Ashley Keen

In the 'Home Kitchen'

by Ashley Keen At Thyme 24 Oct 19

My culinary career began in a sailing environment, a sharp contrast to the gentle Cotswold countryside surrounding Thyme, where I am now responsible for the Cookery School and the Home Kitchen. In that environment it became second nature to whip up something from nothing and many of those experiences made me think hard about what produce-first cookery truly means.

On one occasion, moored off Tahiti, the delivery of essential supplies failed to arrive. While we had to be wary of using too much locally produced food (most islands, and especially the atolls, only have enough for themselves), after speaking to some wonderful locals we were offered sweet purple yams, found a little farm able to supply us with gallons of thick, fresh coconut milk, plump limes, uncountable pineapples and the most amazing ginger and vanilla. Thanks to some skillful angling from the crew, I discovered mahi mahi. A meaty, white-fleshed fish, that, after a little practice, I butchered for Poisson Cru; flash-freezing bellies for sashimi; made yam-topped pies with off-cuts; and roasted whole fish atop the more under-ripe of our pineapples. Few things have tasted better to me, and this was when I fell in love with cooking that is guided by what the land (and sea) can offer.

Which brings me to Thyme … Caryn Hibbert has always seen the Cookery School as the heart of Thyme, because we not only teach in this space, we create.  Together, we felt it was important to establish its position as the ‘home kitchen’ – the engine room from which we transform our bountiful harvest into simple, delicious tasters that guests and staff can try. Already this month I have confited trays and trays of technicolour tomatoes; roasted and jarred wonderful peppers (even purple ones) that pair so well with local goat’s cheese on crispy croutes made from Charlie’s leftover sourdough. Unique pestos made from many of our rare and unusual herbs have been taste sensations to me, and with brassica season now in full swing I’m looking forward to sharing my methods for super smooth vegetable pates, and making salads from the leaves, trimmings and stems that are often seen as waste products. I have also finally got our quince mostarda on the go. This is a spicy Italian confiture that Caryn fell in love with on holiday and, after finally managing to obtain the mustard oil needed to make our own from the beautiful quince trees beside the Ox Barn, test batches are happening!

Our drive is threefold: to make full use of produce – all our dishes feature at least one or more element from the garden to connect guests with the land and season. Just as important is ensuring every element of our guests’ stay is connected so we’ll be checking in with Matt and Charlie to ensure common elements and ingredients are used across the Cookery School, Home Kitchen, the Ox Barn and The Swan. Finally – but just as importantly, is to keep things simple. Being able to make the most of store cupboard essentials by adding just one wonderful fresh piece of autumnal produce, is at the heart of a zero-fuss, season-first message. Entertaining can be simple when you work produce-first, even if you’re sailing 20 people across the Pacific!

We would like to welcome people into the Home Kitchen, if you are staying at Thyme or dining in the Ox Barn, pop your head around the door whenever you smell something delicious, have a taste and find a little inspiration to take home to your own kitchen. Sharing flavours of the land and seasons is at the heart of the Thyme experience and the Home Kitchen is where our guests will see (and taste) our philosophy in action.

We will be sharing our Cheese & Thyme Shortbread with Damson Chutney with guests in October, and you can find the recipes here ... and explore the Cookery School's programme here.