Food and Drink October 12, 2011
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Michael Wignall thanks Surrey

When I was asked to write this foreword I noted the distinct irony that someone in my role, who communicates predominantly through food, could distil in just a few brief paragraphs the incredible adventure I’ve enjoyed in Surrey these last few years. This foreword will only scratch the surface. Diners translate passion and energy from my cooking; I hope my pen skills match those of my knife.

There’s no doubt that as an eclectic and diverse county Surrey seems to have become the most natural of habitats in which to ply my gastronomy. Why? I think the people of Surrey have an extremely discerning palate and actively seek out pleasure in enjoying beautiful local ingredients bursting with freshness and goodness. I confess though I wasn’t so aware of this to begin with. With the enthusiasm of settling in from Yorkshire I think I initially missed the subtle cultural shift. I’m informed Surrey has the highest GDP per capita of any county in the UK and the highest cost of living in the UK, outside of London. I now subscribe to the view that chefs from different areas of the country, indeed Europe, have to deliver to a demographic diet. Therefore it follows that in meeting the needs of my current clientele I’ve not just developed my cooking style ‘in’ Surrey, but actually believe my cooking style is now ‘for’ Surrey. And I thank Surrey for that.

I smirk at the fact that historically people from Surrey were called ‘Surrey Capons’ in reference to the chicken industry that existed here to feed London in the Middle Ages. There is so much gastronomic history to delve into around Surrey. Understanding culinary history is key to understanding the future of food. Surrey provides a wonderful heritage of farmers’ markets that date back centuries; there is a real connection with nature here that I’ve rarely discovered elsewhere. I thrive on this connection with the land and preserve its beauty in all the dishes I produce.

A strong sense of community in Surrey has also allowed me to understand both the pleasure in and the need to share skills with the next generation of chefs coming through. The cookery schools that I frequently deliver allow chefs around the county to work together to raise standards at all levels. These schools offer a new style of pro-chef training not seen before. The ability to share my connection with the county makes me feel an honorary ambassador of culinary excellence.

Perhaps the connection goes further than sharing though. I love the countryside of Surrey. The 17th-Century diarist John Evelyn best summed it up when on the 27th of August 1655 he noted: ‘I went … to Box Hill to see those rare natural bowers, cabinets and shady walks in the box copses … there are such godly walks and hills shaded with yew and box as render the place extremely agreeable, it seeming to be summer all the winter for many miles prospect.’ In many ways the countryside remains timeless, as does its abundant supply of quality ingredients.


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