Here is what’s cooking at The Long Table

At The Long Table we hope to bring the food we eat alive, from the field right through to the great feeling we get when it’s shared.

An acronym we use to frame the scope of this is A.B.C.D.E.

Agriculture

Baking

Cooking

Dining

Education. neat eh! [we could go on, but that’d be Foolish]

AGRICULTURE

We’ve been working with Duchy organic farm, Ruskin Mill Biodynamic farm and Organic Stream Farm Co-operative to source surplus/wonky food. This allows us to share healthy and delicious produce with our customers and team whilst championing these great, sustainable businesses. In time we hope to grow our network of farmers, gleaning what we can, of the food they can’t use. This ought to both help keep our costs down whilst doing a bit to lessen the horrendous implications of food waste. We are also hoping to work with a local engineer to build a micro anaerobic digester onto the back of The Long Table’s kitchen [the engineer has 3 up and running already], feeding it with any food we can’t use and firing our cooking hobs with the bio-gas from it. We would also like to work with some unused local allotments, feeding the ground with the rich digestate and grow some of our own food also. Later this year we plan to take a team field trip to see where the food comes from, hopefully also visiting a vineyard of the natural wine we sell alongside our meals. For some of the youngsters we work alongside, who’ve come to us as an alternative to ‘juvie’ juvenile prison, we hope experiences like this will really help us all to grow whilst adding to the conversation around food where the benefit might really have most positive impact.

BAKING

Every meal we’ve done so far and plan to do has had a wholemeal sourdough flatbread at the centre. The flatbreads are made with locally grown organic heritage wheat grain, freshly milled and risen with my families 64 year old sourdough starter. It’s both ugly and beautiful, in the best rustic way and very delicious. Warning ‘trumpet blow’, during my time at Hobbs House Bakery I was part of the team that won a fair few awards and fans for our breads. We won organic loaf of the year 9 years in a row, and most recently Britains best gluten free loaf with GiFt, the loaf that in a circular way has set up a buy-one-give-one with an orphanage bakery in Tanzania. THIS though, this flatbread at the heart of The Long Table, is hands down the best bread I’ve had a hand in. Not because of its technical perfection, but because of how it’s made, who makes it and the hope it embodies. I’ve trained young Jack to make them, and Roselyn and Dorothy in Kenya. Using only simple equipment to get the maximum flavour and nutrition from the grain. The flatbreads can be eaten as they are, warm and fresh, dried to make crisp breads, torn and used for dips, ripped into salads, topped to make a pizza, filled to make a wholesome wrap. In terms of baking, this is just the start, which I think is exciting.

COOKING

Over the last year I’ve worked with half a dozen top chefs and cooks, each one inputting something of their own brilliant style to the food we serve. Everything we do starts with sourcing and gleaning surplus food. We then make the main part vegan and everything free, then serve the food in such a way as people can build their own plate, adding excellent meat when we have it, or any-manor of complementary condiments, nuts and seeds. Cooking, like the baking, has and will be a great opportunity for us to share skills, with our blended team and those that would benefit from them most. For example we share a warehouse with Stroud district food bank and soon we hope to be able to offer cooking skills workshops to their customers using a referral system, alongside paying customers, so as not to stigmatise anyone.

DINING

Food is best when it’s shared and along a communal table is where The Long Table comes into its own. We have been hosting between 45 and 85 people at each of our pop-up meals and soon we plan to have a 40’ Shipping container to host The Long Table, in a warmer, more weatherproof way. Most of the meals are pay-as-you-feel, because we want to make food available to everyone. We are working with Rev Peter Francis, and soon we hope to continue his work in a neighbouring parish by offering a monthly meal to socially isolated older folk. This helps to reduce loneliness and we’re enthusiastic to do this within our community. Whatever food isn’t served up, will be packaged as ready meals to distribute frozen and chilled to those that will benefit most. We have been doing evening meals up to this point and plan to start doing lunches very soon and in time to be open always.

EDUCATION

There is opportunity to share wisdom and skills with all aspects of food and drink, from the field with trips as mentioned already, through to tasting sessions. The expectation of personal growth is implicit in all we do as a teal organisation. I started an award winning cookery school 17 years ago and I’ve come to understand that teaching people that stand to benefit the most from learning simple baking and cooking skills is what really lights a fire in my belly. I see The Long Table as a brilliant way to continue this work. Also in this next chapter we will invite friends in the farming, the food and drink world to come and share their insight with us at ticketed events. This will also help to fund the endeavour. We see podcasts as a great way to share what we learn and the inspiring people we meet as we adventure along.

