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Daniel de la Falaise by Rana Toofanian

Having had the privilege to be born and brought up on a farm on the welsh borders, one radical chef is trying his best to bring this reference for how ingredients should taste to others.

Today, Daniel de la Falaise works from his farm in a desolate pocket of Southwest France, and travels to London or Paris when necessary to cook for private clients and events like Kate Moss’ wedding in July, 2013.

The Four Seasons

An advocate for high-quality organic and seasonal food, Daniel de la Falaise has nurtured strong relationships with local producers, allowing him to source the purest ingredients at their peak. Daniel’s style of cooking is simple and focuses on bringing out the natural flavours of the ingredients themselves. “It’s not a cooking about transformation,” he says “but more about underlining the inherent qualities of an ingredient, assembling them and celebrating the natural synergies that occur between them.”

What’s your guilty pleasure? Elettra Wiedemann said hers would be eating an avocado in the winter. [Laughs] That’s tricky, isn’t it? It never occurred to me to eat a tomato until July. On my farm in Southwest France, sometimes you get the first frost as late as late October, so by some miracle you can have tomatoes until then. But I don’t think about them again until the beginning of July when the first tomatoes ripen. Then you savour them for three or four months, and you get to August and get a massive glut of tomatoes that you transform into something: a sauce that you jar and keep in the larder so that in the depths of miserable grey winter you can reach into the larder and bring summer to your table. What I feel very strongly about is scale. I work with a bunch of producers; one of the largest ones I work with is a peach producer. He has 55 different varieties and 15,000 trees which enable him to have perfect peaches — white peaches, yellow peaches, nectarines — from mid-June to September. It’s a family business which he runs with his parents, his sister, his children, his nieces and nephews  — that’s it. Every year, he sells out. He’ll go to a market with a tonne of peaches, and he’ll sell out within two or three hours. He runs a very successful business. He knows his trees. He has time to be with his trees. He looks after his trees nine months a year in order to have a perfect three-month harvest. That bespoke care really makes the difference.

In terms of food, what is your understanding of conscious consumerism? You want to know what you’re eating. So when it is an avocado in the middle of November that’s been on an airplane that was picked unripe, it doesn’t really ring true. And I think that is the most important and fundamental thing to get into kids when they’re young. The difference between a kid being encouraged to get a foot stool to reach the sink to peel a carrot or to swig a fish in a sink and work out what the gills are, and leaving a kid to mong out on an iPad in the corner because mum’s doing something else and can’t be bothered is huge. Children are just so wonderfully playful and curious.

The effort to be doing good for oneself is going to have a contact high on others.

In terms of taste or nutritional benefit, what effect would eating more sustainably have on me? The awareness that you’re just doing good by eating like that would just put you in a good mood and have a physiological effect upon you. The effort to be doing something good for oneself is going to have a contact high. It’s going to have an effect on one’s outlook and one’s being. It’s going to change how the body functions. Just that adjustment in itself is inherently positive. And of course there’s the difference of eating a vegetable that has come out of natural live soil, which has been manured and composted. A teaspoon of that soil holds more life than there is on Mars — it’s extraordinary. Land that’s farmed industrially is pretty much dead. They spray it with artificial fertilizer and artificial nitrogen, and as soon as things begin to grow and come up, it’ll be sprayed again. It’s like somebody in a controlled coma, and they’re just feeding it tweaking it, harvesting it and doing another cycle until it’s dead. Then they move onto something else.

Farmer’s market and food delivery

While Daniel’s admission that he only eat tomatoes in the summer months may come as a surprise to some — studies have shown that tomatoes grown in hothouses in the U.K. generate more emissions in terms of energy used than transporting a truckload of outdoor tomatoes over from Spain. For modern urban dwellers, the farmer’s market is the surest way to connect directly with the food they are buying, and tracking where it comes from. Whether they be large or small, farmers’ markets bring food direct from the producer to the consumer, cutting out the middle man and therefore many potential transport miles, and encourage the seasonal consumption of local produce. If you can’t find one near you, there are many companies who now deliver weekly organic vegetable boxes direct from the farms to your door, giving consumers the weekly challenge of cooking seasonal vegetables they may never have bought before. Either way, once you have tasted the freshness of a vegetable or fruit plucked from the earth that very morning, you won’t want to go back.

Let’s talk about supermarkets because as a consumer, I personally feel I’m doing okay when I’m buying healthy, organic or free-range food from the supermarket… Although they’ll be talking about organic, their organic section is not often from the local guy. They’ve worked out that if they have a squillion acre ranch somewhere where they pay people nothing, making somebody else grow it, fly it halfway across the world, they can mark it up as organic produce and sell it to a ‘label-sensitive’ public. I much prefer the idea of natural food. And that applies to wines too. ‘Organic’ wines are allowed to use organically certified products in the vineyard, and once they get it to the cellar, they have a whole bunch of other shit that they twist around and into it. A natural wine is recognised by no certified body — because you can’t scale it. It’s really produced by a philosophy rather than a regimentation; it’s minimum intervention in the vineyard as well as in the cellar. But it’s not certified, it’s not recognised, it’s not given a stamp, and it really remains the realm of the independent producer. You go back to the quality of the rock, the soil, the roots which feed off of the soluble minerality of the rock.

As beautiful as it is hurtling across France and seeing the evolving landscapes through the seasons, I do long for the day of a really efficient electric car.

Do you think there should be a qualifying body? That’s just more fucking paperwork.

Yet because of time and money, eating organic and seasonal food bought direct from the producer, as opposed to from the supermarket, is out of the reach of most people. If you’re in a big city and you go to an area where there’s an ethnic minority, that’s where you’ll see people using raw ingredients and cooking from scratch.

Does your personal philosophy about food and agriculture dictate how you vote? Yes. But if how people voted had more effect, then I don’t think we’d be about to pollute our whole water table by fracking. There’s nothing sustainable about fracking. It’s absolutely unbelievable. It’s money. It’s a greedy pig frenzy for crack in a pig trough and going to poison the water supply. The groundwater is already diminished by agricultural and industrial pollution. This is another whack on the head for it. Who’s doing it? It’s the people who have been voted into power for the country to move the country forward.

If you’re in a big city and you go to an area where there’s an ethnic minority, that’s where you’ll see people using raw ingredients and cooking from scratch.

Are there any things in your life that you’d like to improve or change with regards to being more sustainable, and what’s been stopping you from making these changes? There’s something that doesn’t make much sense for me in respect to sustainability: I move around a lot. I’m in Southwest France, I have my farm, and I’m surrounded by my producers. Everything is picked from the branch and brought to the table, but often times the table is a thousand miles away. As beautiful as it is hurtling across France and seeing the evolving landscapes through the seasons, I do long for the day of a really efficient electric car. I’m happy to travel. It’s amazing being able to whisk things from some place where they’re at the height and top of their game to some unsuspecting tables around the world, but I’m aware of how often one is filling up an increasingly expensive petrol tank full of something which is running out and has caused such defining havoc in the last hundred years on this planet.

What are some everyday solutions for people looking to eat more sustainably? You can find out where the local farmer’s market is. There are more and more of these markets. You can try and build bridges and relationships with producers. If your city, town or wherever you are has a farmers’ market, and if the producer is able to get there by eight o’clock in the morning once or twice a week, then he’s not that far away. To engage in where things come from, I think is the simplest thing.

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