Xanthe Gladstone is the Director of Food & Food Sustainability at The Good Life Experience, who is well on her way to becoming renowned in the culinary profession for her sustainable and vegetarian cooking. Read the following article, where Xanthe discusses her exciting ventures for the coming year working in both rural North Wales and the Highlands in Scotland, the joy of finding her culinary niche and her plan to bring communities together with food.
At the beginning of 2019 I moved out of London to be in North Wales part time at the age of 23. I felt strongly that I wanted to work on what I felt passionate about and make this central to my career. Since then, I have spent almost every waking — and sleeping — moment thinking about various current and potential projects, menus, recipes, articles and books I’ve read, documentaries I’ve watched, growing vegetables, and baking sourdough. It’s safe to say I’ve become obsessed, and every day this obsession grows.
Next year is all about growing vegetables. I have taken on sustainable food projects in the Highlands at Glen Dye Cabins and Cottages, and in the Walled Garden of Hawarden Castle. I am striving to produce interesting varieties of vegetables and lots of them. When I first started growing earlier this year, I didn’t realise quite how much planning and organising goes into it, it’s a wide world of scheduling exactly when to plant the right things and how they grow best, as well as what sort of things will get in their way. I will sell this produce to the local community as well as using it to cook at my supper clubs.
Breathing new life back into the Walled Garden at Hawarden and growing vegetables in there for the first time in many, many years is inspiring in itself and mirrors my belief that when thinking about how we can fight against the industrial food system, we need to look back at how things used to be done. For me, this fundamentally means having a relationship with the farmers that produce our food. There is too much of a gap at the moment between our food and us, and it’s making a lot of us sick and quite miserable. Community has become lost, bright lights in supermarkets selling underpriced meat has replaced the sociable, fulfilling weekly market where we used to connect directly with our producers. I think that the value of food has been lost and replaced with convenience, but I do have hope that things can and will change, we just have to spread the word. Next year I’ll be hosting a one-off farmer’s market in the walled garden, with local people selling local produce, to emulate these beliefs of community, seasonality, and knowing your grower. Maybe the most exciting thing that has happened since I made this career move is that I feel settled in the fact that I have finally found my thing. I can pour everything that I have into my work everyday and I just seem to get increasingly excited by it. Being outside and working with my hands is a huge part of this; I am stimulated by being active! I feel that there is a small but growing group of young people like me who have chosen to take a different — perhaps more rural, less mainstream — path in life and I’m excited by that, I can feel the energy and passion brewing.
LEEK & BUTTERNUT SQUASH TART
I made a vegan version as my sister is vegan, so I used vegan butter and Oatly crème fraîche in the filling, but that’s up to you! (Mine served 8 people)
For the pastry
250g plain flour
125g butter chilled and cubed
125ml cold water
1 pinch of fine sea salt
For the filling
1 whole medium butternut squash
1 small handful of thyme
200ml crème fraîche
2 medium leeks
1 generous pinch of sea salt and black pepper
1 teaspoon of vegetable stock + 100ml of hot water
Firstly chop up your butternut squash and carrots and roast with olive oil and thyme at 180 degrees for 40 minutes.
Make the pastry next. In your hands gently mix the flour, butter, and salt until it forms a texture similar to breadcrumbs. Don’t overdo it, as you want the pastry mixture to stay cool.
Next slowly add the water until the pastry comes together. Knead the dough a few times on your kitchen surface, which you may need to lightly flour, then cover it in beeswax wrap or a tightly wrapped tea towel (rather than cling film!) and put it into the fridge for about 20-30 minutes.
Fry off the leeks with some olive oil, then add the crème fraîche, seasoning to taste.
Take your pastry out of the fridge and roll it out.
Put it into your tart tin with an over- hang, and then press lightly with your fingers to tuck the pastry into the tin. Poke holes in the bottom with a fork and bake it at 180 degrees for 15 minutes with baking beans or lentils on baking paper on top of it.
Take out the baking beans and baking paper, and bake for a further 5 minutes.
Put your butternut squash and carrots in a food processor with your vegetable stock dissolved in the hot water and whizz it up.
Once this mixture has cooled slightly, pour it into your tart tin evenly, smoothing it on the top and add your leeks on top of this. This could also be topped with some pecorino or Gorgonzola to make it go even crispier and luxurious!
Season with black pepper and bake for 15-20 minutes at 180 degrees.