MAXINE GORDON reports on the roving restaurant aimed at bringing food from field to fork
NICOLA DIXON describes herself as a “huntress”. Armed with her Miroku trap gun she stalks the fields of North Yorkshire looking for her prey.
But this is not sport. Nicola hunts to eat; her bounty will make its way on to the dinner plate. And that, she believes, is how it should be.
“I lived in Alaska for a while and that is where I get my inspiration from – not from people who spend thousands of pounds on shoots for the glamour of it all.”
Nicola, 28, spent four months living in a log cabin in the Alaskan wilderness when she was 22.
She remembers arriving in Anchorage in the pitch of night, exhausted and needing to find her hotel. She’d hired a car, but never driven on the right, let alone an automatic.
“I cried. I was so tired. But it was my only girly moment,” she says. “In the end I paid a taxi driver to go to the hotel and I followed him in the car.”
After a decent sleep and feeling renewed in the daylight, she drove down to Soldotna, a tiny town on the Kenai peninsula and rented a cabin on the beach.
Nicola had studied creative writing and had gone to Alaska to write. “I used to write all day and in the evening I’d watch the fishermen and their families cooking what they’d caught that day.”
The trip not only satisfied her creative urges, but ignited a love of food and sustainable living. “The people hunt there as a way of life,” says Nicola. “When you hunt for necessity, there is an ownership of the food. You have looked it in the eye and killed it.”
She added: “I did some fishing for wild salmon, and loved how natural a lifestyle they live over there, and wanted to incorporate some of the same principles in to my life here. It’s common practice to live off the moose meat in the winter and fish in the summer, and children are brought up being unafraid of raw meat and more aware of the circle of life.”
Back in the UK, Nicola began working in the food industry and also as a photographer. But her real desire was to work for herself, sharing those lessons she learned in Alaska.
This month sees the fruition of those dreams. She is launching a new venture, The Laden Table, a roving restaurant taking in 12 locations in 12 months. The promise is that everything on the plate will be hunted, gathered, or grown by Nicola and her team, which will feature a host of guest chefs.
The first venue will be the Bar Lane Studios in York on Friday, January 25 and Saturday, January 26. Tickets cost £34 and include a three-course meal. Chef for the evening will be Georgina Welburn, head chef at Nidd Hall.
Other venues in the programme are more rural and include the Helmsley Walled Garden in May, where top chef Stephanie Moon will prepare a vegetarian menu, and the Bivouac on the Swinton Estate near Masham in July.
Ideally, Nicola would like the locations to be as close to the source of the food on the menu as possible. For the York event, the most urban of those planned, she will be screening short films featuring the ingredients and producers who helped shape the menu.
The journey towards launching The Laden Table has been hugely significant personally too. Until last year, Nicola was a vegetarian. How does she square her veggie past with her reincarnation as a modern-day hunter-gatherer?
“I read a lot about vegetarianism and decided I wasn’t helping the cause,” she begins. “How can I aim to change things if I am not helping people who are doing great things; people such as food artisans who have won awards and who slaughter humanely and do not transport their animals for miles or keep them in places where they can’t see daylight? There are amazing producers around us.”
And Nicola plans to bring the fruits of their labour to a laden table near you sometime soon.
• Find out more at theladentable.com