If you’re looking to learn something today, you’re in luck. Steven Lamb refers to himself as a “careers teacher’s nightmare”, as he jumped around jobs looking for his passion. Then, he found it at River Cottage. Food, drink and hospitality flow through the veins of Steven Lamb – and his extensive knowledge about all areas of his industry is outstanding. From chatting about the additives that are injected into shop-bought standard bacon, making your own cheese from one pot of yogurt to discussing just what the the government should be doing to ensure as humans we are doing the best for our bodies, animals and the planet… This weeks conversation is a journey in more ways than one.
PART ONE: (Episode 41)
00:00:00 Marks Introduction
00:01:55 Meeting Steven Lamb, setting the scene in Dorset Countryside
00:02:45 The authenticity of River Cottage – does it look the same as it does on Television?
- 00:06:16 “You can’t just do 9-5 yes, I’m an organic or free range, supporter of high welfare farming and then go home and do the opposite. You’ve got to see it through.”
00:06:42 Talking about spreading the message – should restaurants be educating people on the food, drink & hospitality industry?
- 00:07:46 “I think it’s important to say it, but there’s a subtlety… I think there’s nothing worse than sitting down with your family and being bombarded with a message. I think that sort of spoils that experience of eating.”
- 00:08:20 “You could think you know, actually, I’m so upset by learning that – that I’ve gone off my food. And that’s not the purpose of hospitality.”
00:08:25 How did Steven end up at the point he is today? Where it all began
- 00:09:54 “I’m a careers teacher’s nightmare. I had no focus, a patchwork quilt of a career. I ended up working in food by accident.”
00:15:49 The change from Big Brother to River Cottage, and all this leading him to food
00:17:32 Being in the position of learning about food on television
- 00:18:04 “I hated it. It was full of people talking to good game and looking sharp, but very close to the surface. It seemed that everyone was playing up – and I didn’t want that for my next leap into a brand new career.”
- 00:16:54 “I don’t know if you’ve ever lived and worked in the same place. It’s a unique experience. For one, you’re always ‘on’.”
00:19:48 The change of scene – from TV in London to working in hospitality
- 00:20:13 “Culturally at River Cottage, there are several people that don’t come from a hospitality background but there’s an underlying passion in believing in what they’re doing. And that gets you through. It’s not that you worry about being super slick and five star – it’s about being genuine.”
00:21:15 Mark talking about what Humans of Hospitality really means – being a decent human being, spending time together, and the change in going out for dinner
- 00:22:49 “We would come back from school, and we used to have our dinner in front of the telly. Then my mum would come in, and my mum and my nan would sit in the back room and have their dinner. And then my dad would rock up at all sorts of hours and he would have his dinner really late at night.”
- 00:23:39 “When I started having a family for myself, my wife Elliot and I – we sit round a table and we make one thing. It’s an event. It’s not fancy food – it is the idea of sitting down, having a chat.”
00:25:52 Putting scary and safe items on the menu
00:29:25 Day one at River Cottage: what did it look like?
- 00:31:22 “The other part of this made up job that I had, would be – if books were being bought online, then I would get the books from the publisher – I would drive to Hugh’s house (Brighton to Dorset). I would sit round the table with Hugh and he would personalise those books.”
00:31:57 The first River Cottage HQ
- 00:33:06 “It just became the best apprenticeship ever. Running events, working alongside some really good people, doing some kind of really progressive, interesting work – celebrating the countryside and culturally amongst the team creating something really amazing.”
- 00:33:04 “I love what I do. But I just don’t think you can put it on a business card.”
00:36:19 What is River Cottage now? How did it end up going from a TV show, to a working farm/cookery school?
- 00:38:02 “So you know, it has changed a lot. Still though, has the same principles that underpin it. I know that if you’ve got a core set of values that work, you can apply them in many ways.”
- 00:42:21 “The organisation we are working with and partnered with are seeing the positive impact on their staff, on their culture, of what it is like to work with an ethos rather than just for profit.”
00:42:38 River Cottage Chef School
- 00:44:48 “We’re heavy on working with the full carcass and that introduces creativity, and makes people aware of how much food waste they’ve got in their own industry.”
- 00:46:56 “A lot of the food I ate that was nutritional and it’s got health… Well if I’m being honest, it’s actually a bit bland. It’s almost anti-enjoyment food. And what I think now is there is this creativity and willingness to make it delicious and nutritious.”
00:47:55 Chatting more about plant powered dishes
- 00:49:29 “When you start looking behind the curtain it is a little bit daunting. My passion is smoking and curing – and if you eat an accumulation of smoked and cured goods, particularly commercial stuff that’s been processed, you’re letting yourself in for a bit of a shock.”
