 1.4 million jobs, supporting 108,000 businesses (Source: Defra);
The total UK expenditure in the household food and drink sector (including supermarkets) is £78 billion supporting 187,000 jobs and 13,800 businesses (Source: Defra);
In 2005 a total of 3,146 tonnes of meat and 1,216 tonnes worth of dairy products were imported to the UK from the US (Source: Defra);
There are about 2,000 farm shops and 550 farmers markets across the UK (Source: FARMA 2006)
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