By Phoebe Altman, Second Year, English and Classics
The Croft magazine // Rob Howell is the Michelin-starred, head chef of Root, a restaurant in Bristol’s Wapping Wharf. Root brings vegetables to the centre of its menu and shifts meat to the side dishes to put sustainability at the heart of its ethos. Phoebe Altman sat down with him (virtually!) to talk about lockdown, sustainability and his debut cookbook, Root.
Firstly, lockdown has been tough for everyone and the hospitality industry has been particularly hard hit, how has the last year been for you and your restaurant?
It’s been such a long process; it feels like it’s been forever! The first bit was super scary when our bookings just dropped off, the idea of no money and not being paid, as well as telling all the staff we’d be closing. It was really horrible to be honest!
We started ‘Root at Home’ which kept the restaurant afloat and people loved it! We then reopened in the summer with restrictions, but it was very different and still scary as COVID was still out there…you want to make sure you’re doing the right thing not only for your business but for your staff’s wellbeing too.
Speaking of lockdown, what’s been your go-to treat in terms of food to help you through the difficult days?
I’ve just kept cooking at home and baking. Making lots of cakes and nice food whenever I can really, it just fills your day and keeps you going and gives you that ‘get-up-and-go’ that you need. At the end of the day you can say to yourself: “well at least I achieved that!”.
How do you think the restaurant industry will change because of COVID?
I think it’s definitely changed the industry. For us, we’ve gained a new understanding; we don’t have to bend over backwards for everyone! Before, we wanted to be able to cater to absolutely every request, whereas now we’ve limited the menu just in case another lockdown hits, so we aren’t losing another three to four grand of produce.
Your debut book, Root looks absolutely delicious, how was the process of writing it?
Well, I wrote most of it in the summer of 2019 then it was all finished and edited during COVID which was difficult but I’m really proud of it and happy there were no delays. I’m also really looking forward to seeing it in a store which will be the most surreal thing!
Would you recommend it to students?
Yeah! This book is all encompassing – I feel like it’s a bit of everything. There are some recipes which are a bit more ‘cheffy’ but then there’s also recipes in there which are just really simple cooking. There are some fun things too, just to get away from boring vegetarian food like falafel and veggie lasagnes; they’re delicious but repetitive. I wanted to show how much you can do with vegetables, especially ones which you would normally pass by in the supermarket like celeriac.
Do you have any recipes or ingredients for students on a budget that are delicious but also sustainable?
I’d say purchasing some specialist ingredients that elevate boring food, like rice, to the next level such as mirin and miso or different pickles and sauces. They can be a little more expensive, but they go a long way and have a super shelf life.
What’s your philosophy when it comes to sustainability and how can we adopt a more sustainable approach to the way we eat?
There’s so much to cover! I don’t think veganism is the answer, but I do feel like our systems with meat are pretty busted at the moment and to keep it sustainable it would need to change quite rapidly. I think that’s why Root fits in quite well; it’s that idea of eating more vegetables which I think is the main thing everyone can do without changing their lifestyle too much. Taking time to learn about where your food comes from and trying to skip a couple of meat meals a week has a massive impact and is a great place to start!
Featured Image: Epigram / Ed Schofield
Have you eaten at Root in Wapping Wharf?