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What does it take… to create perfect summer food? by Gillon Meller

Gillon Meller is group head chef at River Cottage, which holds its Summer Fair later this month


Tell us about the River Cottage Summer Fair

Twice a year we open the farm up to a larger number of guests, suppliers, partners and food producers who we love to work with and showcase their wares over a weekend packed with activities, entertainment, live music, cookery demonstrations and stalls. There’s a great ambience and plenty of food on offer, it’s a really lovely family festival.

How did you get involved in River Cottage?

I had worked in the Dorset and Devon area since I was 17, and a few years later I met Hugh (Fearnley-Whittingstall) at a party. We got talking about food and I was interested in his work and recently published River Cottage Cookbook. He invited me to come on board and the job role went from ad hoc projects to running the kitchen.

What does a typical day at River Cottage hold?

At the moment I’m doing a lot of writing so I could be at home, testing new recipes, or I may be at one of River Cottage’s canteens working on menus with our chefs, or teaching at one of our many cookery courses. We also offer courses in gardening, butchery and bee-keeping.

Your book, Pigs & Pork, provides a guide to rearing, butchering and cooking with pork – what is it that fascinates you about pigs?

Pork is certainly a meat that I enjoy cooking and it is incredibly versatile. With a thrifty approach, you can cook almost every part of a good, free range, organically reared pig, and the meat of traditional rare breeds has a wonderful flavour that is unmatched by any other meat.

What do you enjoy most about summer cooking?

It’s the one point in the year that you can cook and enjoy fresh, seasonal food, simply prepared. There is an abundance of produce and you can take advantage of this to get the most from simple ingredients – ripe, sweet tomatoes; small, firm courgettes; fresh salad and fish are all at their best and you don’t need to mess around so much to enjoy their flavours.

Are you a fan of the barbecue?

I love to barbecue and more recently I’ve been cooking lots of fish and vegetables as I feel it’s a lovely area to explore. We go down to the beach where there’s an old fire pit and I take a ton of vegetables and herbs in a rucksack – I don’t even pack a pan to cook in, we pick stones, wash them in the sea and cook the food on top. Successful barbecuing is about managing heat correctly – if you’re barbecuing slow cooked pork you don’t want it too hot, but if you’re cooking pork chops, particularly traditional cuts which carry extra fat that you might want to trim back, you want to sear the meat over a hot grill.

What food trends are you enjoying at the moment?

My interest lies in trying to eat less meat and in developing my repertoire of vegetable cookery. With the right understanding there are combinations of fresh vegetables and spices that can rival fish or meat.

The River Cottage Summer Fair takes place 15-16 August from 10am-4pm. Find out more and book tickets at rivercottage.net


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