Tom Hunt is an acclaimed eco-chef and author of The Natural Cook. He is the founder of Poco, an award-winning restaurant in Bristol, and the Forgotten Feast, a campaign to revive our cooking heritage and help reduce food waste.
Tom’s food is inspired by his travels around the world, adapted for an English kitchen, utilising local ingredients. His mission is to prove the value of this unwanted food by using it to cook elaborate and lavish banquets. Keeping true to his zero waste ethos Tom cooks from Nose to Tail, or as he calls it ‘root to fruit’, using every part of a fruit and vegetable, offal, foraged foods and gleaning vegetables from the land.
He is an official chef of Feeding the 5000, a global event, which aims to highlight food waste by feeding more than 5000 people with delicious food that would otherwise have been wasted. He also works closely with various food charities including FareShare, FoodCycle and StreetSmart.
Poco, in Stokes Croft, Bristol, serves seasonal tapas and features thrifty cuts of meat, sustainably sourced fish and seasonal vegetables, 75% of which have been sourced within 100 miles. One of the principal aims of the restaurant is to achieve zero waste.
We were lucky enough to attend a Root to Fruit cookery workshop in Borough Market, London hosted by Tom and we managed to nab him for a chat too!
Tom firstly did a demonstration of kneading his own creation of sourdough bread named Cleo. The idea behind Cleo is to bring a new meaning and value to your bread through loving and nurturing it, keeping some active for yourself and then passing on a small amount to friends and family. This results in Cleo being the ultimate gift that just keeps giving! One small amount that you keep keep recycling and using time after time. You can follow Cleo’s progress all around the world by checking out Toms Feast. Once we had two batches of Cleo prepped and cooking in the oven, we prepared dinner for the evening.
On the menu was:
+ Carrot and fennel top pesto with carrot, fennel and orange salad
+ Beetroot leaf borani with Iranian style yoghurt and walnut dip
+ Roast cauliflower steaks with crispy leaves and hazelnut sauce
Throughout the prepping process, we were able to see exactly how to utilise the most from our produce. Tom used the example of the leafy greens that top root vegetables and in most cases are sadly chopped off before they even hit the supermarket. These are valuable greens going to waste! We used the greens of our fennel to add to the pesto and it worked brilliantly. Similarly, with the cauliflower, we chucked the leaves in the oven and they crisp up beautifully as a side on your plate – who knew?!
It really served as a catalyst to get me thinking about other wasted sections of vegetables and what on earth we can do with them. (I will be doing a whole post based on this soon!). Everyone was able to get involved with this class and we all had a role which resulted in a delicious feast for us all to share at the end of the night.
Where do you source your inspiration for new dishes?
The seasons! Leading a seasonal diet pushes you to find new ingredients, heritage varieties and wild foods you might not have eaten before. Limiting your shopping list mostly to seasonal ingredients also invokes creativity and helps inspire dishes that represent that moment.
The idea of root to fruit, zero waste and staying seasonal seems as though it must take a huge amount of planning and thought months in advance. How do you manage this process within your work and how far in advance are you coming up with your ideas?
Quite the opposite, most of my recipes are quite spontaneous! And only take a little immediate research or a visit to a local market. The stall holders will know what is in season and my cooking is ingredients-led so I’ll use what’s best in the market or what needs using in my fridge to create a new dish. The brilliant thing with the quality of the produce we become familiar with when cooking from Root to Fruit (wholefoods from producers who care about the food) is that it can be prepared that much more simply.
Home of Eco sets out its values and guidelines for trade through our ‘Greenlist’. Do you have a similar type of criteria that your suppliers are all familiar with?
I’ve created a Root to Fruit Eating manifesto which I will publish this year on my website and in paper form. But essentially the three main points of Root to Fruit Eating are 1) Eat for Pleasure 2) Eat Whole Foods 3) Eat the Best Food You Can.
Do you have a favourite time of the year for seasonal produce?
I love the change that comes with the seasons each bringing its own gems. Even deep winter has treats to enjoy from Jerusalem artichokes to celeriac.
What is your ultimate treat food?
What are your top tips for everyday sustainable cooking at home?
Follow the three principles of Root to Fruit Eating and begin Eating for Pleasure. Done consciously this will lead to a more sustainable and enjoyable diet.
What is on the horizon for you?
I’m looking to take a step back from running businesses to focus on writing and researching how to create a fairer food system. This may mean a trip away or even a masters in food sustainability.