YOU might remember the TV series River Cottage hosted by television chef, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, but did you know that today, River Cottage has restaurants in Axminster, Bristol, Winchester and a few in London?

Executive Head Chef, Gelf Alderson, tells us all about the River Cottage philosophy and his love of cooking.

At 16, Gelf dropped out of school and worked as a kitchen porter in a hotel.

He was then offered an apprenticeship as a chef and so decided to take the chance – he had always been around home grown and home cooked food when he was younger and so thought it could be the career for him.

Gelf explained: “It turned out I really enjoyed cooking and I was quite good at it, which is always nice. It just captivated me really – the pace of it all, the comradery of the kitchen and just food in general.”

Twenty years later, Gelf is still cooking but has joined the River Cottage team. He helps Hugh to write his books and works on developing and improving the supply chain at all restaurants. He also works closely with Hugh to create the delicious menus served in all six kitchens. Once the menus have been decided and signed off, Gelf will develop and create the dishes.

Yeovil Express:

Every six to eight weeks, the menus change. This is due to the seasons and the food that is readily available. The specials, which are fish dishes, change daily, dependent on the fish that is available.

“We have a whole bank of dishes that we have developed, so it is not completely spontaneous on the day” added Gelf, “but there are hundreds of recipes so there is no routine which is nice.”

When questioned about his favourite dish, Gelf found it hard to pick just one.

He explained: “Your favourite often becomes your arch nemeses after you have eaten it so much! Because everything changes every six weeks, I think you should have a different favourite every time the menu changes.”

Most of the food served at River Cottage is organic. Gelf believes the best way to encourage people to buy organic is through buying veg – as it is only slightly more expensive.

“We are not a vegan organisation and we never will be” he explained, “Hugh is an omnivore who still eats meat, fish and dairy products, but he does eat a lot more veg. He believes the future of cooking includes a lot more vegetables.

“When you get people treating kale in a different way, picking sprouts out the top and using the flowers and turning what used to be thought of as cattle feed into amazing produce then it’s different from one month to the next. Those are the ingredients that really excite me.”

The style of cooking at River Cottage focuses heavily on provenance. Gelf admitted that this is different to what he was used to in previous jobs – sometimes, he had no idea where the ingredients came from.

Yeovil Express:

At River Cottage, they do their best to support local growers. Gelf added: “The amazing flavours come from the ingredients, you can’t turn awful ingredients into amazing food – that just doesn’t work.

“It is all about the ingredients. I don’t get more excited about a piece of meat than I do a lentil – they are both as exciting as each other. We have worked with a company over the last two years to create a UK lentil crop, our pulses and so on are UK grown, which is amazing.

“Working at River Cottage, I have been to every single farm that produces for us. I have talked to the farmers, as we like to put a face to a name.

“Our suppliers also come to us each year for dinner on the farm as a way of saying thank you.”

To find out more, visit rivercottage.net