Dominic Teague: Straight to the source

Dominic Teague is the award-winning Head Chef of Indigo restaurant and the hotel. Here, he talks foraging, flavours and fine ingredients.

I never forget travelling to the Champagne region in France nearly 15 years ago and visiting a local supermarket to be met by row upon row of beautiful white peaches. They were pretty much the only fruits for sale in that section. It was a brilliant example of taking pride in a seasonal harvest and not trying to offer lots of other produce that would have taken many air miles to get there and wouldn’t have been at its best.

At Indigo, I always try to ensure the main ingredient on a dish has been produced in the UK. In fact, I visit most of the farms where we source our ingredients. If it’s Blythburgh free-range pork, for instance, the farmer, Jimmy Butler, and I can almost give you the name of the pig! Same with delicate asparagus from the Wye Valley or sweet tomatoes from the Isle of Wight.

When I was a child, we had a greenhouse where we grew tomatoes. That smell of truly fresh, ripe vines really takes me back. So does rhubarb, although I had too many rhubarb crumbles as a child because dad used to grow it on his allotment and he made sure none of it went to waste by serving it every Sunday.

Our sourcing ethos means the dishes I devise showcase the finest ingredients in sync with nature’s calendar (even if that does mean my menus aren’t finalised until the last minute because the weather can affect a harvest). It also supports specialist British farmers, which I think is increasingly important.

I’m always excited to see what each season will bring, such as juicy cherries in summer and game for autumn. My team are inspired too. I like them to get a feel for the origins of our ingredients and also the effort that goes into farming them. That’s why when we’re cooking scallops, for instance (which happen to be one of my favourite things to eat), I remind them not to waste a single one by overcooking it because a diver has gone down in the freezing cold sea off Orkney Island to bring it to the surface.

I also take my staff, including front of house, on foraging trips at least once a year. We head off to Pembrokshire or North Devon and meet our forager, a great guy from Wales. We explore the seashore and maybe cook up some seaweed on the beach. Then we head into the forest to check out what’s there. When you see how much effort goes into finding some of these wild, flavourful additions, you make sure you give them the respect they deserve when you’re back in the kitchen.

It’s our job to turn all the fresh produce into something truly wonderful and when the plates go out, when it’s all gone well, it’s the best job in the world. Knowing that the dish is a culmination of teamwork, from the grower to everyone who’s cooked even one element, well, it’s a wonderful feeling.

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