Ha! Yes, quite... drinking can be quite good fun too! Sometimes growing the stuff is just as exciting as cooking it,
you know. But then you have to pick it, which is terribly hard work, and then you have to store it, which is awfully
A TASTY READ
difficult! Has food always been your passion, or could it just as easily have been something else? Oh no, it has
always been food for me. I was brought up at The Hole in the Wall in Bath and haven’t left the industry since, other than to study history and work for a few years as an archivist. So the combination of food and history is perfect for me, thank you very much.
So how did you end up owning Prospect Books? Alan Davidson founded it in 1979 when I was running The
Carved Angel in DartmouthRICHARD with Joyce Molyneux. I met Alan the Oxford Symposium ASLAN TALKS TOthrough TOM JAINE, OWNER OF on Food History.
The Good FoodPUBLISHER Guide, and Alan Then in 1993, I was looking for something new after writing PROSPECT BOOKS, AN INDEPENDENT OFwanted to move on,
FOOD AND ETHNOLOGY so I bought the business. Has it changed muchHISTORY over the years? Well, interestingly, turnover has been remarkably WORDS: RICHARD consistent from one year to the next. We have good and bad years, ASLAN but it’s usually only plus or minus about five
percent. The nature of the books has changed, however. In the 80s, there was a huge appetite for facsimiles of old care hundreds of people out there who cook authentic medieval banquets just for the fun of it. It’s astonishing the
TOM JAINE So, food and books – two of life’s greatest simple pleasures. What else is there? Ha! Yes, quite... drinking can be quite good fun too! Sometimes growing the stuff is just as exciting as cooking it, you know. But then you have to pick it, which is terribly hard work, and then you have to store it, which is awfully difficult! Has food always been your passion, or could it just as easily have been something else? Oh no, it has always been food for me. I was brought up at The Hole in the Wall in Bath and haven’t left the industry since, other than to study history and work for a few years as an archivist. So the combination of food and history is perfect for me, thank you very much. So how did you end up owning Prospect Books? Alan Davidson founded it in 1979 when I was running The Carved Angel in Dartmouth with Joyce Molyneux. I met Alan through the Oxford Symposium on Food History. Then in 1993, I was looking for something new after writing The Good Food Guide, and Alan wanted to move on, so I bought the business. Has it changed much over the years? Well, interestingly, turnover has been remarkably consistent from one year to the next. We have good and bad years, but it’s usually only plus or minus about five percent. The nature of the books has changed, however. In the 80s, there was a huge appetite for facsimiles of old cookery books, but with Google Books and the internet, the market has virtually disappeared. Now we focus on scholarly works and do lots of translations. There’s a growing market for it and it’s something I enjoy. It’s nice to take something that already exists and make it available again to a public that no longer understands Greek or Middle French. How do you see Prospect Books changing over the coming years? I’m getting too old for this so I just want to carry on as we are! You could take it forward if you were intelligent, bright and energetic enough, but you’d need sophisticated marketing and to be very smart about the kind of books you publish. If you can manage to develop
modern recipe books that don’t cost tens of thousands to print, then you’re onto a winner. It is do-able – I wrote a little book called Building a Wood-Fired Oven for Bread & Pizza. It’s a simple little thing but it has been my best-seller for years! It did well initially in America where they have more space for such things, but now it’s doing well over here too. It’s incredible! If you tap into things people are passionate about, you don’t necessarily need to compete with Quadrille’s vast photography budgets. I mean, there are hundreds of people out there who cook authentic medieval banquets just for the fun of it. It’s astonishing the things people do!
