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Sunday, September 25, 2022

A kitchen in a quarry: why Charlie Bigham’s meals campus was named a Riba constructing of the yr | A imaginative and prescient for higher meals

Charlie Bigham is chatting to me by way of video name from a room with a view. From his desk at his firm’s kitchen in Somerset, Bigham can see 30-metre cliffs, and wildlife that features peregrine falcons. This morning, he walked to work via 20 acres of wildflower meadows the place six species of bee thrive.

It’s a strikingly uncommon residence for a producer – however then the way in which Bigham approaches all points of his meals enterprise is something however run-of-the-mill.

“Once I was in search of a brand new website for a kitchen within the south-west, I had a number of easy questions that I requested of every choice,” he tells me. “There have been wise ones corresponding to: ‘How huge is it, and the way a lot does it value?’ However my final and most vital query was: ‘Does it have a little bit of magic?’

Charlie Bigham heading along a path to the Somerset kitchen’s glass entrance door

“We considered over 30 spots earlier than we discovered an enormous, disused quarry, which inserts completely with what we’re making an attempt to do at Charlie Bigham’s – plus it meant we didn’t should plough up a fantastic inexperienced subject to construct our kitchen, which was a fantastic begin.”

Earlier than Bigham constructed the sister kitchen to his HQ in north-west London in 2017, the quarry close to Wells had lain untouched for 25 years. The plan from the outset was to work intently with architects to create a office that wouldn’t displace native wildlife, and can be constructed with sustainability at its coronary heart.

“Once I first got here right here, it felt a bit like being on the moon,” says Bigham. “It was utterly empty and desolate, though there was some resident wildlife right here that had discovered a pleasant place to be, which we tried to work with and even improve.

“5 years on, we’ve acquired a inhabitants of nice crested newts and 6 species of bat, which we monitor. We now have two nesting pairs of peregrine falcons, plus numerous badgers, foxes and rabbits. It’s actually numerous – and I’m delighted to say there’s really extra wildlife right here now than after we arrived.”

View of the approach to the quarry
Detail of flowers
View from a window at the quarry
Quote: “I’m delighted to say there’s actually more wildlife here now than when we arrived”

With the assistance of an area conservationist, tonnes of soil had been introduced in to plant the wildflower meadow that surrounds the kitchen. Domestically harvested seeds had been used, whereas particular lighting and drains have been constructed to guard the bats and newts. “We’ve additionally constructed a bat home, so that they have someplace to go in the event that they’re feeling a bit shy,” Bigham laughs. “There’s at all times a whole lot of element to think about, nevertheless it’s enjoyable.”

Contained in the kitchen itself, Bigham is working in direction of his objective of hitting web zero in relation to carbon emissions – a goal he thinks meals producers, particularly, ought to purpose for.

“If you happen to’re in meals manufacturing, you’re very near nature, and everybody has a major half to play within the quantity of carbon we’re producing,” he says. “One thing like flying is a alternative, however we will’t simply cease consuming – so meaning meals producers should decide to lowering their affect.”

Herbs being scattered over food

For Charlie Bigham’s, this dedication contains sending zero waste to landfill for the previous 15 years, making packaging from wooden and ceramics as an alternative of plastic, and being an early adopter of inexperienced electrical energy, starting greater than a decade in the past. And now, the Somerset kitchen is striving to do issues even higher.

“We had the privilege of designing a constructing from scratch, which meant we might design energy-saving mechanisms into it which might be actually exhausting to retrofit,” says Bigham. “We’re on a journey to cut back our vitality and water use per dish, so we’re about 25% extra vitality environment friendly right here in comparison with our older kitchens, because of issues corresponding to LED lighting and higher refrigeration and cooking gear.

“Three years in the past, we put £250k of photo voltaic panels on the roof, which implies we generate round 10% of our personal electrical energy, and we’re placing extra in quickly. We additionally clear up our water at our personal wastewater remedy plant, then discharge it, fastidiously monitored by the Environmental Company, into the native river. It means we’re taking duty for our personal drawback, slightly than leaving it to anyone else to cope with.”

The corporate’s curiosity in sustainability extends past the location’s borders. Shut by is a motorbike path, half funded by the corporate, making it easy for workers to stroll or cycle to and from Wells. Hyperlinks to the cathedral metropolis have been additional cemented by the corporate participating within the annual Wells meals competition. Its involvement – together with a stay cook-along for festivalgoers this October – is about giving again to the local people, in addition to boosting enterprise.

Quote: “It’s about giving back to the local community, as well as boosting business”
Signpost to Wells
Wells food festival

“That is our sixth yr of supporting the competition, and this yr our charity accomplice, Cooks in Colleges, is that includes,” says Bigham. “They encourage younger individuals to eat totally different meals and discover ways to cook dinner, however are at the moment solely London-based. We’re hoping the competition would possibly create a catalyst for getting them to work with native colleges right here in Somerset.”

Cooks in Colleges is only one of a number of charities Charlie Bigham’s works with, and the design of the Somerset kitchen displays one among Bigham’s different chief passions: individuals. Liaising intently with the architects he employed for the construct, he ensured the kitchen was designed to create a harmonious working setting, connecting its occupants to nature and one another.

“How individuals get out and in of the constructing, and the way they work together with it and different individuals in it was very a lot a part of our transient,” says Bigham. “For instance, we’ve acquired a lot of pure mild right here, which could be very uncommon in a producing setting. As a result of we’re on this superb location, we’ve got home windows in all places, strategically positioned so our individuals can join with the panorama.”

One in all Bigham’s favorite particulars about his kitchen is likely one of the design components that led to it being named south-west constructing of the yr 2018 by the Royal Institute of British Architects. It’s an simply neglected characteristic – however one which neatly sums up each the person, and his dedication to do the correct factor in relation to the enterprise of meals.

View of the quarry
Detail of wildflowers
EV charging points at the quarry

“It’s a small however actually important factor, and one I’d love different companies to observe: we solely have one entrance door,” Bigham smiles. “In some unspecified time in the future within the murky previous, producers started constructing one door for the individuals who work within the workplace, and one other for everybody else. And that appears to me very quaint and essentially fallacious.

“Whenever you begin creating totally different entrances, the place does it cease? Does that imply there’s one set of bogs for some individuals and one other set for others? As a result of that’s not proper both. So we solely have one entrance door, one set of bogs, and one cafe, which implies all of us have lunch collectively. It’s precious, it’s vital – and it’s the correct factor to do.”

Even the most effective residence cooks just like the occasional evening off, and that’s the place Charlie Bigham’s dishes come into their very own. With every part from steak pies to paella and salmon en croute, it has by no means been simpler to feed your loved ones effectively

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