Cook for the ‘brook

Allotment-two©Iain Smith

Following the success of the Aldersbrook Eco Fair in March, the Friends of St Gabriel’s are planning their next fundraiser, a pop-up fine dining event. Georgina Brewis talks to leading local chef Duncan Cruickshanks. Photos by Iain Smith

For one night only, leading chef and Aldersbrook resident Duncan Cruickshanks will transform St Gabriel’s Church into a fine dining restaurant, with the aim of raising as much money as possible for much-needed, ambitious improvements to the church hall. The event sold out within a week of tickets going on sale.

Duncan’s career as a chef spans three decades, during which time he has worked in fine dining restaurants around the world, from Alaska to Dubai, and France to New York. He has just taken over as executive chef at a top London law firm, where he oversees dozens of chefs working across four restaurants.

I visit Duncan at his Aldersbrook allotment on a sunny Saturday in late May. Duncan’s seedlings are still quite small, but he has rows of potatoes doing well and he shows me the wild herbs he uses in his recipes, including lemon balm, wild rocket, bronze fennel and horseradish root. It all smells amazing.

In keeping with the Friends of St Gabriel’s focus on sustainability, ‘A Taste of Aldersbrook’ is intended to be exactly that, a hyper-locally sourced meal using seasonal and sustainable ingredients.

So, what’s on the menu? “I haven’t decided yet as it depends on what’s available,” Duncan muses, “but I’ve lots of ideas. By October, there will be lots of root vegetables, so dishes like potato and pumpkin rösti might feature. And I’m sourcing raw milk to make my own cheese.”

How is he planning to reflect the changing seasons of Aldersbrook at an event held in October? “Well, the plan is to forage or harvest the produce throughout the year,” Duncan says. “I will then preserve, pickle and puree ingredients, which will come together for the final dinner. For example, back in March, I picked a lot of wild garlic and made pesto and this might be used in a wild garlic pasta for the evening, perhaps. I’ve been making syrups using elderflower blossom this month as well.”

Duncan has also put a call out to local gardeners and allotment holders to donate produce for the event. We head over to the other side of the allotment to meet Heather Goodman, who has owned a plot here since the early 1990s and is keen for Duncan to help clear her overflowing rhubarb patch. We pull up a sample batch, which Duncan takes home to trial some recipes.

Get in touch with the Friends of St Gabriel’s if you too can help with surplus produce this summer, or if you have ideas and would like to help run other exciting events. Launched in 2021, the group exists to secure the long-term future of the church and its hall for all who live locally, and the group is open to anyone who values the presence of St Gabriel’s as a community asset, including people from any religious background or of no faith at all. We welcome new members and volunteers.

To contact the Friends of St Gabriel’s, email friendsofstgabriels2021@gmail.com

To make a donation to support the Friends of St Gabriel’s work, visit wnstd.com/fstg