I don’t understand Amazon… in fact, I don’t really understand the book trade. It seems to have lost its way for the small publisher. What’s the most important thing you’ve learnt over the years? Oh, I’m hopeless, so I just say don’t over-extend yourself. One of my chief pleasures is to make a slight loss every year so I don’t have to pay anything to the Inland Revenue! Jilly Cooper’s husband was a small publisher of great skill, he said: “it’s very easy to print a book, but very hard to sell it.” I’ve learnt the truth of this the hard way. I’m hooked on the production, the type-setting and the editing, but selling is where the real skill lies. A good publisher would leave all that donkey work to printers and editors, but that’s precisely the bit that I love. And how about Amazon? I don’t understand Amazon... in fact, I don’t really understand the book trade. It seems to have lost its way for the small publisher. Back in ‘93, it would be 33% for everyone and you could just about make a living from it. Nowadays it’s more like 40% or 50% for most and Amazon takes 63%! Things have to be priced so weirdly just to make any money at all! Just look at Jamie Oliver’s new book. £30! It’s really quite depressing... some people say they turn over more with Amazon but I just don’t
know if I believe it. It’s the same as a food supplier having to sell produce at a loss in order to get in with the big supermarkets. But, obviously you feel it’s important that small independent publishers like Prospect continue to exist? It’s very important. For every red hot best-seller that captures the mind of the general public, there are a zillion scholarly books or articles out there that were the raw materials. They might not be as accessible, they might even be exceptionally boring, but they’re the building blocks. What are you working on right now? A bizarre Anglo-Norman poem by Walter of Bibbesworth, a 13th century Hertfordshire gentleman. He wrote it to instruct a lady friend’s children in the better use of French. This friend had married up the social ladder and the family needed to go from being monolingual English-speakers, to consorting with all the French-speaking nobs. The poem describes day to day life with glosses of all the strange Anglo-Norman terminology in the margins in English. It tells us a lot about food production and service in the 1240s, which is something we don’t know much about at all. And what work would you love to publish in the future? I’ve always meant to write down my stepfather’s recipes from the Hole in the Wall, but I never seem to find the time to do it, and I was beaten to the Elizabeth David books by a competitor. Every lady from the 16th to the 18th century worked on a manuscript cookery book from before marriage right throughout her life. They do take a lot of work to make them sing to the modern reader, but even so, I’m waiting for the right one to come along. And for my last question, let’s leave books aside. Do you have a great food memory that really stands out? Oh yes, and it was eating a pizza in the Camargue about 45 years ago, believe it or not. I don’t know why, but I’ll always remember it – we could smell the herbs that they were cooking with as we approached the place, and it was just so much more eloquent than anything else, before or since. Visit www.prospectbooks.co.uk
We talked to some industry insiders about their take on the rise of craft brewing, what the future holds and what exactly makes a brew ‘craft’
eer has accompanied us on our journey throughout the ages, ever since the first sip was taken in some Neolithic settlement, a newly domesticated wheat crop swishing in the background. Brews containing honey, fruit, narcotic herbs and flowers thundered into Europe with the Celts and early Germans, beer was celebrated in the great cultures of Mesopotamia and Egypt and flourished in the homesteads and hamlets of the dark ages. As trade grew, so hops became widespread and then, along with the drive for standardisation, in 1487 Bavaria’s Reinheitsgebot established
Charlie McVeigh runs the Draft House, a small group of London pubs known for its range of craft beer. ➜ How did the Draft House’s association with craft beer come about? Shortly after we opened the Draft House Westbridge in late 2006, Duncan Sambrook from Ringwood visited. The beer revolution hadn’t kicked off by then, but the localism revolution was in full swing. They took their business very seriously and there was a gap in the market. From 2009, we got much more involved. Nowadays, we just focus on London brewers and even then we’re fighting them off. ➜ What does craft brewing actually mean? It’s handy as a generic term for quality beer that tends to be made in smaller quantities. There are purists who resent the term being co-opted by people like Coors with Blue Moon, but the label is a helpful starting point in an education process. When most people are looking for something to drink on a regular basis, building lasting relationships with brewers and customers is vital. ➜ Do we need an industry definition? I’m not sure. The industry takes huge liberties with traditional styles in the UK – no traditional IPA could be under 5% to survive the trip to India, for example. We’re a million miles from something like appellation controlée. ➜ What does the future hold? At the top end, I think the big players will focus more on quality. At the bottom end, we have butchers and the like setting up breweries, so there’ll be saturation then
water and barley as the only other bona fide ingredients. Breweries joined the great industrial experiment and threw up chimneys across the world before retreating behind new technology, international conglomerates and slick marketing. Now in the 21st century, localism brings us a new incarnation as craft breweries spring up left, right and centre.
