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A lesson in fat with Gareth Ward

Mark

Words by Samuel Moppett
Photos by
Fjona Black  

Illustrations by Scaredy Cat
Chewing the fat

    Does anyone eat fat, like ever? What even is fat? Only Kings and Queens like that stuff right? To us commoners its mere gristle we disregard at the edge of the plate or throw to the dog.

We only have to go back to 2015, when scientists declared fat (or Oleogustus as they renamed it) the sixth undiscovered taste. Not sure it has quite cottoned on, Google suggests it has barely been a thing, however, it did bring fat into the discussion in a new manner, for taste. Not in a good way though, it was described by Richard D. Mattes, a distinguished professor of nutrition science at Purdue University that, "fats contribute strong odour, mouthfeel/texture, on its own I've never met anyone that found it pleasant". I'll admit I do approach fat in all forms with caution, the wobbly bits on my sides included.

Spend time in the pintxos of Parte Vieja in San Sebastián, and you'll not forget fat and salt, at the time it was a surprise to my palette and a welcomed one, but not to all in my company. These are two taboos of the food marketing world thrown back into the abyss by a town full of healthy locals enjoying the delights of salty, fatty produce.

‘It is British cooking with British
ingredients but seasoned differently’

Over here in the UK, rumours have grown of something moving in the south-west, something called fat-fueled food. In our current world of turmeric induced supplements, Brexit scaremongering and heart-shaped sausages, fat is secretly defining some of the worlds best cooking in Wales, for this thing called taste and/or pleasure.


I jump on my horse (a 2000 Golf GTI) and gallop across the lands to Ynyshir in search of this holy grail, it most certainly is a pilgrimage. Apparently, it will be in the form of fat... now that is something medieval. Tally ho.



Making a choice

    We’re sat in a sparking steel kitchen, it feels impressive, Gareth explains, “the kitchen was fucked, it was like a backyard. The whole place was very country house hotel." I ask if the food has been cared for before his arrival. Gareth explains "they always cared about the food, the owners have been cool, always letting the chef they employed to do what they do. Which is very unique." History tells us that the owner of a big country house, well anything actually will try and dictate what they want it to be like. The old owner of Ynyshir, Joan Reen, was different, she employed people that were not a continuation, but a new lease of life, giving a foundation for change.

We have travelled to Ynyshir to meet Gareth Ward. He was at Sat Bains in Nottingham, looking for a Head Chef's job and it took 8 months of searching, 5 and half years later he is just about getting started. When he took over, he threw away the A la Carte for Tasting only. Gareth describes the serving from this relationship is that you concentrate on the things you should be "I've been in situations where you are arguing over the size of a chip, time should be spent how to improve and get better every day, not over the size of a fucking chip".


Joan passed away at a time Gareth was thinking about moving on, John and Jenny now sole owners said to Gareth I want you to stay, Gareth explains 'John told me to run it as if it was my business, I said fine but only if we change it. I want to shift Ynyshir into a restaurant with rooms. John didn't know what one of those was." Gareth wanted to change the entire mindset of Ynyshir, so it became about the food, a place where you can find some of the most inspiring food and then take a nap at the end of it. Until this point, the view was that this is still Ynyshir Hall, the traditional idea of a country getaway for the stay and not necessarily the grub.

Gareth explains it is, "one vision and one push, no afternoon teas, no spas. And John went with it." I asked if he was surprised that twice in a row he has been given a special licence, Gareth tells me, "he was either going to go with it or sell it, but we had a strong relationship, and it is what it is."


Ingredients

    I ask, when you start out, how do you build those relationships?, the vision is one thing but to connect to the environment, the local landscape, where do you start?. "That's just adapting to your surroundings, I have never worked anywhere where we have done this kind of thing before, it's been classical, where everything comes from Paris", laughing this off Gareth says some places touched on this approach but never seemed that serious about it.

‘A lean piece of meat just tastes like shit!’


Here the approach came from necessity, Ynyshir uses a lot of local produce, Gareth explains 'you can't not use it, the local wagyu beef is incredible, I would never have it on my menu otherwise. It has become the heart and sole of the restaurant. People come here just for the beef.' However, he continues 'We can only use it if it’s the best, our fish is from either Scotland or Cornwall, the local fish is no good, the pork is from the Midlands, you just have to be clever."

His philosophy is "you have to be twenty steps ahead of yourself, in a stupid way we are in the middle of nowhere here, except we aren't. The nearest city is two and a half hours away, that is nowt, you know what I mean! But in terms of getting things, it's ridiculous. Everything I get here, even the local stuff is couriered. Apart from when I go down to Aberystwyth and get it myself. He won't deliver to me, simple as that."





