Taste the difference: a plot-to-plate project in Cornwall
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Ethan Friskney-Bryer and his wife Hazel moved to Cornwall early last year. Ethan had been head chef at Elliot’s in Borough Market, while Hazel is a printmaker and had worked at a London gallery. When David Gingell and Jeremie Cometto-Lingenheim, the team behind London eateries Primeur, Westerns Laundry and Jolene, announced plans to launch a new restaurant in the Cornish harbour town of Fowey, they saw their chance to relocate. Ethan applied for and got the role of sous chef (later becoming head chef). Hazel joined the front of house, and in June 2019, Fitzroy opened in a former Victorian bank off the esplanade, with a focus on fish and local produce.
At the end of that summer, looking to stay busy over the winter months, when the restaurant closed three days a week, Ethan and Hazel embarked on an ambitious side project. It was prompted by a visit to Trefrawl Farm, a small cattle farm in nearby Looe that also keeps pigs. The pigs inhabited a walled enclosure next to the chicken coop, and the owners were looking for someone to take it over to grow veg. Having always wanted to start their own kitchen garden, Ethan and Hazel volunteered, and last November the pigs were evicted.
“We had no idea how much work it would be,” says Ethan now of the mammoth undertaking. Both were gardening novices. They read books, compiled spreadsheets and covered every surface of their home with seed trays. While digging up the plot they unearthed the bones of a scarecrow – “basically a crucifix with a rag vest over the top”, says Ethan – which they dressed in a cricket jumper and reinstated, christening the space “Wayzgoose Garden” (after the Cornish word for scarecrow) in its honour.
In March, Fitzroy launched a second, more casual, spot along the harbour called North Street Kitchen, where Ethan was also head chef. When both venues closed under lockdown, Ethan and Hazel joined the employees on furlough and wondered if their jobs would ever return. The garden became their lifeline. “Without having a project, we would probably have struggled to stay sane,” says Hazel.
Or, as Ethan puts it, “We gardened like fuck,” working five days a week and up to 12 hours a day. At first, nothing happened. Then whoosh! “As soon as you get green shoots, it starts to look like a garden and that’s really exciting,” says Ethan. Despite some disappointments – the salsify and chicory came to nothing, and they may have weeded out the chamomile by mistake – much else flourished. What had been a slurry of mud was now a grid of verdant growth.
They ate what they grew: “You feel this real connection to what you’re eating,” Ethan says. “Knowing precisely where everything has come from is special.” They picked cavolo nero, radishes, spring onions, coriander and mangetout, collected eggs, made noodles from scratch and cooked a gorgeous pork ramen. They also made pizzas. Their favourite was a Cornish gouda base topped with courgette flowers and peas.
In June, with so much produce on their hands, they started selling salad bags to a local farm shop. When Fitzroy and North Street Kitchen reopened a month later, they supplied the restaurants. Their harvest shaped the menus. “The classic way of writing a menu is to think about the protein and work out the garnish,” says Ethan. “We flipped that.” He paired runner-bean chutney with pork terrine; courgettes with tagliarini and gouda. He hawkishly watched over the kitchen patrol as they podded his peas, which he served with broad beans, blanched and sprinkled with herbs, on grilled Coombeshead bread. As for the Wayzgoose lettuce, “I don’t think anyone else was allowed to dress a salad the whole summer,” he says.
Fitzroy and North Street Kitchen have now closed for the season. But Ethan, Hazel and Ethan’s brother Joel Friskney-Adams are staging pop-ups at both venues through the winter (lockdown permitting). I went to the first in October. The four-course meal kicked off with smoked mackerel with pickles and preserves, followed by a hearty bowl of butter beans, chard and tomatoes. Next was turbot with grilled leeks, clams and tarragon, with roasted new potatoes and green salad on the side. To finish was an apple tart with walnut brittle and clotted cream.
Did I enjoy the meal more knowing that much of what was on my plate had been tended by the people serving me? Yes, I did. And the produce from Wayzgoose shone brightest. The fermented green tomatoes and pickled radishes were vibrant with flavour. The wild garlic capers on the butter beans lifted the dish. “Ting tang ting” was my note on the apples in the tart, whose tangy fruit played my tastebuds like a xylophone. The high point was the green salad. How does anyone get excited about a salad? Well, this one had chutzpah. Dressed in olive oil and a verjus from nearby Trevozah Farm, every leaf had personality. For months, apparently, people had been calling the salads the best they’d ever had.
“We did a dish with fresh butter beans and charcuterie trim,” says Ethan. “People were saying, ‘These beans are fantastic, where are they from?’ And I’d be like, ‘Funny you should ask.’ When people give you compliments as a chef, it’s nice. But when it’s something you have not only cooked but grown, it’s really special.”
For dates and to book a table at Fitzroy or one of the pop-ups, visit fitzroycornwall.com. Ajesh Patalay was a guest at Fowey Hall Hotel; luxuryfamilyhotels.co.uk. Ethan and Hazel Friskney-Bryer feature in Farmerama Radio’s new podcast series Who Feeds Us?, about the experiences of small scale food producers during the Covid crisis. Listen now via all major podcast platforms.