Last night, at a star-studded ceremony in East London, Deri Reed was crowned ‘Chef of the Year’ at the Sustainable Restaurant Association’s 2019 Food Made Good awards. Since 2012, the awards have been the first name in pioneering sustainability progress in the hospitality industry, and a celebration of successful initiatives and innovative ideas.
Deri, dubbed ‘The Ethical Chef’, opened his Carmarthen cafe The Warren with the mission to leave both the environment and his customers’ health in a better place than before. The community actually played a part in making it happen – the opening was boosted by a £20,000 crowdfunding campaign which I remember pledging towards just a couple of short years ago!
Day to day, Deri’s local cafe bar and restaurant now showcases quality, mostly organic, Welsh produce at affordable prices; but also doubles as a venue for LGBT+ meet ups and other community events.
All this has been achieved in an area where meat is a mainstay, but rather than go with the status quo, Deri has profited from being different, by providing vegetarian and vegans with plenty of choice.
Deri’s Food Made Good award has been hard-earned, but comes just a couple of weeks after The Warren was named runner up for Best Ethical Food Project in the Observer Food Monthly Awards, and named The 2020 Good Food Guide Best Local Restaurant in Wales. Phew!
After one too many wines last night (as usual, tut) I cornered Deri – who has recently been involved in the Extinction Rebellion activism in London – to ask him how it felt to pick up an award like this on the same night that SRA president Raymond Blanc named teenage environmental activist Greta Thunburg this year’s Sustainable Food Hero.
How does it feel to be crowned the Food Made Good chef of the year?
D: “Initially I felt quite overwhelmed by it as it and it brought up lots of insecurities but after a good offload with a close member of The Warren’s team I was reassured that this award is something that I have worked ever so hard for throughout my whole career! To pick up this award in the same year that Greta Thunburg is recognised by the SRA though is just incredible.”
As a chef, how important is it to you to champion sustainable practices and use sustainable ingredients? Where does that passion for sustainability come from?
D: “My passion was sparked by Chef & T.V. presenter Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall back in the original River Cottage series and after a stage there in my early years I knew what I wanted from my life and I’ve been working towards it ever since. I fell in love with the idea of the relationships Hugh was making with his local producers and I wanted to replicate something similar in my hometown of Carmarthen in South West Wales. I moved back home in 2014 & by 2016 I was ready to set down roots and hatch The Warren.”
You recently attended the XR protests in London – what was that like?
D: “Haha, well I managed to leave my tent on the train before getting to London but luckily lots of friends, family and connections from my work were around to help me out and let me share their tent with them, pitched right outside The Home Office in the middle of the road. I was only there for a day but my father, Mike Reed, a local solicitor was there for over a week and ended up getting arrested, but after being released he was back out on the streets with everyone. I think I’m a lot like my dad, but he’s retired and doesn’t have a restaurant to run so maybe in a decade or so I’ll do something along those lines!”
What’s next for you as a chef, and for The Warren?
D: “Next for me….. I can never tell, I’ve been doing a lot of work on myself to help me manage my mental health recently and it’s changing my perspective on myself for the better so I’m most certainly going to continue working on me to regain the balance back in my life that I didn’t know was slipping though my fingers at the time. As regards The Warren, it’s already way overtaken my expectations so I would like to keep doing what we’re doing as the main focus and see what pops up from there.”
What changes would you like to see in the restaurant industry over the next 12 months?
D: “Great question! I’d like to see more restaurants sustainably driven and led by their local produce. There are lots of really exciting and innovate places popping up all round the country so the changes are already happening and this brings me so much joy. The work from the heart of The SRA is so important, so I would also like to see more restaurants considering the benefits of joining such an organisation. It’s not an easy journey but one well worth venturing down.”
I’m looking forward to seeing what Deri achieves in 2020, as something tells me he’s just getting started.