Jinny's Tonic No.3
Working with Integrity
Friday 28th September 2018
Photos courtesy of Spring
Jinny’s Tonic No.3 - Skye Gyngell on Working with Integrity
Originally from Australia, Skye Gyngell is now one of Britain’s most respected and acclaimed chefs. After initially training in Sydney and then Paris, Skye moved to London to work at The French House and with a number of high-profile private clients before taking on the role of head chef at Petersham Nurseries. It was at Petersham that Skye became renowned for her distinctively seasonal, elegant cooking, creating dishes inspired by what she saw growing and blossoming around her.
Spring opened in London in 2014 as Skye Gyngell’s first solo venture. The restaurant brings Skye’s acclaimed ingredient-led cooking to the New Wing of Somerset House, the renowned arts and cultural centre in the heart of the West End. Since opening the doors to Spring at Somerset House Gyngell has won the respect of critics and diners alike for the simple, seasonal, ingredient-led food that comprises the menu.
Skye invited Jinny to create an unusual garden for the private dining room and salon. Jinny and her team conceived a green, light and natural space for the elegant atrium at the heart of the restaurant. Hinting at a grotto or ruined castle, huge Gunnera manicata leaves were set into framed marble and clad the walls, fossilising the garden. They are cool to the touch, intimately detailed and poetic, at once matching the history of Somerset House and the exquisite nature of Skye’s beautiful, delicate food.
“What can I do of value? What can I leave that’s of value?”
Skye’s opening statement was bold. As we all settled down with a glass of wine, Skye reflected on being two thirds of the way through her career. It created an immediately honest and frank discussion about accepting that one’s career ends, and how best to use the final third.
For Skye, it is vital to work with integrity, and to give back through education and collaboration, quality produce and running her business as sustainably as possible.
Photo courtesy of Spring and Fern Verrow
“We come from the earth and we return to the earth”
Since 2015, Spring have pledged to take everything that bio-dynamic farm Fern Verrow can grow, working in a farm-to-table collaboration with farmers Jane Scotter and Harry Astley. This isn’t seasonality for its own sake. It is a conscious and thoughtful way to get ingredients that are cared for, and sustainable.
This collaboration has seen Skye become almost a curator of the fields – deciding with Jane which seeds to buy, and using her knowledge of what people like to eat to inform what they should grow. Skye told us that if she wasn’t a cook (her preferred term) she would be a landscape designer or gardener, but that her feet feel firmly planted on the ground when she cooks. We discussed the importance of soil, and Skye told us about her involvement in regenerating the soil at Heckfield Place, a Georgian Manor-turned-hotel in Hampshire. She has been working with Fern Verrow to improve the soil on the estate with a view to being bio-dynamically certified. Everything that isn’t used in the kitchen goes back to the land and into the soil.
“Spring is like a frame I hang the seasons around”
Photos courtesy of Spring
Skye’s thoughtful and artistic approach to produce continues from the farm to the plate.
Just looking at Spring’s Instagram feed you can see how considered and beautiful the ingredients are. Skye told us that her aim is to showcase the beauty of nature. Diners eat with their eyes, and Skye views assembling ingredients on a plate as akin to painting a picture.
Skye takes inspiration from American artist Agnes Martin’s use of white space on the canvas.
Agnes Martin ‘Untitled’, Ink on Paper, 1960. Photo courtesy of MoMA
Photos courtesy of Spring
“You’re as creative as your client lets you be”
The creation of Spring saw Skye assemble a team of female architects, designers and artists. The former tax office building was transformed by Roberta Colomba of Stuart Forbes Architects. Alongside Jinny’s installations and wall panels, interiors were designed by Bryony Fitzgerald, uniforms in collaboration with Maureen Doherty of Egg Trading and works of art by Valeria Naschimento and Emma Peascod.
Portraits of Spring staff by Rick Pushinsky for the Independent
Skye described to us how she felt a surge of creativity whilst designing Spring, and felt a connection in her approach to the team she assembled. Skye found the process to be stimulating, and put her trust in her collaborators.
The uniforms were co-designed with Spring’s younger staff, who met with Maureen Doherty to discuss the practical elements of their design.
Through Spring, Skye is giving freedom to and trust in her employees. As she spoke, we really got the sense that everyone working at Spring is valued. ‘Salad babies’ are in charge of the salads and cold starters in Skye’s kitchen. The daily ‘scratch menu’ concept gives each cook a chance to come up with something with the ingredients they have left. When the food is such a beautiful achievement, it cannot be thrown away! The quality of the ingredients encourages the team to value them, and means they do not want to waste anything.
Photo courtesy of Spring
Spring’s Scratch Menu, launched in 2016, serves to raise awareness on food waste. Skye spoke to us about her plastic campaign for 2018 – to reduce the restaurant’s single-use plastics by 2019. Skye invited A Plastic Planet’s founder Sian Sutherland to advise her team at Spring, and they have now replace their cling film, straws, ice cream pots and soap dispensers with more sustainable alternatives. We discussed how everything is related – from the importance of nurturing the soil, to reducing plastic use, to how we as a society expect to access food all the time. Skye recommended the work of Dr Vandana Shiva, an Indian scholar and environmental activist who promotes biodiversity in agriculture to increase productivity, nutrition and farmers’ incomes.
We enjoyed hearing the many ways in which Skye is leaving a meaningful legacy through her career, and how she has developed Spring into a restaurant pioneering the way for us all to challenge our consumption.