I recently spent 10 days in St Davids, Pembrokeshire, while doing an internship at Grub Kitchen as the final part of my Natural Chef course. I didn’t have to go to the other end of the country – I could have stayed in London and commuted from home. But I’m stubborn like that – going far away to do an internship is a running theme of my life. Six years ago I spent three glorious months in Vancouver on a publishing internship!
The other reason I went all that way was because Grub Kitchen is a really unusual restaurant. Its USP is edible insects, and reckons it’s the first bug restaurant in the UK. I’m not a stranger to eating bugs – I’ve reviewed Zoic bars here before and I’ve read about how they’re the future of food. But Grub Kitchen is something different – Andy puts edible insects at the centre of his menu, without hiding the insects as flour. He is really interested in sustainability too, but they don’t make a big deal out of it – the menu just is what it is. He does offer non-insect food too; the menu is probably about half bug and half not, and the orders coming in are around half bug too. The visitors to St Davids are adventurous!
Grub Kitchen is the restaurant sister to Dr Beynon’s Bug Farm, which aims to educate the public on the importance of the tiny things for our soil health. Sarah (aka Dr Beynon) is a passionate researcher and advocate for putting bugs centre stage when it comes to farming and conservation. Together, the Bug Farm and Grub Kitchen really get their visitors talking about sustainability and conservation in a completely different way then normal.
I had a great time at St Davids. I’d never been to that part of the world and it’s really beautiful. I went with my laptop and iPad, aiming to do some work but ended up deciding to really take it easy, focusing on watching the sunset, looking at the horizon and reading books. It was really refreshing to feel that at the end of the work day, my time was my own. I haven’t had that since mid-2014, just before I started the Nutrition course…and the way things are going, if I don’t do something drastic, I may never get that again. When I came home I could almost feel the tension settling back down on my shoulders, and in a blink of an eye three weeks had gone by faster than the ten days I had been at Grub! There was just so much…STUFF here, whereas there I had no stuff to distract me from the basic pleasures in life like watching the sunset. So that was one really important thing I learn during my time there. Here are five more things I learnt on my internship:
1.) Working in a kitchen is not like Masterchef. I was genuinely terrified before I went to Wales because the only image I had of working in a kitchen is from TV shows like Masterchef. Having a low-stress working life has always been a major goal for me, and the high-stress image of the kitchen on Masterchef really didn’t appeal. Andy was really reassuring when we spoke before I arrived, and he couldn’t have been a better mentor. Most of the time he was the only chef in the kitchen, and at one point he had 10 table orders in and he was cool as a cucumber. It really showed me how much more you can achieve by keeping calm and staying methodical.
2.) Start the day with making bread and the rest follows. I grew up watching my mum make bread and she always found deep meditation and calm in the process, especially when kneading the bread. My mornings at Grub Kitchen often started with making bread rolls and flatbreads from 3kg-worth of flour. The whole process takes most of the morning – mix the dough, knead, leave to prove, knead again, make the rolls, cook the flatbreads. But it’s a really calming start to the day. You have time to think while measuring out the flour and kneading the bread…time to work out what you’re going to do next. And that’s a really grounding start to the day.
3.) Eating bugs is the future. In 2006, the Food and Agricultural Organization issued a report entitled Livestock’s Long Shadow, in which they examine the environmental impact of livestock. It’s very long, but the conclusion and summary is a fascinating overview of the report as a whole, and definitely provides some food for thought in terms of how much meat we consume. And that’s what Andy aims to do with cooking tasty, interesting food…that happens to have insects in. Insects are still an expensive source of protein, but Andy packs in as much insects as he can to his food. Ultimately, his goal is to farm his own insects. I was amazed at how quickly I got used to the idea of insects in the food, and it easily became the norm. I think the reason was because it’s all so matter-of-fact at Grub – there’s just no big deal about it.
4.) Nothing beats talking to producers who farm just a few miles away. It was really incredible to be busy working in the kitchen and then have the local fisherman walk in and offer some mackerel he’d caught 2 hours ago. Or to find out that the cheese that tops the bug burgers was made using cows grazed two fields away and made on the same farm. Or to have the shepherd grazing his sheep on the field behind the kitchen show you the lamb that will be ready for slaughter the next week, on the menu the week after. Or to listen to a local farmer ranting about how regulations on slaughtering cows has caused him great distress because no mater how lovingly he rears his cows, their last few hours are stressful due to travelling to the slaughterhouse far away from the farm and away from those they’ve known all their lives. It was an experience I’ll never forget because the passion these people have for their produce really shines through in the final product – the food you actually find on your plate.
5.) St Davids is probably one of the most beautiful corners of the British Isles. I know I haven’t been everywhere in the UK, but the wide open horizons, the rolling hills, the wildflowers…it’s so beautiful. I was unlucky with the weather – it was 16C most days and cloudy, but even then, it’s a dramatic seascape and stunning views all round.
I don’t really know where I’m going from here, but I went into this internship thinking I wouldn’t be interested in working in a restaurant…and I came out of it thinking maybe I would quite enjoy it. So it’s another option open to me, and that’s exciting!