What is Root Camp?
Root Camp is a social enterprise that gives young people the chance to connect with nature, acquire cooking skills and meet growers, producers and food experts. We think everone should be able to make informed choices about what they eat and buy.
It’s a residential, hands-on and immersive experience in a rural setting (we’re based on the beautiful Isle of Bute in Scotland) that lasts between four and six days.
What inspired you to set up Root Camp?
A love of cooking and well-sourced ingredients! And an awareness that young people around me, and beyond, didn’t always know the pleasure of creating delicious, healthy meals. The idea that my own children would step out into the world without any cooking skills scared me; I was concerned that the emphasis on academic success would prevent them from acquiring such an essential skill. My mission was to give ingredients more value and make cooking from scratch a priority.
Why is being a social enterprise so important to you?
Food – eating, cooking and buying it – is a great focus for integrating otherwise disconnected groups. At Root Camp, we naturally move together while preparing meals, or while working with a hoe, or by milking goats. The week begins socially fragmented, but in the end we all come together.
Root Camp has a bursary fund that enables our courses to be accessible to all. We receive donations from trusts and charitable bodies, which helps to protect the diversity of backgrounds of our participants.
Who else is involved in Root Camp?
We have a fantastic pool of chefs working here. All come with a huge amount of experience, from restaurants to food-styling, cookery writing and recipe testing. We work with expert growers, fishers and artisan food producers within range of our various sites. They are all passionate about what they do. One of the great privileges of steering Root Camp is meeting people with such high levels of knowledge.
We are lucky to have Valentine Warner on board, for example. He’s a truly creative cook and a charismatic individual! As a teacher, he combines passion with irreverence and enthuses everyone in the kitchen.
Benjamin Grey in Ceredigion, Wales, also stands out. He is a forester and craftsman. Carving spoons to the sound of his solar powered ghetto-blaster – in the most beautiful, isolated woodland shack – is quite magical. Some of our alumni have made pilgrimages to his woods since leaving Root Camp.
What’s a typical day at Root Camp?
Breakfast is our lightest meal as lunch and dinner are generous. One group of eight will then be in the kitchen, preparing lunch, whilst another group of eight will take part in field activities – it could be beekeeping, foraging, carving spoons, apple-pressing… then we eat lunch together.
After lunch, the groups swap so that the field group now prepares dinner and the kitchen group works outside. Once all the afternoon jobs are done, we eat dinner all together. Sometimes we’ll sit around the fire and listen to a storyteller once the meal is done. But there’s usually an evening session of some kind – it could even be goat milking or making bread!
Can you share a couple of dishes that the campers might make?
We make a lot of paella at Root Camp. It’s a really social dish, an affordable one-pot wonder, and always feels like a celebration. This summer we used the rabbits we had skinned; you can always replace the rabbit with chicken. You don’t really need a paella pan either, just something wide and shallow.
Sylvain Jamois (our founder chef) makes risotto during the same session, side by side with the paella, as it’s good to compare cooking methods of these staple rice dishes. Risotto is such a versatile dish that can be made with an almost endless combination of ingredients. Unlike the paella, the trick here is to add the hot liquid gradually and to stir often in order for the rice to release its starch; that’s how you get that lovely creamy texture.
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