Fat

    I've been to Japan (once), and I read a lot before meeting Gareth about his Japanese influence and approach.

Gareth starts by saying, 'I've never been to Japan, I've never worked with any Japanese chefs. I've never done this kind of food before, we have adapted." Put simply Ynyshir is what Gareth loves to eat and cook. It is 100% him, it is all about what he wants to do, cook, achieve, break, experiment, as he declares "I don't cook for the customer, I cook for myself, I am here to make myself happy, it is my job." What you get in return is all of Gareth, there is no half-baked idea or trend, its original, full throttle and screaming with flavour.

He tells me "It is British cooking with British ingredients but seasoned differently. Instead of seasoning with classical French/British salt, pepper, lemon juice. I season with soy, mirin, vinegar (a lot of vinegar because of the fat content we serve)."

For me, flavour and pleasure are what I look for when eating and cooking, sometimes alone, but the most part with my wife and/or family and friends. They are the fundamental tools that will either make or break the experience. Memories are built on this.

So into my (still) current dreamlike state from tasting Gareth's food, I'll try and decipher how he does it. Ynyshir is all about fat, it will attract some of us, it will undoubtedly scare the world of well-being, lifestyle influencing, uninterested blind sighted fools. You must be a fool not to appreciate fat. It feels like how we used to eat, how food used to taste, what everyone should be doing.

‘if you grate fat over them the fat sticks to your mouth and it keeps all the taste in your mouth’



They age everything, on-site in their Himalayan chamber which means there must be fat. "A lean piece of meat just tastes like shit!" Gareth jokes. Whereas fatty meat just gets better with time. Gareth explains this factor was a massive investment for them, "it cost a huge amount of money to install, but the product that is coming out of it (they have been ageing for 4 years) is constantly improving."

When you arrive at Ynyshir, you are greeted with a long gravel track to a small manor house with extensive grounds, that is the most basic part of what Gareth and Amelia Eiríksson (partner and general manager of Ynyshir) are achieving.




Before you do anything you are handed this broth on arrival. At this moment suddenly my imagination kicks in and I'm looting some rich bastard monarch with Robin Hood and his merry men, fires burning in the calming forests of a Hakone onsen and then I'm smacked with the most joyous bounty of nature and breath again. I am referring to a broth. A broth of the gods, it connects me to the environment, it throws away my woes, my nightmares, it brings new life, I am no longer in need of living. It is my new religion. I swear my dying oath to this broth.

Yes, the rooms are lovely, really fucking lovely and reminiscent of Japanese and Nottingham influences but I just don't care. The broth is all I need.
You experience everything here, it's played out that way on purpose.

I touch back on the media referencing Ynshir as Japanese influenced, Gareth notes "Not really, it is up to them. It is almost a fucking insult to someone who has trained for over 60 years to be a sushi master."

"We are meat based, fat and ingredient led restaurant."





Flavour

    There are seven chefs in the team, over twenty covers. A large brigade. The menu is seasonal. But again this is not how you imagine. "We use the season for now, but we also use the seasons for the future. For example, we take green strawberries, salt them and pickle them. You end up with this incredible salty, pickly, fruit that has got a beautiful crunch. The strawberry is hard when it comes in, they will turn red soon after being picked, but don't taste of anything. The plant has stopped feeding the sugar.

Gareth goes on to describe a scallop dish that utilises the fruit of the summer but in winter. "We make a kind of salsa, with chopped elderflowers, pickled capers, green strawberries, a little bit of mustard. Spread over a raw scallop, and finished with a ponzu dressing. Finally, at the table, they will grate over some pork fat. What is the use of fat? Gareth explains, ‘When you eat fresh, delicate ingredients in size and flavour they go very quickly, but if you grate fat over them the fat sticks to your mouth and it keeps all the taste in your mouth. We use fat a lot to make flavours stick and balance acidity.’

Gareth lays his cards out, ‘this is me, there will be loud music, there will be fun, there will be fat, and meat, and above all your time will be laced with flavour. If you don't like any of these things, you don't need to be here. You will not enjoy yourself.’ 

"I am a northerner, it's in my blood to give you more. You will arrive with the duck broth, go to your rooms, come down for a drink in the early evening, order your wine, sit down and get 20 or so courses that are what Ynyshir is all about. It should be an experience you never forget," Gareth declares.

Fat is a good thing, fat is flavour and pleasure. Ynyshir is mind-bending, they will invade with their meaty, fatty, fruity, acidic army, and if wise, you will surrender, lose the battle. You will be more alive for it.





Ynyshir.co.uk










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