The offer

The Long Table is being pulled together in such a way that should it be desirable, any community, the world over, can have the benefits for themselves. The Long Table will go where it’s invited. We hope before long, to be in Tewksbury, Hackney and Nairobi. As well as here in Stroud. We envisage two levels of offer.

ONE — Community meal template

This will be a template for hosting your own meal, for your community. We’d love it if, together with you, we could rise up the Zumba-of-chowing-down, the Park-run-of-feasting. This template will help the hosts to find and celebrate their local farmers and their produce, assist with recipe creation, suggest learning points for skill sharing, offer a framework for promoting the meal and running it. The benefit of these meals will be,

  1. opportunity for NEET’s to learn skills and have the experience of being part of a team putting on an event. Skills are shared.

  2. Celebration of locally grown and produced food. Food waste is lowered.

  3. People coming to the meal are encouraged to bring someone who wouldn’t normally eat out. Starving loneliness.

TWO — Community bakery/cafe

Building on the community meal template above, if The Long Table is wanted as a community asset, making a lasting positive impact on the three highlighted benefits above whilst also providing employment and ownership for a team of up to 12 and of course a brilliant, delicious, and hopeful place to eat and meet for the local community in an ongoing way. Then The Long Table HQ will grow to help the community to fundraise, to kit out and secure spaces. We’ll then work alongside the emerging team to ensure they are successful in an ongoing way. Thereby feeding change, one bite at a time.

The invitation

If you have questions about any of the above or an idea or asset that might quicken the benefits we hope to see, please do contact me. hello@thelongtableonline.com

Peace & Loaf,

Tom

Allow me to introduce myself.

Do skip this if you know me though.

My name is Tom Herbert, I come from a long line of bakers. My Grandfather [that’s him at the start of my Do lecture in the link] was a baker who in the 60s and 70s pioneered small scale milling, slowly risen breads and wholegrain products. Whilst I was growing up, falling in love with food, my dad and uncles were baking below at Hobbs House Bakery, below where we lived. We spent all the time we could on the 600 acre organic farm, where wheat the bakery needed was grown and milled. This great love and food filled start, propelled me forward, I won Young Baker of the Year not long after I’d finished baking collage, this led to opening a bakery cafe with my wife Anna where I taught bread making and in time got plenty of TV work. The TV work is where I got to share my love of great food and all things baking with a much bigger audience. 2009, I made a documentary with BBC4 called In Search of a Perfect Loaf, then my brother Henry and I made 3 series of Fabulous Baker Brothers for Channel 4 and the Discovery Channel. During this time I became an ambassador for Tearfund, an international development charity, and I’ve had the opportunity to bake, in a hopeful way, around the world in some of the hardest places to live. In the last couple of years I’ve baked for a few life changing days with RCK in Calais, where 12 of us made and served 3000 hot meals everyday, made mostly from donated food. I’ve written a book, Do Wild Baking, spent time in Germany learning more about wholegrain baking and fresh milling, and setting up a micro-bakery in Kenya with two local mums that has a Mockmill at its heart. Needless to say all of the things above, have been an attempt on my part to answer some of the big questions we face as a society, namely how can this thing food, that we all need and so many of us love, hurt us and the planet so badly? The Long Table is the best chance I can imagine to answer some of this, giving hope and a positive way forward to those of us that have cooked, baked and eaten together. Our strap-line is feeding change, one bite at a timeGrace Network is the parent community benefit society that holds a safe place for all of these ideas to propagate and is a fertile field for these seeds of ideas to healthily grow. The Long Table was set up nearly a year ago as a community interest company, and will be 80% owned by its employees, the remained returning to the mothership so it can continue its work. Since then we’ve done a dozen pop-ups, and raised money to build a kitchen and dining space within two shipping containers. The idea here is that if we can prove the concept is viable, we can share what we’ve found and invite others to join in and in this way we hope to see The Long Table proliferate. I’d like to emphasise that big as the food issues are, we believe the real energy behind our approach, is with the NEET’s and people with barriers to employment that we are sharing skills with and creating work for. This is where the biggest social benefit will come.


Tom Herbert