Sustainable food – interview with chef, Arthur Potts Dawson

Sustainable food is a growing trend. The way we produce our food is having a profound effect on the health of our soil and the food which is cultivated. Pesticides and insecticides are now known to be contributing to declining pollinator populations and increases in food intolerances.

Arthur Potts Dawson is one of the chefs leading the campaign for sustainable food practices and embedding the nurture of the environment and bidoversity in everything he cooks and serves.

What made you decide to become a chef?

It all started at a very young age.  I was 15 or 16 when I took a summer job picking spinach and was offered an apprenticeship by Rowley Lee, one of Britain’s top chefs.  Whilst working for him, he told me that he thought I had the makings of a chef and encouraged me to apply for an apprenticeship with the Roux brothers, which I did.  Over the following 33 years, I went on to work in and open myself top restaurants all over the world, as well as cooking in some of the toughest environments as my interest in sustainability grew.

I was lucky to know from an early age what I wanted to do and that being a chef would be a great job, especially as I love lemon tart!

Can you tell us a bit about what your work as a chef?

As a chef, food arrives at your restaurant every day.  Your main relationships are with your suppliers and your guests.  During the first 15 years of running restaurants, I was ordering from my suppliers the ingredients which defined my character as a chef.  I just rung them up and the food arrived.  All that has changed and now picking up the phone doesn’t work.  You have to communicate with the soil and the sea – experience for yourself where the food you serve is coming from. 

This has been a revelation to me and has changed the character of the food I cook.  I go to my suppliers.  I see the farms where they are producing the food I serve – I’ve sailed on the Irish Sea to see the fishing of the scallops that I cook for my guests.  This is how I relate to the environment around me and what it means to be a chef.  I open restaurants with the food system in mind and the impact that has on the planet.  I create food for my guests which affects body and mind as well as taste buds.  Being a chef is not the be-all-and-end-all of creating a dish but the relationship between the chef, the producers, the restaurant team, the customers and the planet is what matters.

Why do you think it’s important to use organic ingredients?

By visiting my producers, I can see the difference between a field of wheat or maize that is grown to organic principles. I can see the bugs and slugs – the biodiversity.  When I visit an area of agricultural monoculture, it is clear to see that this is hugely damaging to the environment.  If I am not supporting biodiversity, I am not doing the right thing for my customers.

The Chef's Manifesto Greenscents interview
Arthur is a key member of The Chefs’ Manifesto

You are part of some important sustainable food initiatives including The Chefs’ Manifesto and Global Goals for Sustainable Development – can you tell us more?

As a chef I realised that I did have some influence through the food I cooked in my restaurants and I’ve also written some books.  However, that impact was still quite small as it was only me.  I realised that I wanted to be involved in larger projects.

So I worked with the IKEA Innovations Team, looking at the menus in their instore restaurants and together we decided to offer a veggie ball in addition to their meatballs.  This sustainable food option has a huge planetary impact as 6 billion meatballs are sold every year worldwide! 

For 10 years I have been a World Food Programme Advocate Chef fighting hunger across the world and I follow the United Nations 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development in my own businesses, including The People’s Supermarket and Omved Gardens.

I am also part of The Chefs’ Manifesto, which offers chefs the simplest tools to communicate their commitment to sustainability inside their business at a much deeper level.  It focuses on the 17 UN sustainable development goals and there are now 400 chefs in 60 countries taking part.  OmVed Gardens is an Action Hub for the manifesto.

OmVed Gardens use Greenscents cleaning products
Arthur cooking at OmVed Gardens

As you’ve told us, you run OmVed Gardens in North London which connects people and nature.  Can you tell us about it and why you chose to use Greenscents products there?

OmVed Gardens is a space in North London which we have turned into a diverse eco habitat, which explores the nature of the relationship between people and our connection to the environment.  OmVed Gardens is a garden, exhibition space and food hub.

The use of chemicals in farming is so impactful – in relation to soil health and water retention for example.  Of course, it is very important that, as a chef, our food preparation areas are hygienic but it would be crazy if we sprayed our own kitchens with toxic chemicals.  I came across Greenscents at an organic consumer show last year, where I was in-show chef.  I researched the products thoroughly and was impressed by their sustainable ethos.  We now use the Nonscents range in all our kitchens.

Lastly, you have kindly offered us a delicious recipe for Organic September:

Autumn Salad of Lightly Pickled Wild Chanterelles, Toasted Millet, Aqua Fava ‘Hollandaise’ and Roof Top Leaves (serves 12 as a small starter)

Ingredients:

Pickled Mushrooms
600g wild mushrooms, preferably chanterelles
2 tsp salt
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 shallot, peeled and finely sliced
2 clove garlic, peeled and finely sliced
400 ml white spirit vinegar (5%)
200ml water
100g caster (superfine) sugar
¼ cm fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
1 small cinnamon stick

Hollandaise:
100ml Aqua fava (preferably cooked chick pea water)
2tsp dijon mustard
3tsp white miso
300ml light sun sower oil
1 pinch malden sea salt
Freshly milled white pepper to taste

100g millet
36 salad leaves, local produce grown on roof tops in NYC
2 fronds of dill

Method:


Brush clean the chanterelle mushrooms, place in a tall glass jar. Boil the, salt, lemon juice, shallot, garlic, white spirit vinegar, water, sugar, fresh ginger and cinnamon stick and immediately pour over the top of the mushrooms, allowing the heat to permeate and ‘cook/pickle’ the mushrooms. Allow to cool.


Place the Aqua fava, mustard, miso and salt into a mixing bowl. Whisking slowly at first begin to drizzle/add the sunflower oil. Increase the whisking pace and incorporate as much air into the hollandaise as possible. Retain at room temperature.

In a large dry saucepan, toast the raw millet over a medium heat for 7-8 minutes, let them turn a rich golden brown, then allow them to cool on a plate.

Wash and dry the salad leaves.

Arrange on a small plate two of the salad leaves, strain of 5-6 chanterelle mushrooms and arrange them on the salad leaf, spoon a teaspoon of the ‘Hollandaise’ on top of the mushrooms. Sprinkle a teaspoon of the millet over the top of the dish and garnish with a delicate sprig of dill.