consolidation. While the big brands won’t disappear, everyone will have more opportunities to drink locally brewed beer. ➜ What’s so great about beer? It’s democratic – the best beer only costs two or three times more than the most basic variety, whereas it can cost many hundred times more with wine. Charlie McVeigh
Evin O’Riordain runs the Kernel Brewery in Bermondsey. ➜ How did you get into brewing? I was in Manhattan advising Whole Foods on cheese production and the guys I taught were all really into these amazing craft beers. In the UK we have a solid pub culture, but it’s social first and the beer comes second. You find 10 versions of real ale, which is great, but the staff rarely know much about the beer and you’re never going to be invited to a tasting. In the US they really celebrate things and sell the beer like we’d been selling cheese; with joy, enthusiasm and great knowledge. I’d been drinking beer for 20 years and knew nothing about it. I had an epiphany in a beer garden, ‘I could do this in the UK!’ ➜ What does craft brewing actually mean? In America it’s easy. You have either tiny breweries or massive ones. Here, there are brewers of all different sizes, and ambiguity arises when a big multinational makes a craft style beer or buys up a small brewery. Some breweries are doing really interesting things like resurrecting virtually extinct varieties of barley, but it has to be about the taste. I’d like to think you can use the same ingredients and recipe but still tell whether it’s done for love or just a marketing strategy. We just focus on making beer and leave the definitions up to someone else. ➜ How about an industry standard to identify craft brewery? No, I wouldn’t welcome that. I mean, organic labelling doesn’t tell you enough. It could be flown in from Kenya or grown down the road but the label is the same. All I care about is getting people to taste the beer. If they like it, they’ll buy more. You’ve seen our bottles – the labels are more or less blank! What we really need is better salespeople who can help customers trust their own taste. ➜ How about the brewing industry in general? It’s hard to generalise as it’s grown so much – in London it’s gone from about four to about 25 breweries in two years. Lots are great, some not so much. The London Brewers’ Alliance includes everyone from people like us to Fullers, and the groundswell of interest out there makes you feel less alone. On the downside, there are things like CAMRA’s rejection of keg beer which isn’t where the argument should be. How about the taste? ➜ Do you see yourself as part of a historical lineage? We’re not doing anything new and the recipes are still really simple. In Southwark, where we’re based, they brought the hops in from Kent and everything is called the Hop Merchant or the Hop Exchange but there’s no direct link as they all merged or moved out before we arrived, except for Fullers. We brew a lot of historical recipes because they’re awesome beers. I can’t see why the big breweries aren’t doing it themselves. ➜ And the future? We didn’t know where we’d end up when we started, so who knows? Right now, demand way outstrips production so we’re installing a new brewery. Lots of small breweries grow and keep their ethos and brew great beer, but working with six people is like a family. Do we really need a management structure? It would become a different beast, and how would the beer change?
Alex Buchanan and Simon Webster run the Thornbridge brewery in Derbyshire. ➜ Tell us about Thornbridge I’ve always loved searching out great beers. So my business partner Simon Webster and I jumped at the chance to open a brewery at Thornbridge Hall. We built a 10-barrel plant, then made a wise decision to employ two young professional brewers and encouraged them to make the best beer they could. Demand quickly outgrew capacity so we built a state of the art 30-barrel plant about a mile away in 2009. We now run both sites. ➜ So what exactly is craft brewery? Garrett Oliver, the greatly respected head brewer from Brooklyn Brewery, has some wise things to say: it’s not about the size of the brewery but rather, beers brewed by traditional means. It’s about creating beers that really stand out by using natural ingredients and quality processes. It’s not about mainstream beers brewed for blandness, which was the norm 10 years ago. ➜ Should there be some kind of industry standard to identify genuine craft brewing? No. There’s too much energy spent on defining things, or arguing if cask is better than keg. Let’s put our energies into making great beer and educating customers. The wine industry does this well and we have much to learn. ➜ Do you see Thornbridge as part of a greater heritage? Of course, we have a great brewing history in the UK and it’s important we acknowledge this. That said, our beers are enjoyed across the world which is exciting. So yes, it’s about the heritage, but more about the future. ➜ What do you see for the future of craft brewing? If we can stave off punitive duty rates, I see a positive future with interest from consumers and the media. We must stand together as an industry to tell the world what great beers we have. ➜ Do you have any recommendations for us? I hold Brooklyn’s Black Chocolate Stout in high regard and our hoppy Jaipur IPA with blue cheese, or classic bitter Lord Marples with creamy Wensleydale is something to savour again and again.
