Oliver Gladwin, The Shed: Endless amazing flavour combinations make vegetables a chef’s dream

From purple sprouting tempura to rosehip jam and reindoor moss, Oliver Gladwin, Head Chef of The Shed and Rabbit champions a seasonal, highly creative approach

Oliver Gladwin, Head Chef, The Shed and Rabbit

I spend most of my life considering how I can make our food the most sustainable there is — more so than any other restaurant. Putting loads of fantastic veg dishes on the menu alongside a smaller number of really good quality meat dishes, using the whole animal, is a big part of that.

We discovered pretty early on that people really did have an appetite for eating veg if it’s done on in the right way, and we’ve tried to match that demand in the best way we can ever since. I’ve added to my repertoire of skills and techniques to make the very most of the vegetables we source.

Our menu includes six veg dishes, one offal, three fish, two fast-cooked meat and one slow cooked meat. They are all small plates and the veg dishes are listed first, which definitely helps encourage people to choose them with maybe some meat or fish on the side. Unlike most restaurants, our main fridge is full of veg rather than meat — we purchase far more.

There are some stand-out vegetables that have become real stars for us; people get excited about them as the season approaches. Asparagus in May and June is fantastic for that. Our purple sprouting tempura is another dish that is incredibly popular and we’ve made its arrival into an event. Plain boiled sprouting broccoli wouldn’t excite many people, but the tempura element gives it that gastronomic feel.

Having a seasonal calendar means we can champion different veg pretty much all year round and that also helps make our purchasing become simpler and more dynamic. I love to forage and this adds an extra dimension of flavour, nutrition and excitement to the menus. Wild food is full of nutrients. I mean we could easily survive without meat but not without all these vegetables.

For the last few years we’ve been doing a gorgeous spaghetti squash with a crumb stuffing every September. We send out new dish alerts on social media and it creates a real buzz — about vegetables! This year we’ve been sourcing some incredible lettuce from Sussex. The quality is really amazing. With great veg like this it really can be a star of the menu.

It’s also really important to me that I know the meat we do serve is ‘good’ meat. Pretty much all of it comes from my brother Gregory’s farm and we use every last bit of it, focusing on quality not quantity. This month is a really good example. We sell a lot of game, so from the 12th we’ll be serving grouse — including a lovely dish with burnt butter, rosehip jam and reindeer moss — sweet cured, hot smoked and sliced thinly.

From a chef’s point of view, one of the biggest skills of cooking veg is capturing that umami flavour that people normally just expect with meat. Something like braised fennel is a really good example. I love combining two ingredients to create something special — transmodification I call it — like tomato and geranium. Having these marriages of flavour up your sleeve makes a real difference.

When it comes to vegetables, as a chef it’s so much fun bringing together different flavours and textures into something that looks really beautiful and appetising — making it look what it’s worth on the plate.

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