Local and sustainable were once the hallowed terms of a fastidiously conscientious foodie avant-garde; they are now the buzzwords of a more etiolated tranche of diners. The vast majority of us finally succumbed to a faint sense of debt to, and belief in, the integrity of eating local. At the forefront of this muddled epicurean consciousness is the knowledge that, in some way, a commitment to local provenance is the vital antidote to the homogenizing effects of supermarkets and cheap chain restaurants. I met with Dominic Jones, one of four brothers that together run the Jersey Pottery group, and their executive chef Tony Morris to discover that, fortunately, they are at the sharp end of it all.
Jersey Pottery has long enjoyed an iconic status with tourists and locals alike, representing all the best Jersey has to offer: from the cream teas that enraptured my German grandmother twenty years ago, to a contemporary quest to offer islanders top quality local produce at humane prices. These days the Jersey Pottery group operates 19 sites island-wide, including The Oyster Box, The Crab Shack and the Pottery cafes alongside an outside catering branch, at the same time serving nine of the Island’s schools. These branches unite to form an eclectic enterprise bound by an ethos of honesty and an unwavering commitment to all things local.
Overlooking Gorey castle, at their Castle Green restaurant, I was privy to taste the commotion. With a tray of local vegetables, Executive Chef Tony Morris retired to the kitchen, returning three times over the next twenty minutes. Each time proffering a dish that blazed with locality. Significantly, this was not a unique exhibition. Each dish could be traced to the specials board: this food was a wonderful response to season and availability, making it a reflection and celebration of the local environment. First was Mackerel and hand-dived scallops, poised between sweet local tomatoes, Jersey Royals, courgette and spinach with garlic butter. Each ingredient sang, as did all that followed: Jersey Bass with sweet local asparagus, royals, green beans and shellfish cream; delicate Chancre Crab Cakes with roast red pepper dressing and herby salad. Finally, Jersey Lily jelly with summer berries. Relishing the zenith of the summer growing season, these simple dishes epitomized the best of local food; they were utter champions of soil and sea.
Dominic eagerly traced each ingredient to a web of local suppliers, stressing a buying ethos that wherever possible seeks to support local growers, fisherman and farmers. Whether it’s the line caught bass from the Fresh Fish Company, the tomatoes from 3 Oak Vineries or their very own rare breed Manor Farm reared pigs; this is an enterprise emphatically committed to local produce. Their support doesn’t end there; through a network of contacts in London the Pottery group are actively promoting Jersey produce on the mainland. And why not, as Dominic confessed, for it is a true pleasure to offer quality local food to lots of people.
Dominic and Tony spearhead a team that convinces of the Pottery group’s staunch commitment to quality and transparency when it comes to local food. The quaint logistics of nine people tasting a single ice cream reassuringly conveys the personality that guides their business. Where this might not be entirely shrewd, it preserves an attitude toward their product that they believe benefits both them and the Island in the long term. Attempting to extend quality, local food to large numbers is an enormous challenge. Catering, as any other industry, must evolve and develop to stay afloat and compete with mass produced but inferior products. The delicate balance of commercial savvy and a genuine passion for food is something extremely rare; they certainly come close. Indeed, the Pottery group’s next venture, Banjo’s, promises to be an exciting, urban, cosmopolitan and energetic endeavor that will pay homage to a British food heritage that cherished the drama of eating out. Jersey Pottery recognizes that food is theatre: it can be instructive, entertaining, satisfying, and is above all, absolutely necessary. What was offered me today seems to perfectly suit the temperate condition of our windward Isle. In raising the profile of local food you also raise the profile and the joy of eating. Consequently, the company that shells out 40,000 oysters a year is constantly looking for the perfect alchemy of local product, service and value. The Pottery group is grasping at a shared experience of the Island, and in doing so rather importantly entrenches a distinctly local identity onto their plates.