How To Grow A Luxurious Yet Sustainable Restaurant From The Ground Up
Mr Dan Cox at Crocadon Farm, St Mellion, Cornwall. Photograph by Ms Rebecca Dickson
When it comes to taking ownership of the plight of our planet, the barometer is (slowly) shifting. More and more of us are better informed on the impact our buying decisions have and sussing out B Corp brands from environmental baddies. There is a vast amount still to be done, however, and our food supply chain remains murky.
Three cheers, then, for pioneers such as Mr Dan Cox, the chef-farmer behind Crocadon, a restaurant and 120-acre organic farm in Cornwall that, after opening in the Tamar Valley in February, has already picked up a Michelin green star for sustainability. After winning the prestigious Roux Scholarship early in his career and cutting his teeth under the hyperlocal chef Mr Simon Rogan (L’Enclume), Cox’s latest accolade is testament to his tasting menus, which showcase homegrown ingredients farmed using full-circle, regenerative methods that champion the importance of healthy soil.
His low-impact, self-sufficient philosophy stretches far beyond the food served at Crocadon’s stylish restaurant, so we asked Cox how Crocadon could be a beacon for others to follow.
Outbuildings and chickens at Crocadon Farm. Photographs by Ms Rebecca Dickson
How has your career led you to the launch of Crocadon?
Winning the Roux Scholarship opened a lot of doors for me, including the chance to work at the three-starred Can Fabes in Spain, which awakened me to incredible produce and sent me on a journey in pursuit of that perfection. Then, while working for Simon Rogan in Cartmel, we built our own farm from scratch, which proved pivotal. It gave me a complete vision of a plant’s life and working more directly with nature became an obsession.
What prompted you to plot your own course?
My experience in restaurants and the challenges we faced getting items from good sources of agriculture had left me a little disillusioned with our food supply. Historically, everything has been done on price or perceived quality in the kitchen. For example, a restaurant might put on a dish with incredible beef from a named farm, celebrating its breed and pasture-fed life, but then the stock used for the sauce might be made with frozen veal bones or cheap onions, carrots or garlic. Launching Crocadon meant I could delve into farming more so I could make sure all our produce comes from good agriculture or is at least free from toxic chemicals.
What’s the ethos behind Crocadon?
Here we run a full-circle farm, which means everything starts with the soil first and foremost. It’s an opportunity to change things year on year and to watch produce as it grows and progresses. You don’t need to go and find someone who can do these things for you. You take the area of supply, work out what you want and set out to achieve that. A lot of it is about observation, especially in the early years: what grows well and where. Being there and seeing it gives you a better understanding of the product at the other end.
The garden at Crocadon Farm. Photograph by Ms Rebecca Dickson
How does that inform your menus?
It’s all about what we’ve got at any particular moment. We do all the work beforehand selecting varieties and choosing when they might be grown. It’s about building a palette and bringing it all together as it happens. From January to April, we don’t have much fresh produce, so we’re working with what we’ve managed to preserve, ferment, store and dry.
What makes your location in Cornwall stand out?
Centuries ago, the Tamar Valley was full of market gardens growing incredible cherries and strawberries that were sent to Plymouth, Bristol and London. What we’re doing here feels like a return to those days. There are loads of small-scale growers trying to bring back that magic. Similar to the Lake District, there’s clay in the soil and it rains a lot, but we’re gifted with milder winters that are great for growing. The seafood in Cornwall is also incredible and the coastlines are endless. We use different seaweeds as well as foraged items such as meadowsweet.
What does being sustainable mean to you?
To be sustainable means to sustain something, but the current farming system, with its focus on chemicals, is not worth sustaining. Instead, we should be talking about agro-ecological approaches and regenerative farming where you’re focused on making sure that soils are being regenerated so that things actually improve. It’s about change and reframing our ideas of how we’re supposed to procure and grow food. Most people don’t understand just how toxic some of their food is. It’s being allowed by governments and because of lobbying.
Raw and cooked lion’s mane mushroom. Photographs by Ms Rebecca Dickson
The dining room at Crocadon
How does self-sufficiency play its part at Crocadon?
We have a brewery on site and aim to work with the best grain possible. We want to develop heritage wheat and barley that will be used to make bread as well as brew beer. We also have a pottery and collaborate with great ceramicists. The most interesting thing is the glazes. Going back to the stock situation, you can’t throw used bones into food waste, so they often end up in landfill, but burning that material gives you mineral-rich material that helps build soil and encourage good microbial activity. So, we build a furnace from coppiced wood and reduce bones to ash. The largest siftings go onto the garden and the rest is mixed with china clay and feldspar rock to create a glaze. Serving sheep on a plate made from sheep bone definitely feels full circle.
Where else does sustainability play out across the business?
As a chef, it’s generally acceptable that you get in at 7.00am and leave at 1.00am, but that’s not sustainable. We want to have a profitable business but one where everyone can have a good work-life balance, so we’ve chosen to open for only one service. Having a hand in all the growing gives an additional sense of fulfilment. We can all help make the whole thing work.
How do you hope Crocadon might impact the industry as a whole?
More needs to be done to grow the organic sector and ensure everyone has access to food that is free of toxicity. I hope that we can be a point of reference and start a conversation and I’m proud of gaining a Michelin green star. If we can have some level of impact or even just be a source of inspiration for something better, that would mean everything.