'I feel for the first time in decades that young people, the so-called 'Millenials' are interested in food in a way that is truly extraordinary. They are very knowledgeable, increasingly they want to eat the right thing and are prepared to spend a greater proportion of their income on sustainably produced food, to eat more in seasonally and to target their diet to help the great transformation that's necessary.'
Patrick Holden, panellist at Borough Market's Borough Talks, September 13 2017
It was a sobering event at Borough Market last night, the final panel discussion in the summer series on everything from the influence of social media on the food we eat to its impact on the future of the planet. Professor Tim Lang, moderator for the talk entitled: 'Sustainable sustenance: reducing the impact of food production' seemed to think he was in his lecture theatre at City University, London's Centre for Food Policy which he founded in 1994, demanding of the panel and the audience as if we were his students, 'What's the problem?' His stellar cast included Patrick Holden, founder of the Sustainable Food Trust, Donald Hyslop, head of regeneration and community partnerships at the Tate Modern, Carolyn Steel, author of 'Hungry City' (surely the best book on the subject), Richard Swannell, development director of WRAP and sustainable chef, Robin Gill.
The problems came thick and fast: waste, income, politics, Brexit... The complexity of the story of modern food, how we ate ourselves into a state where Tim Lang believes that we have 20-30 years left to save the planet (Philip Lymbery, author of 'Dead Zone' and CEO of Compassion in World Farming says 60, so I'm with him) will be available to listen to very soon via the Borough Market podcast (which I should be producing if I weren't writing this blog).
But I'm an optimist, and I clung to (and tweeted) Tim Lang's proclamation that it's the restaurateurs who are the 'key shapers in the future of sustainable food'. This blog is about those key shapers, the game changers who are changing the story of how we eat and Michael Bremner is one of them. A Great British Menu winner (and a friend of Robin Gill who was on last night's panel) Bremner is the man behind Brighton's most celebrated and multi-awarded restaurant, 64 degrees. It's one of the safe spaces where Millenials (and the rest of us) know we can trust that the food comes from the best possible sources. When I was there last for a late lunch, a bent old farmer carried in a box of vegetables, and was hurriedly met by a team of virile young kitchen porters like something out of a Richard Curtis movie. Who needs a back door, anyway? The message was clear; the beetroot on our plates was local, seasonal and supporting a grower who was part of a community of good folk who do good things for the planet.
Bremner's new restaurant, Murmur is a simpler beast, for now at least. At only six weeks old, it's still playing sandpits on the beach while 64 degrees checks itself in the mirror and prepares to entertain this weekend's silk purses. Bremner told me he prefers to play with the baby at the moment; 'People come to 64 degrees to celebrate something. They've read about what we do and will complain if we don't do exactly what they expect. At Murmur, they're more low key, and while at 64 degrees, there's multiple sittings, people might stay all evening here. We can do things more simply at Murmur. I love the technical food that we do at 64 degrees, but Murmur clears my mind.'
Bremner has been on the beach before at Due South, the first of Brighton's new wave restaurants to attract the attention of the broadsheets back in the early 2000s, and perhaps that's why he chose to open Murmur at the end of the summer season. In the brief respite before the weekenders return in force around Valentine's, he's doing what he loves best; concentrating on what his guys at Brighton and Newhaven Fish Sales are offering as he plans his menu. If they tell him about a surplus of weeverfish, he's on it, creating new tastes and combinations to put on the plates.
He and his GBM mates have a whatsapp group and are always sharing their ideas. He says they're on the same page as far as sustainability is concerned. 'I see it as our responsibility to source properly', he told me. 'If we're not going to do it, who will?' His whole team at 64 degrees and Murmur researches produce. 'We read a lot', he said. Local, though, is not the most important item on his check list. As with most great chefs, he will source from Scotland if it means the hand-dived scallops are better than in Sussex. Happily, most of his fish is local, and my roast lamb rump with fregola, basil puree and pickled and charred courgette ribbons was from Saddlescombe Farm. Sussex is not short of excellent produce. Or restaurants serving it.
But the pressure from the customer is a concern, and however committed Bremner and his team are to leading the defence of the planet through cool, fabulous food, it's hard to change people's minds. He told me about a trial he'd recently done at Murmur. 'I asked the staff to taste the difference between plaice and lemon sole. Both fish are local, but my guys at BNFS said that the plaice was the better fish for now - more of it and just as good as the sole, and £5 cheaper.' The team agreed that it was a good option and Bremner asked them to push it. 'But people wanted the sole' he said. 'We want them to taste the new things that we've found, but you can't force the direction.'
Bremner is relaxed in his new pad on the beach and is not about to push the (occasionally unattainable) bar as he did with 64 degrees. 'I mean how many more awards ceremonies do we really need in Brighton?' he laughed. If Patrick Holden and Tim Lang are right about the new generation of young people seeking out the sustainable good guys, the stars and rosettes are the wrong colour, anyway. It's the Instagram Clarendon that will make the waves for Bremner on the beach.
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