Inspiration can be found in the most unlikely of places, looking back I think mine was stumbled upon at the Giant’s Cup in the Southern Drakensburg, South Africa. Granted the place itself could quite easily be inspiration enough: the flat topped, jutting peaks and the grassy plains full of howling baboons echo exploits of Hemingway- especially striking out in a boat in search of Trout, the great white hunter lives on….
But it was not so much place, but a person. Wolf Avni the proprietor of our breath-taking surroundings was a fisherman foremost and writer second. His eccentricity was only matched by his wit, and it was only after getting a copy of his book “A Mean-Mouthed, Hook-Jawed, Bad-News Son-of-a Fish” that I realized this chap spoke like he wrote- bizarre perhaps, but certainly unique. His prose was magical- Shakespeare meets Izaak Walton and then goes on a bender with Bill Hicks and a couple of Trout. I liked it a lot- I wanted to write…big time.
My brother and I spent plenty of time flogging the water chasing the fish- from the enormous lake to the pleasant trickle of the Umzimkulawana River; we had three days of wonderful South African landscape, but very little bite. The Trout of the Southern Hemisphere were too cunning for my liking. It wasn’t until sometime afterwards that I noticed Wolf had added a brief inscription in the front of his book that said:
“For Nick. Nil Illigitimi Carborundum.”
Now whether it was a reference to our fishing or a valuable lesson for life, the common Latin phrase translates as “Don’t let the Bastards grind you down”. And I think it was then that my life began to take a more alternative route that I wasn’t entirely prepared for and quite frankly never will be. But such is the rich tapestry of life!
So after living on a desert island, a Tree house and a cow barn, this year is all about two things: Hunter:Gather:Cook HQ and the Frenchies and their food. Bouncing between two countries is perhaps not the most settled of living arrangements, but with a ‘river cottege-esque’ pad in rural Sussex and an apartment and fiancée on the beach in Southern France- I can hardly complain.
Heavy- Serious Cable laying plant.
This weekend saw not only the start of the great British summer, but also a flurry of activity in a small corner of Sussex woodland. Starting a business is not easy- as many will no doubt agree, but in this case a weekend frolicking in the woods building your office is a perk to say the least. Having just finished a rather regal composting Thunder box for a private client it was time to begin work on my own grand design.
Trying to define exactly what Hunter:Gather:Cook is all about ain’t easy. First and foremost it is a foraging and cookery school, dedicated to educating participants in the rich variety of food that exists around us in the wild, but I wanted it to be so much more than that. It’s about lifestyle: wild food isn’t just about plants, fruits and fungi, its about protein and how to catch it, its about cooking it and how to create and utilize fire for more than just a BBQ. It’s about understanding the landscape you are in and how to create a comfortable existence within it in the most simplistic of ways. And that, ladies & gentleman, is what Hunter:Gather:Cook is all about- sometimes its useful to look to the past in order to see where you are going and our Hunter-gatherer ancestors have led the way. This is about learning to live off the land and how to live with it.
Finding the perfect place to base yourself and make yourself is a tricky task. I looked at vast tracts of woodland and networked my way through East and West Sussex in search of the perfect place, I met some wonderful folk along the way and eventually found myself outside Barcombe, a small village a stone’s throw from the South Downs. The wood itself is a mix of twisted hornbeams, birch and oak (plenty of top notch firewood then…) and whilst the wood anemones are opening up in the sun, the carpets of bluebells are just starting to roll out- can’t wait to see that spring spectacle! I am no stranger to building in the woods and its something that never fails to get me excited. Functionality is just as crucial as aesthetics, true, but I think in the spirit of the whole enterprise the materials, where they come from and how they are used are just as important.
Ash and Whatley working on the frames.
It would be very easy to get my hands on a run down barn and use that as the base, but that would be too easy and wouldn’t get the right message across my visitors- bucolic isn’t just a word, its an enterprise! After a day with the chainsaw and some furious whittling to create some pegs out of seasoned sections of oak, I was three A-frames down and off to a good start. The next stage was stabilization and covering with tarps.
The plinth- under construction.
As far as I am concerned, you can cook inside in a kitchen at home whenever you wish- I want my visitors to experience everything outdoors, so the HQ was going to take some creating. A totally off-grid kitchen that would offer as many ways to cook with fire as possible was at the top of the agenda- it too had to consist of natural materials and whatever recycled bits that were available. A large plinth made from local sandstone blocks, off cuts of oak, broken up hardcore, clay mixture and the long-suffering bertha came together to produce a raised fire/grill pit and a clay oven. I even managed to sneak in an underground oven behind for roasting haunches, with a smoker to follow. It has been said that ‘bespoke’ and ‘rustic’ are just words used for something that looks shit…in this case, I think (and hope), it’s quite the opposite!
The sink unit from the Tree house has been resurrected with a brand spanking new frame of birch and the ablutions centre is still yet to come. But on the whole things are moving along well bookings are coming in regularly- a nice mention in the Brighton Food festival 2011 has been helpful and word is gradually spreading in the best of ways- by mouth. I have even got my first stag do to contend with! Bush tucker trial 101 methinks.
Keeping it local in terms of produce is also key feature in what I am creating- Carp from the lake- catch and cook yourself, a bit of air rifle use for bunnies and plenty of fur and feather from a nearby estate. Thanks are due as always to the likely lads that got involved for a weekend in the woods-Whatley, Kitchen bitch Butcher, First officer Luc Duchemin-Chode, Ash, Tim the tea maker. Cheers fellas.
Plenty of dates coming up next week for the rest of the year- off to France for a week of Admin, branding, plotting, scheming and designing identification packs, typing and so on…