From Fera to Fodder: Michael Thompson on swapping fine dining for foraging

By Georgia Bronte

- Last updated on GMT

Chef Michael Thompson opens month-long pop-up Fodder in Canonbury
The former Fera at Claridge’s chef has teamed up with Ollie Downey, another Fera alumnus, to launch a month-long residency of his foraging-focused pop-up at Brewery Below in Canonbury.

You’ve just come from Fera at Claridge’s and have worked with Jason Atherton at Pollen Street Social. Why did you decide to go more low key?
After a while in big restaurants you appreciate the knowledge and the surroundings you’re in, and the guidance of very experienced people. I worked with some really great chefs with different ideas, but it was time to start coming up with my own ideas and paving my own style and ethos. I thought the best way to do it was by starting at the very bottom, trying to put together something on my own and testing whether it was something people liked. Also, some high-end restaurants come with the stigma of being for a certain type of person, and by bringing it down a notch you can provide more of a relaxed atmosphere. You have your own platform to give people what you want them to see, and open them up to new flavours and experiences at a smaller cost.  

You’re using interesting suppliers like Hive & Keeper and Article 25. How do you choose them?
Our whole ethos is to try and source as locally as possible, and in London there are so many people doing amazing things within the industry. There is an abundance of produce here and people are starting to see the need to use more and not be wasteful. Article 25 uses organic coffee grounds from local shops in Elephant and Castle and grows mushrooms through them. We want to support them as much as they support restaurants. Sometimes that personal relationship between producer and restaurant is lost. I’ve seen that throughout my career - you go to one company for dairy, one for meat, one for dry goods, and you don’t know who’s actually making it. Going straight to the source is a great way to find out how it’s being made, who’s producing it, and the effort that goes into it. We’re trying to show that it’s all about the contributors in an amazing meal, rather than just the chef that’s cooking it.

Dishes_served_at_Fodder1

Foraging is also a key part of Fodder, even though you’re based in London...
Ollie and I have turned into foraging obsessives. We’ll walk into a park and be over the moon when we spot a crab apple tree or some rosehips. People see nasturtiums as a weed, but we love them - the flower, leaf and seed all have different flavour profiles that you can use differently. The knowledge we have for foraging of course stems from working at Fera, but at Fera we wouldn’t go out and do it ourselves, we used suppliers. We introduce our foraged ingredients by identifying them with familiar things. On this menu we have rosehips, which are actually really delicious acidic fruits. We’ve made a rosehip ketchup, because everyone knows what ketchup is, so it has a familiarity. We’re trying to break down the stigma attached to the weird flavours people associate with foraging.

Do you take that approach with other menu items?
We’re making a crab apple jelly, which is a flavour everyone can relate to. We don’t want to be too gimmicky; we want to have an element of fun and relatability, but not make everything into a joke. At the end of the day, we learned lessons from top-end fine dining restaurants and we’re going to stick to our roots. We’re going to be professional, but also make it a bit more relaxed and inviting for people to enjoy.

dish_served_at_Fodder

And this extends beyond food
Ollie and I have spoken with Clay Collective [in Hackney}, the ceramicist that makes our plates. We want to get to a stage where they can create something with the same freedom of expression that we do, in the same way that people match wines with food. The people who contribute to making things look beautiful [in a restaurant] are often overlooked. We want to build a community around Fodder.

Would you like to put down permanent roots?
I can see Fodder developing into a restaurant, but we’re at the age now where there are still plenty of things outside of cooking and food that we’d like to do. There are also still plenty of restaurants that I’d love to go and learn from. What we’re doing now gives us freedom to move about, and have time to go and forage, and do all these things that we really enjoy doing. So the restaurant is the dream - but maybe not right now.

https://boroughwines.co.uk/07-09-30-09-fodder/

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