Best of times, worst of times: Jan McCourt

Categories: Behind the stalls

The likes and dislikes of Jan McCourt from Northfield Farm

Fantasy job
A bit trite, perhaps, but I’m doing it now. I like the fact that we are building something for the future. I love being in a rural location and doing something that brings real pleasure to our customers. Also, the fact that it is a family business and I get to work with two of my three children is a real positive part of it for me.

Worst job
For a while we experimented with getting rid of livestock waste in an incinerator on the farm. On one occasion one of our vans broke down filled with tubs of cattle bones, but we forgot to empty the van before sending it off to be repaired. The mechanics refused to go near it because of the smell, so we eventually had to go and pick up the tubs.

Back on the farm, I opened one of the tubs and suddenly found myself 150 feet away with no recollection of how I’d got there. The smell was literally indescribable. But it fell to me to load the bones into the incinerator. There can’t be many worse jobs than that.

Favourite holiday destination
Provence, away from the coast. I went to university there and just love that part of France. I love the language, I love the food. I feel very much at home there.

Favourite dish as a child
Full roast Sunday lunch.

Signature dish
Slow cooked brisket of beef. I have been cooking it forever. Clarissa Dickson Wright was a very close friend and used to stay at the farm quite frequently. I cooked it for her once and she liked it so much she asked to put the recipe in one of her cookbooks. Of course, I said yes. It is a lovely way of cooking a less expensive but very flavourful cut of meat.

Best recent meal
One of my two sons, Leo, experimented with a rib cap joint from one of our Christmas beasts. It was extraordinary!

Worst kitchen disaster
I have an ancient Aga and occasionally forget about roast potatoes, then find them days later resembling musket pellets from a medieval battle site.

Worst day at work
I was once hit by a tractor on the farm causing severe pelvic injuries. After that, there is no such thing as a bad day at work. If things are proving frustrating today, there is always tomorrow.

Worst recent meal
I stopped for fuel on the way to a cattle sale very early in the morning. I was starving hungry and decided to brave something from the service station, thinking that surely it couldn’t be as bad as I feared. It was worse. Far worse.

Favourite subject at school
English literature. I liked the whole range of things we studied, but at the time Thomas Hardy really appealed to me. Science was my least favourite—I didn’t particularly dislike the subject, I was just rubbish at it.

Tipple of choice
A large tomato juice with a hint of spice or a really good single malt.

Favourite historical figure
The late, great Clarissa Dickson Wright. We met when Henrietta Green started doing the Food Lovers’ Fairs, before Borough Market began in its current incarnation. I loved her honesty. She was always profoundly honest and that is a very rare quality. It meant she was not everyone’s cup of tea, but she loved people and I saw her change so many people’s lives for the better through taking the time to listen to their concerns and offer her wisdom. But she did not suffer fools gladly.

Sporting hero
Arkle, the Irish thoroughbred. Probably the greatest steeplechaser of all time.

Favourite album
Alice’s Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie.

Best gig
Thin Lizzy at the Hammersmith Odeon. It was my first grown up gig. It is still the loudest and the best gig I have been to.

Last good film
Mercenaire, a French film about a young man from New Caledonia in the South Pacific who leaves home to play rugby in France against his father’s wishes.

Best thing about London
It clearly has to be Borough Market: a true symbol of the city’s outward-looking cosmopolitan greatness.

Favourite relaxation method
Walk with our huntaway dogs on the farm, read, sleep, or stand at the gate and watch the cattle.

Favourite city
Washington DC. I was an investment banker before doing this and used to go there regularly. I only scratched the surface but have warm memories of it as a wonderful place to be.

Favourite book
Food in England by Dorothy Hartley.

Hangover cure
Drink less. Or more drink.