A chef with strong farming credentials, Rachel Green is never happier than when in her home county of Lincolnshire.
Tim Relf talks to her about the livestock sector, celebrity chefs and how farming can connect more to the public.
If Rachel Green had not become a chef, she reckons she would have been an actress.
There are, she says, a lot of similarities between the two jobs. She says: “If you say you’re going to deliver lunch for 120 at 1.30, you have to do that. It’s like being on stage – there’s nowhere to hide. It’s the same when you’re running a food event – you’re putting on a performance and you can’t put on today’s performance tomorrow.”
Rachel says her whole career – which, in addition to cooking, spans food styling, consultancy, development, campaigning and ambassadorial roles – has been shaped by her agricultural roots.
“The Greens have farmed in Lincolnshire since the 1800s and growing up on a family farm completely conditioned who I am,” she says. “I was brought up to eat according to the seasons and find it sad that so many people are disconnected from that approach nowadays.”
While the celebrity chef culture and proliferation of TV shows have been great for boosting the nation’s interest in food, the potential downside is that some can make viewers think it is difficult to cook and even put them off trying, she says.
“We have to teach people to understand food, rather than simply to follow recipes. We’ve also got to encourage everybody to cook and not just make it a middle-class affair,” says Rachel.
She is a believer in educating consumers in a way that gives them the ability to open a cupboard or fridge and work out what to cook from what’s there.
She says: “You don’t need a recipe for that – you need a bit of confidence and some basic knowledge.
“Consumers should be led by the ingredients and by the seasons. It’s about learning which flavours combine well. It’s second nature to me because I was brought up that way, but a lot of people haven’t been so lucky and so we need to do more educational work. Cooking good food doesn’t need to be prohibitively expensive or time-consuming, though.
“As a nation, we throw away far too much food and that’s partly because we don’t know what to do with leftovers.
“I always tell people it takes farmers a whole year to grow the grain in the careful, wonderful way that’s needed to produce a loaf of bread. Once they know that, they’re less likely to toss bread into a dustbin. Everyone would value food more if they understood what a hard life farming is.”
Rachel saw the realities of agriculture at a young age – her father ran arable, sheep, cattle and sugar beet enterprises on the Lincolnshire Wolds and in the Scottish Borders. Although her family has scaled back its farming interests in the last few years, she still has close ties with the industry, not least because her partner, Mason Cole, farms near Grimsby.
There has never, she says, been more of a need for the agricultural industry to market itself than now. Initiatives such as Open Farm Sunday have done great work, but more collaboration – especially in terms of marketing – is needed, she says.
She cites the efforts of the pea sector, in which she is involved as an ambassador, for the ‘Yes Peas!’ campaign, as an example.
She says: “On a small budget, they’ve increased sales by engaging the public and getting them excited through initiatives like ‘Farmer Cam’ which saw farmers film short videos of the harvest.”
The campaign also features a Great British Pea Week (which ran from July 8-14 this year) and a
Young Pea Chef of the Year competition to inspire budding young chefs to develop a healthy and delicious recipe using peas as the main ingredient.
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
8 black pudding sausages, cut into 1cm slices
1 red pepper, deseeded and diced
2 thick slices crusty bread, cut into 1–2cm cubes
½ tsp paprika
250g mixed salad leaves
Chives, finely chopped, to garnish
For the dressing
3 tbsp rapeseed oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Sea salt and black pepper
Pinch caster sugar
Heat half the rapeseed oil in a frying pan and add the black pudding sausages and red pepper. Fry over a medium heat until browned and cooked. Remove from the pan and keep warm.
Place the pan back on the heat and add the remaining oil. Shallow fry the bread cubes, turning to ensure they are brown all over. Sprinkle with the paprika and cook for a further 30 seconds.
For the dressing, heat the oil and add the garlic.
Heat for 10 seconds, add the red wine vinegar, mustard and pinch of sugar.
Turn off the heat and keep warm.
Meanwhile poach 4 eggs and, while doing this, put the sausage, pepper and salad leaves on a serving dish.
Add the poached eggs and croutons, then dress the salad and garnish with chopped chives or parsley.
One of the main marketing challenges for livestock producers, says Rachel, is to work out ways to encourage consumption of meat cuts that have become less fashionable.
“I was brought up on ‘pigs fry’ – the liver, the kidney and the fattier ends of the shoulder, all braised down together in a rich stew with onions and carrots,” she says. “Some of the more traditional butchers in this area still sell it as a mix. It’s delicious.”
She is confident there will always be a place for meat in the nation’s diet, despite the “noise” around veganism at present. She says: “It’s great that people have choice, but I certainly can’t see us eating laboratory-grown meat in my lifetime.”
Rachel takes every opportunity to extol the virtues of dishes from her region, traditionally a pig-producing area – whether that is chine, a baked, herb-stuffed shoulder of cured pork, plum bread, a loaf made with lard, or the much-coveted sausages. “We make the best sausages in the world here,” she says.
She has done this in the mainstream media too, with TV appearances on such shows as C4’s Daily Brunch and ITV’s The Alan Titchmarsh Show, plus as a guest on numerous radio shows including BBC Radio 5 Live and BBC Radio London.
She says: “Buying local products reduces food miles, it tastes better and you’re supporting the rural economy. Change is inevitable, expansion is inevitable, but there are still a lot of smaller and tenanted farms in Lincolnshire and we have to make sure they have a future.
“I’ve lived in London, Scotland, Ireland – even Thailand for a while – but I love this part of the world. I was born in Grimsby and adore Grimsby smoked haddock.”
She is also a big fan of game, particularly pigeon and venison, and is giving a cookery demonstration at this year’s Game Fair at Hatfield House in Hertfordshire, rustling up a pigeon eggs benedict.
“I like to choose recipes that the audience can do at home and that have a few different, interesting components,” says Rachel. “People like there to be a genuine risk that the dish might not turn out perfectly. A tea towel caught on fire at the Lincolnshire Show this year – luckily everyone laughed, and the marquee didn’t burn down.
“I’m at my best in front of an audience and I love that feeling of pressure. That’s part of the excitement and drama of the food world.
“Often it’s not the really fancy, high-end restaurant dishes I like to cook or eat, I go for big robust flavours where the ingredients are allowed to speak for themselves.”
Never mind the modern cooking techniques either, referring to ‘water bath’ cooking. Rachel is more interested in the smell of caramelised meat in a pan.
“That’s why I love open fire cooking,” she says. “It’s all about the flavour – lovely meats and charred vegetables.
“Plus, there’s something very primal about it. A lot of men think cooking on open fire is their territory, well it’s not.”
If you really put her on the spot, though, what would her desert island meal be? “Lincoln Red beef with a Béarnaise sauce, with spuds and asparagus grown in my garden,” she says.
And how would that beef be cooked? “Very rare. Basically, just cut the horns off."