PAUL KINGSNORTH WHERE NOW THE REVOLUTION? BATTLE E H T : D GLAN NG FACE I N E G N L A A H E C E R WROTE ING THE OBALISATION. H H N I T M R A O X N 8E GL N NGS D IN 200 OWING OUNTAI PAUL KI N R M A G K L F R B O A E T D S TH CONTEX ETTING UP THE , ARTIST E S AGAINST H R T E K N I N S HI LAND M NTAL IN TERS, T I E R M OF ENG W U WITH HI R F P T O U S K N S I R E O O H S WAS AL AL NETW RD ASLAN CATC B O L G A T, HA L PROJEC PLE. RIC E NEW NORMA O E P S T H AF R AND T AND CR E E B , D FOO ABOUT How have things changed since Real England? Most obviously, the country’s economy completely fell apart. In retrospect, a lot of the problems I wrote about were caused by too much money in the wrong hands, like the building of huge shopping malls or pubs being closed down and turned into luxury housing. A lot of that has come to a standstill. Also, as a result of the potential break up of the UK, there’s much more talk about what Englishness and locality mean. In some ways things are worse, but the model that allows all the destruction is visibly crumbling so new ways of doing things are emerging.
The overriding tone of Dark Mountain is markedly more downbeat than Real England. Which side tends to win out? The optimist or the pessimist? It depends what I talk about really! When we started out, Dark Mountain felt very controversial, but all we were saying was ‘let’s stop debating about whether this is all actually happening or not, let’s be realistic’. Certainly, a lot of the things that felt extreme three years ago really don’t any more. There is an inevitable clash between the personal and the bigger picture though, and I vary from day to day. You can be optimistic about the small scale,
which is especially important if you have children, but then you look up to the horizon and you realise how big it all is. There’s this huge machine out there with nature going in one end and money coming out of the other. It’s impossible to believe it will change voluntarily however many organic eggs we buy. You need a balance though – wallowing in too much doom is bad for the soul. What’s your opinion on the localism revolution? There has been a huge revolution in terms of food, but we still live in an incredibly centralised country with no political leverage at local level. Buying and eating local is great, but until there’s power, it’s a cultural rather than a political revolution. I’d be very interested to see how widespread the changes are, how much they cut across the classes and how much of it’s surviving since the economy went bad. All sorts of people still buy chickens for a pound and I don’t think that’ll change until legislation does. It took legislation to stop people producing and buying battery eggs, didn’t it? Saving money and making money aren’t the only forces in society, but the race to the bottom is everywhere. So do you think our personal efforts have any effect whatsoever? It depends on what you want to change. I recycle, I buy local, I do all of it, and it does make a difference. There’s more cruelty free food on the shelves, and I saw the effects of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Fish Fight in my local market. It can only be a good thing when people opt out of the worse aspects of the system, even if personal action can never change the whole system. I guess at the end of the day, at least you know you’re not part of the problem. It’s a glacial change, but glaciers do change things. So what should the consumer do? It’s complex. People talk about ‘ethical’ all the time, but as a word, it’s really not very
useful as it means so many different things. There will always be a dilemma. If I go to my local market, I don’t know where the vegetables come from but I’m supporting local business. If I go to the supermarket, there’s often more organic and even local produce available, but it’s still a supermarket. Are supermarkets always bad? A touchstone for me personally is how damaging enormous companies are. The rise Paul Kingsnorth of the supermarket is tied in to big societal changes like car ownership and longer working hours so they aren’t about to disappear. The important thing is to prevent any more being built, but even that’s difficult as a small town with just one out of town supermarket isn’t seen as facilitating competition. You need at least two of them. We need to work out how local shops can work alongside supermarkets. We need to protect and strengthen what’s being trampled. Who knows how long supermarkets will survive. If oil were to be become more expensive, it would be a very inefficient way to provide food to the masses. So how would we feed the UK’s 62,000 000 people? With proper farming and changes in diet, I’ve seen figures that show it’s easily possible for the UK to feed itself. A small scale farm is more efficient in terms of inputs and outputs than large scale monoculture. It’s the economies of scale, treaties, subsidies and the WTO that have favoured big business and persecuted small business. It’ll only change when the
system takes a real knock, which may not be far off at this rate. People are starting to suddenly understand that the system we have is a managed process rather than a natural evolution. At least the beer industry seems to be doing OK, doesn’t it? Oh, I can be in a very good mood about beer. It’s like the craft was lying dormant – just give it a chance and up it comes. Forty years ago, when I was born, they were lamenting the death of British ale but now it really has changed. It’s the tax break that Gordon Brown gave small beer producers that led to the explosion, so even though pubs are still closing every day, it’s a real source of optimism and makes me wonder what else could happen locally with a little state support. However depressing it gets, there’s always good beer!
Real England: The Battle Against the Bland is printed by Portobello Books. www.dark-mountain.net www.ﬁshﬁght.net
Some interviews from Fork Magazine www.forkmagazine.com