It all began with a bit of idle wondering
Working alone as I do, I sometimes find myself lacking a little fresh inspiration.
2019 was an interesting year for me as it saw huge changes to my personal life (my husband decided the life I had devoted myself to was no longer what he wanted and, with relatively little notice, moved out. Ever the pragmatic lass, I took myself on a few online dates to fill the time only to meet the most incredible man and despite being somewhat reluctant, fell very much in love) which led to a huge amount of change in how I ran my life (goodbye washing his socks, hello needing to more than double my income instantly unless I wanted Mini Chef to give up things like swimming which I’m pretty sure my ex agreed was important until he opted out of family life and closed his wallet). But this was the making of me and opening our home to foreign language students (who I still talk to) and dog boards made our life vibrant and fun. All very happily ever onward and the bills were getting paid but I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to cook.
I wasn’t even that interested in eating which like Nigella Lawson, had previously fuelled my creativity.
I was still cooking and my diners seemed happy but I’d misplaced my enthusiasm. Still, a hint of an idea was emerging…
The immediate recommendation was Rob Gould aka Cotswold Forager.
Already liking that he had a moniker like me, I sent him a message.
That message led to a visit where Rob showed me all kinds of weird and wonderful things and I felt a flicker in my imagination. To say I felt an immediate connection to Rob would be an understatement; he just gets why I do what I do as an entrepreneurial parent fuelled far more by a passion for education and cultivating experiences than money or fame (yet needing to ensure my income meets the needs of me and Mini Chef and the kiddo likes his seafood). Soon we had more ideas for events than we knew what to with when lockdown struck.
I think Rob weathered it better than me. I was drowning in homeschooling while trying to have some fun with my son while Rob gently guided a tribe towards Share Your Outdoors which became a shelter of sanity for me even if it did mean I spent three nights camping in my garden and earlier this month paid actual money to sleep in a yurt with an unheated bathroom. But as the dust settled and Mini Chef and I met Rob for a foraging walk on Robinswood Hill a topic of conversation emerged. Before I knew it, Tuscany occupied many of my waking hours.
There was a lot to think about – not least teaching cookery in Italy when I’m a British trained (for a couple of years at Sixth Form via Leith’s School of Food and Wine which I fit in around my A Levels) cook who expanded her skills largely in Asia before taking on her first chef role when she opened her own restaurant (if it’s good enough for Heston…) – given childcare demands and, ‘hey Rob did ya notice there’s a global pandemic going on?’
But who was I kidding? I could brush up on my pasta making and perhaps my talent is enthusiasm for designing a curriculum around yet-to-be-foraged-ingredients. We gave it a trial run last month and sheep’s sorrel made a lovely pesto and wild oregano was a wonderful addition to focaccia. Turns out as Masterchef alumni (did you spot me on Harry Hill’s World of TV on Sunday 20th September? I like to think the history of cookery programs wouldn’t be the same without my rolling my eyes then beaming at Greg Wallace) I’m somewhat fond of mystery ingredients and the demand to cook them.
And with that, I feel I’d be better handing over to Rob who is far more eloquent (and less given to side stories).
As if joining Rob Gould for 3 days on a Tuscan Foraging Experience wasn’t enough, what about joining him for a 4 day Wild Culinary Experience, where he will be joined by the amazingly talented Masterchef semi-finalist Kathryn Minchew, aka The Pyromaniac Chef.
With over 20 years’ foraging experience under his belt, Rob has a wealth of knowledge and a passion for the outdoors that goes far beyond what is simply edible, also covering things such as preserving your wild harvest, natural history and folklore relating to what you will see when out with him.
Back in the UK, as well as leading sell-out public events, he can be booked for exclusive private walks and is also regularly found running hugely successful Forage and Feast collaborations with some of the very best restaurants in the Cotswolds. He also writes a monthly magazine column on foraging, and is working with some of the most high end accommodation providers in Gloucestershire on bringing truly special experiences to their clients.
“Rob has a great attitude and he nurtures learning and understanding. His knowledge of nature and our countryside is amazing, and I learned so much in my time with him. He gave me an insight into an area that I thought I knew well already”
Will, co-owner of Toscana Holiday Village, had this to say “After originally inviting Rob out to help us look at developing our site to be more nature friendly, we realised that there was an incredible opportunity to work with him on something far more exciting. His enthusiasm is contagious, and his knowledge about the natural world – and his willingness to research deeply into anything unknown he discovers – is astonishing. We cannot wait to work alongside him again in the autumn”
In the UK, Kathryn runs a wonderful, truly bespoke, intimate dining experience from Gloucester Studio, based out of a beautiful Kota Hut in her back garden. Cooking primarily over a wood or charcoal fuelled open fire, she is always seeking out ingredients to inspire new dishes, from the first of the season’s pumpkins, to making unique desserts from fruits first used to make alcoholic infusions. When she appeared on the TV show Hidden Restaurants with Michel Roux Jr, he said “It’s extraordinary to see this in a shed in a suburban back garden. Kathryn cooks meat in front of you on a fire pit. It’s bonkers but it works. I really enjoy watching amazing food being created in the face of unbelievable challenges.”
Rob says his favourite review, before ever meeting Kathryn, was this one, which seems even more apt now…
“The four hours you spend in Kathryn Minchew’s back garden feel like a holiday; you depart feeling like you’re in on a secret, that you’ve discovered a new style of sensory pleasure that’s forward-thinking and innovative yet primal and intrinsic, and most of all, like you’ve been catered for by a passionate, witty, consummate culinary adventurist.”
During the Wild Culinary Experience, you will join Rob and Kathryn on a journey of discovery: weaving together various culinary strands and ideas, from the Italian concept of Cucina Povera, with its historic use of seasonal produce alongside seemingly frugal store cupboard ingredients, to the pinnacle of true wild seasonality, foraging for the best wild herbs and flavours to complement the rest of the produce you will be using. But rather than relying purely on the traditional recipes, and concepts, of Italian cooking, they will also be bringing nearly 60 years of combined culinary knowledge along, so expect some interesting twists too, incorporating techniques, concepts and ingredients from far further afield.
Whilst with Kathryn and Rob, you will participate in multiple foraging experiences, plus hands-on workshops and conversational sessions.
On your first day you will get proper introductions to both Rob and Kathryn, where they will talk about the way they both separately look at the whole ‘experience of food’, and how they are constantly evolving the way they work together as part of a fluid creative process. They will explain the huge significance of foraging, and true seasonality, on Italian food, plus the relationship of those concepts to the use of pizza, cured meats, pastas, gnocchi, bread and of course the whole of Cucina Povera.
Over the course of the following four days, alongside everything covered on the October Tuscan Foraging Experience, you will spend time:
Contributing ideas for, and helping to create, the majority of your meals
Learning traditional techniques such as gnocchi, pasta and pizza making, as well as how to make cordials, alcoholic infusions and much more
Sharing wonderfully simple techniques to turn produce, both foraged – and from the local markets – into absolutely delicious meals, including sauces, soups and stews
Depending on the days, season and weather, we will also visit some of the best local and regional produce markets, festivals and suppliers. In fact Rob and Kathryn see each separate experience they run as a way for the participants to really start delving into ways of bringing back absolute seasonality into their cooking. By utilising the freshest, most wonderful flavours as well as focusing on the particular interests expressed by each separate group of attendees, together you will travel on a truly bespoke adventure, hopefully ending with you developing a new way of looking at food.
Sounds tasty? You can book your deposit here.