Yeo Valley has decided to fling open the doors of what is ‘possibly the best staff restaurant in the world’. No pressure on the chef, then – but having met him we’re pretty confi dent he’s not easily flustered.
Paul Collins has worked in a string of high-profile kitchens; in his first head chef role he was awarded three AA rosettes, which launched The Royal Oak in Yattendon into the top 10% of the country’s restaurants. Since then Paul has helped to launch Daylesford Organic (where he was executive head chef for seven years), been a finalist on ITV’s Chef of the Year and been named Rural Scottish Chef of the Year.
Paul’s latest accolades have been earned at Yeo Valley Canteen, the staff restaurant at Yeo Valley’s HQ in Blagdon, North Somerset, where Paul is executive chef. Along with the rest of the team – chefs Jason and Rob plus Sheik, the KP – Paul has earned Yeo Valley Canteen a three-star rating from the Sustainable Restaurant Association and a Gold Standard from the Soil Association. Not bad considering the restaurant’s doors weren’t even fully open at the time.
On top of providing staff meals, Yeo Valley Canteen recently started to take limited bookings for Fishy Fridays and Roast Wednesdays. They’ve been going down a storm and staff continue to eat at the restaurant every working day; subsidies aside, it’s very, very easy to see why.
The restaurant has a full wall of floor-to-ceiling windows that provide absolutely stunning views across the valley and Blagdon Lake – an Area of Outstanding National Beauty at the foot of the Mendip Hills. However, two things about Yeo Valley Canteen are arguably more important than its views: the first is the wealth of local produce at the restaurant’s disposal and the second is Yeo Valley’s determination to make the most of it.
The family farm
The Mead family started farming in Somerset in the 1400s and, over the last 50 years, Yeo Valley has grown from a smallholding with just 30 cows to the UK’s number one organic dairy brand. Despite this colossal growth, the independent family business has retained a deep appreciation of the land and all it provides. The restaurant has a relaxed country kitchen feel, but it’s just one arm of a brilliant family farming business.
It’s hard to take life too seriously when you’re at Yeo Valley HQ; puns abound – check out the YeoTube channel – and the entire business revolves around good honest family fun. But beyond this, the Meads are extremely serious about food and provenance. It wouldn’t be easy to work at Yeo Valley if you didn’t love food and didn’t have massive respect for where it comes from.
Paul shares Tim and Sarah Mead’s view that the UK’s strong seasonal identity should be reflected in all the restaurant’s food. You won’t find mange tout in the restaurant in February – organic or otherwise.
‘I enjoy talking to local people about being self-sufficient and eating seasonally’, Paul said. ‘Some people say that cooking seasonally becomes boring in the winter, because at that time all you have are brassicas, parsnips and swedes. You can actually do some really lovely things with those ingredients, as long as you treat them with respect.’