January 23, 2021

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Home Improvement

Chef Merlin Labron-Johnson shares his kitchen must-haves, from quality cheese to dark chocolate

“We have a fig leaf ice cream on the menu at the moment, but have sadly plundered all of the leaves from our tree and are down to our last lonely leaf,” read a recent Instagram post from chef Merlin Labron-Johnson’s restaurant, Osip in Bruton, Somerset. Within hours, the comments section was brimming with offers from local businesses and residents alike, promising to pop around with shopping bags full of the prized leaves. This just about sums up Osip; a hyperlocal, farm-to-table (or garden-to-table, for that matter) restaurant, with its surroundings at the heart of every dish it creates.

Sadly, the restaurant remains closed for the time being. “It’s especially disheartening, considering that we’re still in our first year of trading,” Labron-Johnson says, “but we’ll use this period for planning some exciting projects that we previously lacked the time for.” The projects he refers to involve building more polytunnels to fill with glorious home-grown produce for the restaurant. For the time being, Labron-Johnson makes the most of the local dairies and butchers in the surrounding countryside, making the perfect cheese and ham sandwich. Here are a few more of his kitchen must-haves.

Fridge essential

“Cheddar cheese and ham. Being in Somerset, I have access to the world’s finest cheddar cheeses, and it’s rare that I will allow my fridge to be without a wedge – I buy mine from Westcombe Dairy. A quick working lunch for me often consists of a cheese and ham sandwich; toasted bread, a chutney, some hand-cut gammon (either from my restaurant or from the local butcher, The Thoroughly Wild Meat Company) and a few slices of cheddar, and a bit of good-quality mustard on the side.”

Midnight Snack

“It sounds like an odd thing to be eating late at night, but I am a big fan of broth. I make one every week from a chicken carcass and it forms the base of lots of midnight snacks and quick lunches. It’s something that feels rather cleansing and restorative after a long day’s work in the kitchen and is relatively quick to boil on the stove.”

Kitchen Kit

“I’m not a big fan of kitchen gadgets as I like to do things with my hands. The bit of kit in my kitchen that gets the most use is probably an old dark blue Le Creuset casserole pot with a lid. There’s something about using a serious, well-made, heavy piece of cooking apparatus that makes you attack a recipe with a heightened level of respect and intention – it makes me feel grown-up.” (From £99, lecreuset.co.uk)

Local Hero

“I recently started growing my own vegetables. In the first six months, I spent a lot of time listening to what Charles Dowding had to say via his Instagram channel (@charles_dowding), and when I followed his instructions, things always seemed to work out. He has a lovely way of explaining things and his approach is very accessible.”

Store Cupboard Staple

“Currently, I have a habit of buying Green & Black’s dark chocolate whenever I’m in a shop. I have a sweet tooth and have recently been using the chocolate as a way of deterring me from eating a whole pudding every day.” (Green & Black’s 70% dark chocolate, £2 for 100g, Tesco)

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