00:50:56 What are nitrates?
- 00:51:15 “Nitrates are added to bacons, sausages, hams as a way of making them safe bizarrely. A lot of the bacon that we eat, a lot of the hams that we eat – a lot of those cured goods, are not cured at all. A lot of the bacon we’ve had exposure to for example has been injected with salt and water to make it taste like bacon.”
- 00:53:20 “That sort of Frankenstein bacon is such an unstable product. Fresh meat isn’t stable. If you then add in more moistness, bad bacteria love moistness in meat.”
00:55:07 What is the correct process to make bacon, traditionally?
- 00:55:25 “A lot of people think salt is the devil’s ingredient. It’s favourite ingredient in the whole world.”
- 00:55:54 “Time as in time passing, as an ingredient. Things take time. It’s the antithesis of fast food.”
00:56:05 Can you buy ‘proper’ bacon in supermarkets?
00:57:50 Marks signoff for part one, be sure to check out part two below.
PART TWO: (Episode 42)
00:00:00 Marks Introduction
00:02:03 Steven specialising in smoking & curing – why did this intrigue him?
- 00:02:01 [Talking about Ray] “He was part of the original crew, the original characters on the River Cottage series… And I found him totally engaging. He was a bit scary, used to scare the chef’s half to death… but he has a sparkle in his eye and you had to earn his respect…. He took me under his wing, and he was challenging.”
- 00:05:12 “In Japan, one of the oldest known smoked and cured products is called katsuobushi. The commercial, more recent product is called bonito flakes.”
- 00:06:53 “This person, or these people – we don’t know who – has kind of understood the denaturing qualities of salt, the bacterial qualities of smoke, and time, and maturing, and air flow, and humidity, and moulds…”
00:09:11 Mark & Steven discuss how humans are lucky to be able to taste and enjoy all kinds of flavours
- 00:10:35 “Salt accounts for one fifth of your overall engagement with flavour. You kind of know when you’ve got too much salt – nobody taught you that.”
00:11:45 Why is cured and smoked charcuterie now available in the UK where it wasn’t before?
- 00:14:15 “People celebrate regionality. You’re from somewhere else in my country, and I’m from somewhere else in the same country. We make brilliant things in our place… So do you!… We are poor at that in Britain. Poor at celebrating what we do.”
00:15:51 Chatting about DPI’s and how the UK is an innovator
- 00:18:33 “It would be a poor drinking experience to go to a restaurant and say that all the red wines were from England. It’s not about internalising too much.”
00:19:04 Animal Welfare in the UK – are they some of the best in the world?
- 00:20:05 “There’s a huge amount of people doing amazing things about wanting to do the right thing. Of course, it’s not in the majority, but it’s very much accessible.”
00:21:42 If you want to start curing yourself, or making cheese, what is the best fool-proof way to start?
- 00:22:50 “You have to start with really good milk, really good meat, and with a simple layer of craft and understanding and a few simple rules… You will make something amazing. You will make an elevated version of what that product was.”
00:24:07 How to make your own Labneh cheese – the easiest to make!
- 00:25:29 “Now, everybody knows what they’re gonna get for Christmas. They’re gonna get a little kilner jar of Labneh. They’re gonna get a little bit of bacon, wrapped in wax paper. Potentially they might get homemade salami. And they gonna get another signed copy of my book whether they like it or NOT!”
00:25:52 YouTube channel – showing people how to make bits and bobs
- 00:26:34 “Although you’ll always make something safe, it will differ. I’ve got some brilliant products at home that we could consider ‘happy accidents’.”
00:28:00 What does Steven think the food and drink world will look like 10/20 years from now?
- 00:29:27 “I look at the youth and I think oh my god, they are mostly super pro-active and doing brilliant things. Not putting us to shame, but it’s going a good way.”
00:33:50 Does Steven think there is anything the Government can do to fast track the needed change in food? (Hint – he thinks they need to shape up BIG time!)
- 00:35:25 “If I’m aged 82, 85 and being carted away and arrested because I’m doing the right thing… then I’d be happy with that and I’d expect you to pay my bail.”
00:39:09 What’s the future for River Cottage?
- 00:39:17 “It’s about creating a business that’s about more than just profit.”
00:42:12 What does Steven find the most rewarding part of his job?
- 00:43:36 “Basically, I’m unmanageable.”
00:45:51 Where can you find out more about Steven and the River Cottage?
00:47:54 Marks final thoughts, sign off
If you’d like to learn more about Steven Lamb, River Cottage and all the amazing things they do for artisan food & drink… Check out their website and social channels below, or listen to the full two parts linked below:
YouTube: River Cottage