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Chef Stories: Benn Gets Growing

You have probably noticed by now that we’re incredibly proud to be using only the freshest ingredients we can get our (chef) hands on. We also rotate many of our dishes between seasons to ensure that as many of them as possible are seasonal, therefore the produce is better quality and carries extra flavour. But our head chef, Benn Hodges, has just put the ‘cherry on top’ so to speak, as he’s now a happy owner of an allotment plot!

An allotment is a plot of land, rented by an individual to grow produce and flowers. Meaning Benn now spends his weekend mornings digging, planting and enjoying an all manner of gardening activities! With the kettle having just boiled, we sat down with him to have a chat about owning an allotment in London, what this means for the EatFirst menu and gardening life in general.

1. Congrats on your allotment! They’re notoriously tricky to get hold of in London. Could you tell us where it is and the difficulties of getting it?

J4B (my plot number) is just near Highgate woods. I applied in Islington when I first moved here five years ago but the waiting list was over 90 years long! Yes, 90. That obviously wasn’t going to happen, so I applied to quieter areas in North London. I actually moved there two years ago and so now it’s worked out well.

2. What stage are you at with it?

I've got two compost bins, full of all the EatFirst vegetable scraps and I’ve turned 10m x 12m of grass into a plot for six beds. Haringey council collects all the food waste and composts it for the local allotments, which meant we had a huge compost delivery on Friday last week.

3. What are you planning to grow?

I’m looking to grow rhubarb, lovage, courgettes, broad beans, peas, tomatoes and peppers. As well as herbs and wildflowers for bees. I’m sure I’ll be very busy in the coming months!

4. We’re sure you will too! What about the ‘allotment community’? Is there one?

The people in my allotment area are a very mixed bunch of busy professionals and retired people. Due to this mix there is a little bit of 'allotment politics'. When allotment plots used to be rented years ago, they were so much bigger because they needed enough space to grow food for a family of four. Well, now that’s not the case. This means there are people who have had these huge plots for over 60 years and naturally they’re quite protective over them. When a young’un like me comes in I think they get a bit nervous that their vegetables are in jeopardy! Saying that, a lovely guy with a plot near me recently dug up his turnips and shared them with me, which proved there’s some good vibes going on there too.

5. Will anything make it into the EatFirst meals?

I'm planning a new Spring lamb dish and hoping to garnish it with vegetables from my plot. But I’m sure as I get more experimental that more produce will make it to the menu!

We cannot wait! We’ll be following Benn’s plot progress as the weather gets warmer, so watch this space.

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