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Restaurant Industry News speaks with Head Chef and Co-Owner of The Ethicurean: Mark McCabe

Talk us through your journey into the industry, has becoming a Head Chef always been your dream?

My journey into the industry was pretty unorthodox. I studied English literature at Uni and had ambitions of being a musician for most of my 20s but always found myself drawn to hospitality in between tours. I’d always enjoyed cooking and kitchens have a habit of sucking you in and I eventually made the switch to cheffing full time. I ran a café for a few years before going to River Cottage HQ and then joined the Ethicurean in 2019.

Who or what inspires you?

When I was growing up I loved the ethos of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in those early River Cottage series, where every ingredient, no matter how humble, was to be celebrated. I loved shows about wild food too, like those by Ray Mears, when someone would just go out and forage something and then get super excited about it as they cooked whatever they had found.

Now I love chefs who really dig deep into the produce and surroundings of where they are cooking to give you a real snapshot of the place you are eating. I had such a meal at Faviken and it inspires me to this day.

I’m also constantly inspired by those who are seeking to make our industry better like the teams behind The Burnt Chef Project or Kelly’s Cause. There’s so much to be done to make hospitality as hospitable for staff as it is for guests and we need more people and organisations like them.

You recently appeared on The Great British Menu 2023, how did you find it?

Great British Menu was an incredible experience. I had zero expectations going into the competition and I’m delighted with how it went. It was a real honour to represent Scotland and I hope I did everyone proud. The whole team on the show were exceptional too, it was a really enjoyable week.

What is the cuisine focus at The Ethicurean?

We are set a beautiful Victorian walled garden and we try to use as much of the produce from there as we can so our food is hyper seasonal, supplemented with dairy, fish and meat from suppliers who share our ethos. I like to think we use techniques from all over the world to make the most out of the incredible produce we have available to us.

What are some of the current offerings on the menu?

We are just in the middle of the hungry gap, the period where homegrown produce is at it’s scarcest so cooking is always interesting at this time of year and we have to use a lot of our preserves to make it work. Dishes include, ‘Onion, Whey and Barley’, ‘Arctic Char, Celeriac and Preserved Fennel’ and  ‘Koji, Plum Jam and Brandy’.

Do you use a lot of ingredients from the Victorian walled garden and Orchard?

We try and cook with as much of the produce from the garden and orchard as we can. In the summer that’s probably around 80-90% of our fresh fruit and veg.

What are some of your favourite ingredients to work with, do you use seasonal produce?

The things I get excited for most are the produce with the shortest season as there’s a long wait each year for them to come around again! So asparagus, peas, and sweetcorn are high on the list but I also love the first celeriac of the year too.

Talk us through your process of creating a new dish

We always start with what we have available to us and work backwards. So if we’re changing a dish we have a list of ingredients that are in season and aren’t already on the menu and then start thinking about what we have preserved that we could pair up with them and go from there.

Sustainability is becoming much more of a talked about subject across different industries, what can restaurants do to be more sustainable?

This is a really hard question because I think restaurants are inherently unsustainable. In the sense that we cannot continue to sustain the path we are on – nor should we want to. There’s a huge amount of waste whether that’s food or energy or resources and even with the best intentions and all the money in the world I think that’s very hard to change. I think it’s more about taking responsibility and making conscious, thoughtful decisions about how you run your business. We think long and hard about which suppliers we use, how we treat our staff, how we can do things differently at each turn and try and most the most responsible choice we can. We’re not perfect and it’s rarely easy but I’m hopeful it’s a step in the right direction.

What are your plans for the future?

No real concrete plans other than continuing to enjoy my cooking and trying to make sure the rest of the team enjoy their work too.

Tell us why The Ethicurean should be on our ‘must visit’ lists for 2023?

At any given time of the year we can provide you with a little snapshot of the best that our corner of Somerset has to offer. It’s ever changing and completely tied to the garden.  We pride ourselves on a meal with us being a chance to slow down, to enjoy the surroundings and relax whilst we show you what we’ve been working on.

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