Tucked away in an estate by one of London’s busiest roads, real, mostly edible, green shoots of hope are springing up.
A simple acre plot of land has been transformed into a living, breathing and growing garden, all with considerable help from SRA Member Salt Yard Group.
This week I was kindly invited to join some of the team from Salt Yard Group’s Dehesa at the project run by Phoenix School, in White City, west London.
The Farm and Learning Zone, built in 2007 through Lottery funding comprises glasshouses, polytunnels and a series of beds, fruit and vegetables, together with medicinal herbs, plants and edible flowers.
The garden has been a key part in the transformation of the once failing school. Salt Yard’s Chef Director Ben Tish and the team were attracted to the concept and decided to partner with the school three years ago. Since adding an optional £1 to the end of every bill they’ve managed to raise £20,000 a year to support the project. The restaurant runs summer BBQs in the garden, uses some surplus fruit and veg from the site for their specials, and yesterday ran a workshop for young students about careers in hospitality, followed by the opportunity to cook lunch for their staff and fellow students.
What was on the menu? A mix of delicious warm vegetarian salads, new potatoes and a cheesecake with summer fruits pudding. All washed down with homemade cordial. Obviously nearly all the ingredients came fresh from the farm, a stone’s throw from the kitchen.
As I turned up mid-morning the amateur chefs were already hard at work, prepping veg, washing salad leaves and adding final touches to the cheesecake under the direction of Dehesa’s team. Speaking to the team it was clear they were passionate about inspiring the next generation of chefs, getting the kids interested in where their food comes from and having them try new foods.
Exec Chef Ben Tish says: “This is a real partnership and while we’re really pleased to support Phoenix financially, it means more to be able to offer practical support as well – that’s what supporting a charity is really all about.”
Aside from a free lunch the kids benefit enormously, developing excellent practical cooking skills, learning about the provenance of the ingredients and using their creative flair in the kitchen.
The partnership with the school doesn’t stop here. Salt Yard Group want to further their work with the school and have agree to take one student on for a two-year apprenticeship.
Ben says he more or less drifted into working in restaurants, drawn from Skegness to the bright lights of London. He’s keen to develop a proper pathway and, if the pilot apprenticeship works well, will be looking to roll out the scheme across the group.
Salt Yard Group are an excellent example of a socially responsible restaurant group, who are very committed to educating, inspiring and training the next generation of chefs and long may their partnership with the Phoenix School continue.