Building a Sustainable Vineyard Dining Experience
As a B Corp, sustainable decisions are made at every turn. Executive Estate Chef, Chris Bailey and his team have shaped our philosophy that Modern British cuisine can be ethical and delicious. With a focus on sourcing seasonal produce and developing meaningful relationships with our suppliers, our hospitality team have a hands-on appreciation for working with fresh, quality ingredients with knowledge of the origin and how this feeds into our wider sustainability strategy.
Words by Chris
Supplier Relationships Matter
We work with carefully selected suppliers and small farms around the UK that I have built personal relationships with to help us create something really special in our Rathfinny restaurants, whilst being mindful of our impact on the environment.
The first thing we think of when designing the menu is flavour which is naturally inspired by seasonality. We receive daily updates from our suppliers to discuss what is in season right this moment which will always taste better. Working with small farms means changes can happen overnight so are menus are often adaptable. You’ll start to notice a theme that seasonality and availability dictate our menus and it’s so exciting as a chef to work with the freshest produce for our customers.
You may also notice we keep our menus short across the Estate, with three to four options for each course. This allows us to buy the best quality seasonal produce which is both economically beneficial and environmentally important for preventing waste.
Building a Sustainable Food Strategy
During our B Corp certification process, we worked with Carbon Jacked, a UK-based consultancy dedicated to helping brands reach net zero. They assessed our carbon footprint across all areas of the business and the insights from the food report were fascinating.
As we know, the emissions associated with meat are much higher than plant-based alternatives. Consequently, we’ve increased our use of venison and other game meats, which has a lower environmental impact than other meats such as beef, lamb and pork and can actually be classified as carbon neutral as long as they’re sourced from the wild rather than farmed, like our venison and game bird supplier, South Brockwell Farm. This approach to reducing meat consumption is also in line with the recent UK Government Food Strategy (released in June 2022), which urged the adoption of alternative and more sustainable sources of protein, including those from “non-traditional livestock sectors” such as wild venison.
Interestingly, Carbon Jacked identified that our use of beef had a massive impact on our carbon emissions which was an easy thing to address. The current method of counting the carbon footprint of beef doesn’t account for how it is grown; there are obviously poorly performing farms and better ones with open fields where cattle are free to graze on grass or forage. It proves that not all beef is equal so when it comes to counting emissions, beef has nearly four times the carbon footprint of a chicken, and that is predominantly due to how a lot of the world’s meat is produced. It seemingly counts its emissions from the cattle in methane and not any of the carbon that, properly managed grass-feed farming, removes from the atmosphere. Even so, with the reduction in the volume of beef we had been purchasing, we managed to save 55.5 tonnes of CO2e (2022). Not only does this lower our carbon footprint, but it has been interesting in raising awareness among our customers, employees and suppliers. There’s also merit in buying the whole animal and using it all.
We use Flying Fish in Cornwall as I have worked with them for many years and have built up a trust in both the quality of the fish and their sea fishing credentials. We only want to use fish that are in good supply and are caught without harming the ocean. Flying Fish can tell us with full accountability where and how our fish were caught.
A suppliers we have started using more often over the last year are Harry and Sam at SHRUB. All of the farms they work with are operating in a fully ethical, sustainable and thoughtful way, looking after the land as well as growing incredibly flavourful, interesting vegetables. It can be challenging as a restaurant to place a large enough order with each small farm to make it worthwhile and energy efficient to deliver it. Shrub solves this problem by collating the produce from lots of small-scale farms, often locally around the Sussex and Kent boarder and then introduces us daily to the best ingredients on offer. This drives our inspiration for the menus and brings the freshest ingredients to our customers.
This summer we designed a vegetarian ‘Dine in the Vines’ tasting menu using the produce from Shrub which was a real highlight of the summer.
Then we have Will, Dan and Rich at Curing Rebels who are based in Brighton and supply us with cured meats and smoked salmon from ethically sourced animals. Their pigs are free to roam across the South Downs, just like us! All our summer charcuterie and smoked fish platters at The Hut come from Curing Rebels. They are a great small business, using 100% compositable packaging.
We work with our suppliers to reduce plastic and excess packaging. Our small farms transport produce in reusable crates and the Curing Rebels charcuterie I mentioned earlier comes with a wool insulation which is compostable and the cardboard is all recyclable.
We also use a specialist recycling company called Recorra to try and reduce our carbon footprint and compost all the trimmings from vegetables in composters which can then be used to enrich the land.
We have daily briefings with our front of house staff as well as training sessions to discuss where the produce has come from so we can communicate with our customers the care and attention we put in from our side. We also try to visit our suppliers to have first-hand knowledge of what they are doing and always try to include a supplier list in our menus.
I hope this blog goes some way in explaining the effort and detail that goes into sourcing everything we serve, and I really hope you will come and join us in the Tasting Room and Flint Barns very soon!