Finding omnivore and plant-based harmony in the country with Chef Jon Parry
Tealight recently headed out to Radnage in Buckinghamshire to The Mash Inn, where it’s fair to say cooking meat over fire is a core offering, to meet head chef Jon Parry and see how they approach plant-based diners.
We joined Jon on his morning walk of the grounds to pick the day’s menu; fresh baby turnips from the garden, leaves from the poly tunnel and some bronze fennel from a neighbour’s gardens, yes, you read that right, a neighbour’s garden. That’s the thing that’s immediately obvious with Jon, aside from his infectious passion for the produce, he’s continually focused on his personal mission to "respect everything, waste nothing", including using everything he has at his fingertips.
With seemingly inexhaustible examples, he talked us through how he’s using vegetable trims to make his own soy sauce, how the tough outer strands from cauliflower are turned into pickle and even the ends of the lettuce go up the road to a local snail farm as feed. Some people are all talk, Jon is not one of those people. Jon credits his Grandma, Jacqueline for this, fondly recounting how she used to serve him leftovers from the week so not to waste anything. It seems like the lesson was deep seeded and harmonious with his love of foraging, sparked by the annual blackberry gathering at his time at the Bull and Last in Highgate, London.
The topic turns to that of dietary lifestyle and food allergies. Jon’s quite pragmatic about it with a view on both sides of the equation. Firstly, guests get the best experience when they communicate with the restaurant, a point we'd echo, and then that chefs can make it easy for themselves by thinking about the component parts of their dishes so they can be flexible. As an example, most of Jon’s sauces use oils as opposed to butter so when he caters for a plant based or dairy free diner he can still use big parts of what he has already and simply combine it with a garden bursting with flavour. From hearing him talk, cooking for someone who doesn’t eat meat or fish is an exciting excuse to practice some culinary magic as opposed to a headache.
While cooking meat and fish is unashamedly an important part of the identity of the Mash Inn. The team, from kitchen through to front of house led by James, epitomise inclusive dining. This is centred around the celebration of great produce, produced with love, excitement and of course, respecting everything and wasting nothing.