This week our level 5 diploma students attended The Husbandry School, Ashburton for one of their many enrichment days. We sent along one of our office staff, armed with a notebook and camera. This is what he reported…
By the look of the long, steep country lane that our bus driver Ian had to navigate to reach Liddy Ball, where The Husbandry School is located, you’d think that we were soon to arrive at The Shire, Hobbiton. Indeed, set on the grounds of an ancient Neolithic settling, this turned out to be not too far from the truth. It was clear that those bright, shiny new wellie boots, belonging to most (but not all) of our students, would soon find themselves looking decidedly more lived in. A thought that amused me for all of three seconds, until I peered down at my own feet, remembering my best suede shoes were still on my feet, and my equally shiny looking wellington boots, were still stood by my front door. Perhaps if I didn’t mention it, no-one would notice…
Well, less than a minute after reaching our destination, that hopeful idea fell apart. It didn’t take long for everyone to see that I was about as out of place as a fire in a swimming pool. Luckily for me, my acute embarrassment didn’t last long, as we took in our surroundings. It really is amazing how a 5 minute journey from the rushing traffic of the A38, you can find yourself in another world. One that seems almost untouched by the stresses and concerns of modern life. Within minutes of being there, I’m sure most of us were half-contemplating pulling up the drawbridge to everyday life and living off the land as they did in days of yore. I’d probably have to nip home first though, because my suede shoes were already soaking.
We were greeted by owners Carole and Jonty, who were rushing around at low speeds, making sure that refreshments were on their way, and all was set up for our visit. They are, without hyperbole, two of the most welcoming people you could ever hope to meet. As soon as we were there, we were made to feel as though we too could be part of this amazing project they have been pursuing with passion for many years. As long as they don’t look down at my choice of footwear, then the whole house of cards would come flying apart quicker than a manifestos worth of political promises.
An authentic Mongolian Yurt, adapted for the slightly colder climate of a Devon winter.
We were then taken into one of the few Mongolian Yurts they have on site. These designs were chosen as they are a fair approximation to the roundhouses that would have stood on this site at the end of The Stone Age. This one being used for the purposes of both teaching, and feeding us with the most incredible Gluten-free Coconut and Passion-Fruit cake. If you’ve got a room full of chefs licking their lips, and not too concerned about typical British politeness over who gets the last slice, you know that you’re tasting something special.
It was here that host Carole gave us an introduction to The Husbandry School, which was co-incidentally the moment that I remembered why we were here. Realising that I wasn’t actually about to pack my life in and start a hippy commune. After all, I have a four year old daughter who would probably be a bit miffed at my absence, and I also had a half-eaten bar of Cadbury’s Whole Nut in the ‘fridge that I had to get back to.
So considering we’re back down to earth, it seems a good a point as any to tell you about why we’ve sent our students here in the first place. As you are probably well aware, courses at our Chefs Academy come with internationally recognised qualifications. However, most people who have ever studied for a career will tell you, there is a lot more that becomes important to you when pursuing your chosen direction, than a by the numbers tick sheet, which goes towards a piece of paper with your name on it.
The piece of paper is highly valuable, and will stand you in good stead, but what will make you stand out, is the skills you have learnt in the process of attaining it. Something that can not always be quantified by reaching targets towards an academic certificate. This is something that we are proud to nurture in our professional students and believe it is something that sets us apart from schools offering the same qualifications. This is where our enrichment days, such as this, come in.
Carole touring our students around the amazing gardens of The Husbandry School.
These days could consist of a crash course in kitchen leadership and management from Chefs with many years hand-on experience in the trade, putting in an early morning shift at the world famous fish market in nearby Brixham, or in this case, a visit to The Husbandry School, to learn about the care of animals and cultivation of crops. Not to mention to harvest some specialist knowledge on rare herbs and edible flowers.
The latter being something that I wrongly assumed would not be of great interest to me, until Carole introduced us to what an incredible range of tastes can be found to add something special and unique to the most refined of dishes. As you may have noticed, I’m not exactly what you could call a foodie. Just because I work at this amazing school, does not mean that I have picked up any culinary skills via osmosis. Yet I was inspired by the awesome spectrum of flavour that could be found in the tiniest petals of the most beautiful flowers.
Tulbaghia Violacea (Society Garlic). One petal with give an intense garlic flavour, minus the knock-out breath.
Having time with people so knowledgeable in the cultivation of different crops certainly spurred me to invest time in growing at home. Now armed with recommendations as to what could grown in the post-nuclear apocalyptic landscape that I call my garden, I fully intend to put this knowledge to use.
Our trainee chefs were keen to pick up tips for their own gardens. Many found out why certain herbs and vegetables they had been trying to grow had been failing, others were inspired to try new ingredients in their recipes, ones they may never have come to know existed otherwise. Some found it particularly useful to know what plants you can surround your patch with, to keep away slugs and snails without resorting to the use of hazardous chemicals, such as those found in (largely ineffective) slug pellets.
Yet the impact of coming to this wonderful place goes much deeper than that for our students, who will soon be finished with their course, and out into the real world, plying their trade wherever life may take them. A good worker is nothing without the right tools. Similarly, the best chefs will have an understanding of provenance, how and where to source the best ingredients, what to look for when finding these sources, and maybe even to have an active role in the cultivation of these crops, or the rearing of these animals, prior to their arrival in their kitchens.
The term ‘husbandry’ is most commonly associated with the care of animals, and (occasionally) crops. Carole explains that it actually goes a little further than this. Husbandry is to take care of the boundaries of what you are responsible for, and everything within it. They apply this to their patch of land, yet it can also be applied to yourself as a person, and our chefs can equally apply it to their own kitchens.
When Carole and Jonty first began this project almost a decade ago, the land, all ten acres, was overgrown and almost completely inaccessible. It had not been farmed in many years. It had no electricity or proper water supply. It also had no chemical residue left over from agriscience practices that would alter the natural state of the soil. It was found completely as nature wanted her.
From this starting point, they have, excuse the pun, grown, to be completely self-sufficient. Their home is powered entirely by the elements. They have solar power for when the sun shines, wind driven generators, for when it does not. If all else should fail, they have log-burners as a back up. Spring water is drawn from the well they uncovered. With the challenges of modern life as they are, and the negative impact of the Anthropocene epoch or the human-influenced age, what they have here through years of hard work, working with the land, not against it, is something really special. Something which we should all be striving towards in our own small way.
We are so lucky to have this wonderful place on our doorstep. I left surprised, educated, and inspired, and the trip wasn’t even for me. Each student gained what they wanted from the visit. That’s kind of the point of these enrichment days. You can’t quantify it, which is why it isn’t measured towards part of their diploma.
This is about something else. Something more than can be covered in the kitchen classes. It is the little moments like this that go a long way towards deciding what kind of chef they will be: what is the unique thing that they will bring to their trade, what will set them apart from the crowd. It’s where the science and the art form meet.
There are many fine schools in the country, so it’s nice to have something we can boast of, that none of the others can. After all…