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Muddy meets: the sustainable chef

Like so many others, Emma Collen from Oxford’s brilliant Jericho Kitchen Cookery school, saw her business stall as Covid 19 hit. Now she’s back with a new outlook on her business and life with sustainability and immunity on the menu.

Has lockdown changed the way you think about food and cooking? I know it has for me. Aside from my daily gripes about running a 24 hour diner (how can they be hungry AGAIN?), I have found some positives – I’m less reliant on supermarkets, I buy more from local suppliers, I’m growing my own in a far more dedicated way than previous years and I now use up everything in the fridge and cupboard before I buy anything new – the idea of food waste has become even more abhorrent. I’m also far more aware of eating well to stay healthy.

So I was really interested to hear about Emma Collen of Jericho Kitchen Cookery School’s lockdown epiphany. She’s taken a step back and retooled her classes – and outlook on food and life, in general. Here’s her take – and if you’re inspired to book a session and learn some new culinary tricks, note she’s taking bookings from July.

What was life like for you before lockdown?

I was like everyone else really, on this mad hamster wheel, going round and round and getting caught up in the addiction of being busy. There’s a tendency not to stop when it’s your own business, so I’d be working weekends at the cookery school and then spend the week catching up, doing the marketing and admin, checking my phone, answering immediately whatever the time of day. 

What happened when you were forced to down tools?

Firstly I went into my front garden in Oxford, and, because I now had the time, I started connecting with people a lot more – for example, Neil, who has been our postman for 10 years but I’d never even talked to him. People would stop and chat on their way to do their shopping, and it was lovely to get to know these strangers and feel human warmth. Life isn’t about money, it’s about swapping tomato seedlings for sourdough – which is what I did on several occasions! The other thing I did was take control and go on a day course for my business, as I realised I had to have a plan for Jericho Kitchen to survive. I’ve changed the way I work – I ask people to help me, and I delegate – and also I’ve changed the outlook of the business.

Ah, OK – so what’s the big idea?

Well, the cookery school was at my parents’ home before, so I was limited to what I could do. Now I’ve moved to a 1000 acre estate at Nuneham Courtney and it’s stunning – calm, quiet, nothing has changed for centuries. It’s so beautiful. I’m helping the estate with an allotment they’re creating within the Capability Brown walled garden and I’m finding being outdoors very creative. I like spending time in nature and I’m appreciating it much more. It’s made me much more aware of growing my own food and becoming more sustainable personally and as a business.

What’s on the menu for the new cookery courses then? 

It’s a big ambition but none of our ingredients will be from a supermarket – the idea of the allotment is that we can cook with what we grow so eventually we’ll be growing our own vegetables and buying as many sustainable British ingredients as possible. The walled garden has its own microclimate – pineapples were grown in the greenhouse centuries ago, so we want to be ambitious in what we produce, maybe even try growing pineapples again. We’ve been connecting with a lot more local suppliers – dairies, farms, local growers, and we’re also drawing up plans for a Farmer’s Market in Nuneham too. 

We have a whole new range of courses, from vegan masterclasses to cheese-making, plus some more holistic things like basket weaving and how to heal yourself with plants, but my big push is on sustainability. I aspire to zero food waste and want to get there as fast as possible, so we have introduced The Sustainable Kitchen course with Marcia Barrington, all about eating seasonally, buying local, and avoiding food waste. 

Anything else?

Yes, immunity foods! Covid-19 has taught us all the need to think about the health of our immune systems, I’m fascinated by natural immunity and how we can help ourselves be healthier. I’m planning to hold classes on the Wim Hof technique – Hof is a Dutchman who run marathons barefoot and shirtless above the Arctic Circle and attributes his insanely healthy immune system to his breathing practice and exposure to cold. It’s out there, but there’s science behind it. I’m also running food fermentation, preserving, bee keeping and foraging courses, the list goes on! But if you just want to learn how to make pasta or master knife skills or send your teen to us for a crash course in cookery, don’t worry, we can still do that too.

Jericho Kitchen is now taking bookings for classes from July. Full list of classes

Jericho Kitchen Cookery School, The Book Repository, The Nuneham Estate, Nuneham Courtney, Oxford OX44 9PQ. Tel: 07753 316680

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