I’ve just come back from a wonderful week in North Wales, which is always a delight given that the place that we have stayed in since my childhood is incredibly quiet and peaceful. Life certainly has a much slower place to it there and when we visit the nearby towns and villages, we definitely feel a strong sense that we are stepping quietly into someone else’s territory and community – although, of course, we are always warmly welcomed. Local produce is always readily available; our eggs came from Wyau LLyn Farm and our milk from the cows at Glasfryn. We also bought beef from the Penrhyn estate. Whenever we speak to a local producer, or buy a craft item, such as a piece of local pottery from an artisan, we often learn that they are striving to keep long-standing family businesses going, competing against the mass-produced and processed markets.
There is something very special about items that tell a story of a craft or of the maker or even of the place that it is made. I have driven past Sarn Pottery (top left) many times for instance, but have never before had an occasion to stop in. This time I made sure to. I also found a quaint gift and pottery shop called Glosters in Porthmadog (where I bought the cream and blue hand-thrown jugs in the photo above) ahead of jumping on the Ffestiniog steam train – another opportunity to step back in time.
The Balvenie Craftsmen’s Dinner
Back home, I have been keenly following a series of six short films featuring Michel Roux Jr, an exceptional chef and a craftsman of food in his own right, who has travelled around the country uncovering the true meaning of craftsmanship. The culmination of Michel Jnr’s journey is The Balvenie Craftsmen’s Dinner, where Michel brings together all of the craftsmen (and women) has has visited, showcasing their produce throughout the meal. In the video below, Michel visits North Street Pottery in Clapham, who supply his restaurant, Le Gavroche, with beautiful hand-thrown pottery. He also visits a knife-maker at Ferraby Knives (one of the last in Britain), Grierson Organic meat producers, North Street Potters, Ridgeview Wines and Hansen & Lyderse, a salmon producer.
Naine Woodrow at North Street Potters (image supplied)
The hosts of The Craftsmen’s Dinner, The Balvenie, are also the only distillery to produce malt whisky in the traditional way. The barley is sown in the Balvenie Mains, the grain is harvested and steeped in spring water from the hills above the distillery, the grains are spread across the malting floor and turned up to four times a day before being dried. The coppersmith sweetens the still with juniper branches, the coopers toast the casks and the Malt Master uses the skills he has acquired over 50 years to examine and ensure the consistency of the finished malt. This is such a special and unique process that it is a privilege to be given a window to see inside.
I’m keen to know more about all the artisanal skills brought together and showcased by Michel, but if I had to chose one artisanal skill to try myself, it would definitely be to learn the art of making hand-thrown pottery on a wheel. I was completely captivated by the process that Michel Roux Jr reveals in the video below – he just looks like he’s having so much fun! One day perhaps I’ll have my own pottery barn, ideally in North Wales somewhere overlooking the beautiful blue sea.
“What I like about hand-thrown pottery is that you can feel the DNA of the person that’s thrown the pot.” – Michel Roux Jnr
Want to try your hand at hand-thrown pottery?!
North Street Potters also hold pottery classes at their sister organisation, Clapham Pottery. This is something I’d love to do.
Michel Roux Jnr at North Street Potters (image supplied)
Watch Michel Roux Jnr throwing a pot, here:
You can follow all six films and Michel’s journey at TheBalvenie Craftsmen’s Dinner page on You Tube and if you answer the simple question below, you may able be in with a chance at winning dinner for two at Le Gavroche – where hopefully you’ll be able to spot some North Street Pottery.
A selection of pottery as supplied to Le Gavroche, London (image supplied)
With many thanks to Foodies 100 and The Balvenie for introducing me to the concept of #thecraftsmensdinner
This is a commissioned post and I have been compensated for my time in writing it.