Best of times, worst of times: Charles Tebbutt

Categories: Behind the stalls

The likes and dislikes of the owner of Food and Forest

Fantasy job
To be honest, I think it is what I am doing now. I studied ecology and thought a lot about issues in modern agriculture, looking at ways in which we can take the benefits—yield, efficiency and technology—of the last century and use these to address environmental problems. Creating a market for this kind of environmentally responsible product, which actually helps people, was a way of creating variety in my life while doing what I think is a worthwhile endeavour.

Worst job
Working on an industrial sheep farm. The guys there had lost any connection with or sensitivity to the animals they were working with. They were objects for profit. Some of that loss of compassion translated onto the way they treated each other. It was all pretty grim.

Best job
That is in some ways the complete reverse of the sheep farm. I worked on a vineyard—a large scale operation that showed big doesn’t have to be bad. The people cared about what they were doing and therefore cared about each other. The grape pickers returned every year and were considered part of the family. This had led to this wonderfully inclusive culture. It was a great place to work.

Best recent film
Her, by Spike Jonze. It is about a man who falls in love with an artificial intelligence operating system, voiced by Scarlet Johannsson, that acts as his PA. It is a well-thought-out critique of the way we are investing more and more of our emotional selves in the digital world, at the expense of person-to-person relationships, and the damage this can potentially do.

Worst recent film
I did not like I, Tonya. It takes complex issues faced by the white American poor and displays them in a way that panders to voyeurism. It was also far too violent, in ways that did not bring any nuance to the story but just seemed to be there for shock value.

Ideal holiday destination
Bhutan. They only allow a certain number of people in per year, and they measure national wealth by gross domestic happiness rather than gross domestic product. In some ways it is the opposite of liberalism, because they have very strict cultural rules. It would be really interesting to see what it was like there.

Charles Tebbutt at Food and Forest

Favourite childhood dish
I loved fish fingers and pasta. I would just like to qualify that by saying my tastes have developed since then.

Signature dish
It is a fantastic dish that I inherited from my stepfather: prawns and couscous. It has sultanas, toasted almonds, pan fried broccoli with lots of garlic and chilli, finished with good olive oil and white wine vinegar. It is a really good summer dish.

Best ever meal
Paul Bocuse’s restaurant. It was just extraordinary—next level cooking. The food, the atmosphere, the service, it was mind blowing; the most extraordinary dining experience, and I’ve never had anything even close to it since.

Worst school subject
English. But I think in some ways that’s a bit unfair, because I love literature now. I think the subject is about so much more than spelling and grammar and the problem lies in the curriculum, and the way it is taught to children. English teachers have one of the hardest jobs in school.

Favourite drink
I’m very partial to a bloody mary.

Food hero
I really admire Jamie Oliver for what he has done. He has put his head above the parapet and made a difference in people’s lives. He understands the problems caused by poor nutrition in children and has used his position to try and do something about it.

Sporting hero
Not so much a hero, but I love watching Lionel Messi playing football. He is just poetry in motion, it doesn’t matter what team you support.

Favourite album
Californication by Red Hot Chili Peppers. I first heard my parents playing it when I was growing up. I used to play the drums and drummed along to it over and over. It is by far and away my favourite album.

Favourite thing about London
I love the energy of the place. There is this feeling that everything is possible—that you are at the centre of things not just locally, but globally.

Worst thing about London
Actually, it is related to the best. You meet people who just see the city as a place to make money—a place of transition which they will leave when they have made enough money. They don’t contribute anything to the local community, they don’t want to invest in long-term friendships and connections.

Favourite book
East of Eden by John Steinbeck.

Favourite city
Bologna in Italy. I worked in a botanical garden just outside the city for a few months, so got to see a lot of the place. It is a beautiful city.

Biggest bugbear
People who are not really there when you talk to them. If you are taking the time to have the conversation, you might as well have the good manners to pay attention.

Hangover cure
Don’t get up.