Jules Horrell is a name dropper. Not in the way you think. Co-restaurateur with her husband Steve of the Roth Bar and Grill in the quiet village of Bruton, Somerset, she knows the name of everyone involved in any way at all with the restaurant.
It feels like a roll call of honour. Wherever the conversation turns, it doesn't take long before Jules is singing the praises of a supplier or a neighbour: Ben the forager, James the goat man, Charles the salad grower, Paul the farmer … the list of people seems endless. For Horrell, running a restaurant is as much about people as it is food.
"For us it's about seasonality, locality, and engaging with people on every level," she says. "The kitchen porter is as important to us as a VIP guest, or the guy who brings the cheese, or the farmers working to bring meat to our tables. All those people are part of an amazing story and they're so highly valued."
When Roth Bar and Grill opened in 2014, the Horrells' goal was to be as rooted in the local area as possible. For most restaurants, that would mean sourcing locally and seasonally—a concept so ubiquitous now that it almost goes without saying. But together with Iwan and Manuela Wirth, owners of the Hauser & Wirth Gallery, which houses the restaurant, Jules and Steve took this ambition one step further. They made Durslade Farm, which surrounds the gallery and restaurant, the source of all their beef, lamb, and pork.
"You can look out of the window while you eat your burger and see the cows the meat you're eating is from," says Jules.
And for the vegetarians, it's also possible to look out and see fruit and vegetables growing in the restaurant's kitchen garden. It's all super close to home.
"Our garden is a bit Ready Steady Cook sometimes," she says, "because the gardener will turn up at the back door with freshly picked strawberries or herbs or rhubarb or whatever and say, 'Here you go. What are you going to make?' It gives you more of a value for things because you realise how long it takes to get food from farm to table."
Being so close to the source of ingredients impacted the way the Horrells ran the restaurant almost straight away.
"At the beginning, because we didn't know how busy we were going to be, we found that we'd have a bit too much pork each week," picks up Steve. "We couldn't just throw it away, so we started curing. At first we dabbled while we did the research and now we cure everything we can."
So much so that they had a special curing room built out of 500 bricks of Himalayan salt at the end of the bar, meaning they can now make their own bresaola, porchetta, chorizo, and merguez sausage. The pigs' heads go to terrine, chicken livers to pâté, carcasses to stock, beef trim to dripping.
"We've paid for it, so we want to use it all," Steve says, simply. "We don't specify cuts on the menu so that we can use everything up, because there are only a small number of cuts in one animal that you can cook in one way, like steak, and then quite a lot needs to be stewed or slow cooked."
"We try to limit food waste in everything we do," Jules adds. "Our waste coffee goes to our salad grower, so every time he delivers, three times a week, he takes our bucket of waste coffee away and because it's organic it goes straight on the soil. Food waste in the UK is criminal, but if you lived so close to where it's farmed you really wouldn't throw any of it away."
Bruton Dairy, literally around the corner from the restaurant, supplies milk; their chickens come from a farm less than ten miles down the road—the list goes on. Although not everything is local (the mozzarella comes from Italy, for example), Steve estimates 90 percent of the ingredients used in the kitchen come from within a 15-mile radius. So, of course they're going to know their names. These people are their friends and neighbours.
"It's more than food and drink," says Jules. "It's community."
Picking up a knife, she continues: "Where does this come from? The wood is from one of our trees. Or this bread board? It's made by an amazing local guy who works all in Somerset wood. Our tables are made locally. We question everything—where does it come from? If we can't get it locally, why not? We visited a local asparagus farm and it was so good we asked if we could buy it. The asparagus farmer told us she didn't have the infrastructure to do the delivery to Bruton. But we knew our cider came from round there, so we began to work out if we could piggyback a delivery that way. We want to help people get their produce out there."
Jules and Steve don't see themselves as the only ones advocating this local and sustainable way to run their restaurant. They point to Skye Gyngell's partnership with Fern Verrow or how River Cottage cooks source produce from surrounding farmland.
"It's really important that we champion these things and work together to support farmers to farm well, to give them a fair price for what they do, and the price they need so they can make their produce really good," she says. "To have a relationship with our suppliers, our farmers and growers is really special."
In some ways, Roth Bar and Grill reminds me of the concept of a monastery—not so much the religious and cloistered aspect, but the way they acted as community hubs for trade and produce. Jules laughs when I suggest this.
"This place was a monastery once! The dovecote was part of it, and there's a cross on the building where the abbot used to live. Where the allotments are, there was a garden, and they say that the reason it grows so well today is because it was so cultivated in the past. They were so self sufficient. They were community hubs. That's how I see us. Why wouldn't we get behind people and shout about what they're doing? Finding people who make and farm and grow and being the thing that brings all those people together. That's what we do."
If hospitality is the art of looking after people, then the Horrells have got it covered—not just for their dinner guests but for everyone they work with.