Changing places: Isaac At swaps Brighton for Rotterdam

By Joe Lutrario

- Last updated on GMT

Isaac At chef patron Isaac Bartlett-Copeland (left) with head chef George Thomas
Isaac At chef patron Isaac Bartlett-Copeland (left) with head chef George Thomas

Related tags: Restaurant, Chef, Fine dining, Brighton

South coast ultra local sourcing restaurant Isaac At recently switched with like-minded Rotterdam restaurant Aloha for Brighton Food Festival’s International Chef Exchange.

Was Aloha chosen because it’s similar to Isaac At?
Isaac Bartlett-Copeland (chef patron):​ Yes. Although they are very different businesses the ethos is the same. They are focused on local sourcing and zero waste. But Aloha is much more casual with a larger and more wide ranging menu. We just offer a tasting menu. They came here for four days and cooked a dinner with us, and then we went out there for four days and cooked a dinner with them.

Was Aloha’s approach to local sourcing as extreme as your own?
IBC:​ They eventually want to do what we do and source everything from very nearby and list food miles for everything. On the current Isaac At menu nearly everything comes from Sussex and the drinks list is exclusively English. It will be trickier for them because they're doing far more covers than us, we only seat about 20.
George Thomas (head chef):​ They were better than us on waste though. Based on our experience chefs are more forward-thinking in the Netherlands. The restaurant is within a former leisure centre and works with the other businesses there to create a circular economy. For example, they give their coffee grounds to the grower that grows their mushrooms. The place is very hipster, like a Dutch Brighton.

What was on your menu when you cooked at Aloha?
IBC:​ We took over some Sussex lamb. But as our concept is all about local we focused on the ingredients that were available there. We asked them what was good and in season and created a menu on the fly that included a dish of lamb chump with carrot and star anise puree and pickled carrot; pea and mint soup; and apple and thyme ice cream with shortbread.
GT:​ We hosted them in our kitchen in November. The space is tiny so we could only fit in two of them. They do classic modern European with some modern classics, inlcuding baby cabbage glazed with treacle soy and served with kimchi foam and almond puree. We had a power cut on the second course but we got through it using blowtorches.

We understand there have been some changes at Isaac At recently…
IBC:​ Yes. George is now head chef. After four years it was time to take a step back and oversee the business side of things.
GT:​ We’re also launching a test kitchen to get the team more involved with the dish development process. Once a week, we will offer two customers the chance to eat an all-new menu created by one of the junior members of the team for £20 in exchange for feedback.
Isacc:​ Me taking a step back will also allow us to work more closely with suppliers. We want to build on existing relationships to get bespoke ingredients. We are trying to shift from ordering things to us actually getting the food. On a Tuesday, we go out to different farms to pick up roughly 50% of the things we need for the week.

What is the advantage of you physically going to the farm?
GT:​ Massive. You get to talk to them and get to know them. Once we've been there a few times they get it. It allows us to be more spontaneous. If they say "we've got this and it looks good" we used to have to get them to send us a sample. Now we can make a decision on the spot. It's great for menu development because your connection with an ingredient is much greater if you've seen it come out of the ground or being raised. It doesn't work for everything, fish still comes in every day. But we will eventually look at doing more runs through the week.

A lot of chefs say hyper local sourcing is problematic because it doesn't necessarily give you access to the very best produce…
IBC:​ There is premium produce in Sussex. The issue is that it's very difficult to get it to your restaurant. That's why we've made the transition to going to get it ourselves. It take a lot of time and effort to identify what is best. Volume is an issue for a lot of restaurants but it’s easier for us as we’re so small.

Do you still only offer English wine?  
IBC:​ The focus on English wine has worked well for us. New vineyards are popping up all the time and many of them are seeking us out, which is really nice. We had someone in the other day that makes 300 bottles a year - we will probably be the only restaurant to serve it. We want to continue to build the selection and establish ourselves as the place to go if you want to try interesting English wines. 

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