Sam Morgan is Executive Chef at The Venues Collection
Food is a really important part of our lives. The last 18 months has reinforced that with the resurgence of home baking as we all passionately made our banana bread, sourdough starter, cookies and cakes, creating a nationwide shortage of flour and eggs. Being in lockdown and staying local over the last year and a half, has reconnected us with the idea of buying locally, with more and more people buying from local farms, thinking about food miles and becoming aware of the provenance of what they eat.
We may be out of lockdown, but this reconnection will live on and it will have a permanent impact on how consumers source their food for their homes and for their events. Buying locally and supporting our local farmers and producers has never been so important – especially with new EU regulations making it more complex to import food, and more difficult for our farmers to sell overseas.
This and our parent company, Compass Group UK & Ireland, commitment to be Net Zero by 2030 has inspired us at The Venue Collection to review our menus and to give ourselves the target to make 80% of the ingredients that we use in our venues grown, reared or made in the UK. But this isn’t as straightforward as it may sound.
Many UK restaurants have their own gardens and greenhouses which makes it relatively easy for them to grow produce onsite. We are more than a single restaurant though, we are a collection of seven venues spread over a large proportion of the UK, serving a range of events and customers from apprentice training and big conferences to weddings and Christmas parties. Growing enough produce ourselves to feed our guests would be a far more complicated challenge.
You might think that mainly using only British grown ingredients may have its limitations but this ‘limitation’ motivates me and my teams to maximise the opportunity to jump on a product when it is in season. We love to get creative, to make a seasonal product the star of the show and incorporate it in many different ways across our menus, and of course to let our customers know the reasons behind our menus and how we build something that promotes our brand with customer satisfaction prioritised at all times in this process.
All of our chicken and milk is Red Tractor farm assured and all of our lamb and beef is reared right here in Britain. Core items that do not fall into our goals set for sustainability are being analysed and where possible alternatives sourced that will fall in line with the targets that we have set ourselves to better our product.
We also believe in Zero Waste. Whatever we’re cooking our approach is root-to-stem, nose-to-tail. We use recycled and reusable packaging wherever we can. What’s more our teas and coffees come from responsible suppliers and we’re making a move to plant-forward menus, with a choice of great-tasting alternative proteins. We really do believe in protecting our planet.
Delegates are more discerning about the food that they want to eat which means that event organisers need to be aware of this too. It’s interesting that certain times of the year drive people to buy locally, for example many people source their Christmas turkey from their local butcher, but then don’t think of using them for the other 51 weeks of the year. This is changing though, and as more and more of us focus on buying locally, the demand will drive up the range of what’s available for our culinary teams to drive innovation and really give our customers the best of local regions as well as the best of British.
To reflect this, we have launched our ‘Meetings for Change’ product which means when you book a Venues Collection space you are making good choices that can make a real difference. Buying British also helps us, as a country, to rebuild after a turbulent 18 months. We have an amazing array of small and large food producers, so buying from them and supporting them is also good for our country’s economy and an investment in our farms, our people and the skilled craftsmen who create our amazing locally produced products.
We welcome thousands of guests through our doors each year and we have a responsibility to ensure that we have a clear social purpose to better the planet and the people we interact with; buying British is a key factor in this drive. Earlier this year we launched our Future First Charter, which is our framework to shape and deliver TVC’s social purpose initiatives and targets. One of our three key pillars is focused on food.
Choosing British food means enjoying the diverse, tasty food that our country produces. It is a way of rejoicing in the food that is grown on our doorsteps, tasting a part of Britain’s heritage and supporting suppliers such as farmers.
Yes, our menus flex according to the season and what is available, but we are taking a responsible and ethical approach which I hope in turn helps our clients and their delegates to make responsible choices too. The last year and a half has been tough, but I do believe that this resurgence in British food will be a positive and lasting legacy.