“I believe vegetables are the way forward,” pronounces Simon Crannage, Executive Chef at Samuel’s at Swinton Park in North Yorkshire which boasts three AA rosettes.
This may not be your average restaurant, situated as it is in a luxury castle hotel surrounded by 20,000 acres. But, historically, it was traditional in that its menu relied heavily on meat.
It’s shooting season currently and any meat on the menu at this time of year will almost certainly be game, from the estate – venison, birds or rabbit. Simon enjoys his meat as much as the next man, and understands the environmental toll it can take, both directly on the land and on the environment more widely and is passionate about provenance.
Suggest to Simon a tax on meat should be imposed as a means of reducing consumption to limit the impact on the environment, as proposed by Chatham House in a report published last week, and you get a straightforward answer. “Taxing meat is a horrendous idea. These boffins have no idea. They’re suggesting everything should be taxed, sugar and meat. I mean come on, there’s nothing wrong with meat and it’s not unhealthy, so long as you don’t eat piles of sausages for breakfast every day and steak every night.”
The estate is also giving over more land for the growing of vegetables, fruits and herbs rather than meat production.
“Veg and smoked game is the way forward,” says Simon.
The main tasting menu at Samuel’s has no red meat on it. In fact the only meat is a partridge dish. The rest of the dishes are vegetable or egg based.
“It wasn’t exactly by design, but I sat down with the head chef and we designed the menu and then we looked at each other and said, but there isn’t much meat on it. And we said, ‘why not?’.
“We created a starter which is mushroom based. We added a pink fir apple, soy sauce and garlic and when the kitchen team tried it they all said it had the same sensation as eating meat.”
Now non-meat eaters are foregoing the specially created vegetarian tasting menu in favour of the regular tasting menu.
“By creating delicious, lovely tasty options that frankly sound and look similar, it means vegetarians and meat eaters are both happy to choose them.”
Simon believes that the influx of cheap, mass produced meat means that many don’t understand the true value of meat and a large proportion of people are unwilling to pay a fair price.
“I can’t abide cheap meat. And while I’m not generally in favour of tax, I would tax the mass manufactured gear flooding the market because it’s cheap for a reason – it’s crap. I’m not being snobbish, but I won’t have it in my house. But to tax meat that’s properly produced according the methods we’ve used for hundreds of years would be unfair on the farmers who are having a hard enough time as it is.”
Isn’t it easy for the chef of a fine dining restaurant to pontificate about cheap meat? “Let’s not talk about eating in my restaurant,” says Simon. “What about going to the butcher and buying mince that he can tell you the provenance of rather than the supermarket – it’s really not that much more expensive.”