Valentine Warner
On Food & Time Well Spent
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Valentine Warner is a cook, food writer and broadcaster. Training originally as an artist, he went on to become a chef in London’s kitchens for five years before running his own catering company. Valentine suddenly found himself on television, resulting in seven series, spanning BBC2, Fox, UKTV and Nat Geo.

His passion for nature and provincial food has seen him travel worldwide, collecting stories and cooking up deliciousness, likely gathered from the hedgerows, woods and hills or from the bustling local markets he can never resist.

Valentine has written five cookery books, three of which he illustrated. The Consolation Of Food, Stories About Life And Death Seasoned With Recipes is his latest.

He is more likely  to be found talking octopus recipes with Greek widows than discussing sous-vide with chefs and would always  prefer to be near a  river with a mossy stick than in the office. Val is a Partner in the Hepple Spirit's Co Distillery, Northumberland and works with Holmen Lofoten in Arctic Norway’s Lofoten Islands where he hosts and cooks on  their collaborative  Kitchen On The Edge Of The World events.  

On Food

Good things come to those who wait. I like this expression because it does not exclude the fact that things can arrive quickly as well as slowly. Deliciousness can come within minutes or hours. Eating seasonally brings with it an unending calendar of treats, a series of passionate affairs so to speak.

This means I’ve had to take the time to understand the whole seasonal year so that the possibilities are many. Understand any given month’s ingredients, producers, places, the cultivated and wild, the flora and fauna. That nature is food means my field guides are as important as my cookbooks. It’s been a life’s work to learn the natural cycles, the details and the preparation methods with which to get the best results. In a sense, I view the whole world in terms of edible or inedible, shapes and colours. Ten thousand hours and then some. When outdoors I spend a lot of time standing still to scan my surroundings and incorporate my view into a menu. Sheep among the juniper bushes, trout beneath the shade of the apple tree. We cannot be here without nature while nature, on the other hand, would be fine without us. Food is so very interlinked with time be it producers, their knowledge, history, craft, recipes, I could go on

One of the greatest gifts to humans is any seed. From this microscopic parcel, this dot that you simply poke into the ground and water, all manner of food, wood, medicine, beauty grows for our sustenance. Yet that we treat it with such greedy disdain and instancy upsets me. We want everything fast and on our terms and this will cause us immense problems in the future if we cannot slow down and want for less. It already is.

We throw away so much food that it could indeed be described as ‘binning time’. It’s so rude!

We’ve got it so good yet in the pursuit of money and ‘demand’ I’m shocked to see that  inextricable link between nature and food becoming increasingly frayed. We cannot travel back in time but for the very reason we are increasingly urban, we are no longer required to understand our once green districts of birth and essential opportunity. I’d argue that despite all the food TV, books, internet recipes and chefs, we know less about food in this fast paced modern world than ever before!

I spend a lot of my time out collecting food. If I kill an animal or pick a mushroom I must spend all the time on it needed to cook it well, so that it can be enjoyed properly. Show my gesture of respect for a life taken, reeled in or dug up. I want to spend as much time as possible with my hand in all parts of my food both in the visceral sense and a more ‘normal’ day to day sense.

Cooking and the gathering of food is a life skill that affects all parts of our ability to look after ourselves and those we love all so key to our very survival. Where I’ve spent time travelling in the more remote parts of Europe and the wider world, food is still at the centre of the family and community. Waste is certainly minimal, while time spent preparing and eating food as a family or community is very central to daily life.

We need to eat more together. The family home in the UK has become decentralised. We have all the time to stroke the glass hamster of social media while grazing but don’t seem to eat together. We have more opportunities to be alone than ever before and I do not view that as a good thing. The table is a place to show love and share an idea of community as opposed to subjecting oneself to subtle and continual self-judgement, bullying, self-assessment and  aspirational failure that we’ve learnt to accept daily.

This I feel, is especially important for children. When with my own kids we eat 3 meals a day around the table. To teach children to cook is a necessity as it teaches them about the world, nature and self-sufficiency and as far as I’m concerned if you cannot cook you are not grown up. End of!  

On ‘The Consolation of Food’ and Looking Back

I was a latecomer to everything. Creative but uncategorized I just didn’t seem to fit in. A loose cannon, a lot of my early life was caught up in restlessness, grief and anger.

Age is a wonderful thing in that I’m lucky that it’s bought with it a much needed calming…of sorts. Subsequently work that I love has found me. Any individual’s energy needs its particular focus. Television allowed me to keep standing and tell stories, move on to find more. I was never meant to sit in an office with the AC on. While no longer on TV it has nevertheless opened doorways into new loves and work. Some of us will always have to wait longer for what we hope to find. It can be agonising and painful and is not easy but I really feel that if you send your true intentions out and stay aware the universe will answer you and sometimes in a startlingly precise way.

None of us are as time poor as we say. We all have far more time than we think. It seems odd that in all our hecticness we still have hours to fuck around on social media or watch hours and hours of box sets yet complain about lack of time, me included. Halting procrastination only ever brings feelings of time well spent.  When I stop moaning about being time poor and actually plan my life I realize I’m time wealthy. Planning is so important. I’m only a recent lover of timelines and thanks to one of my super organised business partners.

So too while timelines are important, don’t be forced to move too quickly at the behest of others. Work efficiently but don’t be bullied by others demands of  “I need it yesterday”. They’re only covering their own arses.

We live in the age of the short-term view, public image and speed. The long-term view is generally better. Very few things can be understood or actioned effectively at speed. Some projects and best laid plans can only bloom after years of care. All this hurry-scurry is decaying quality of information, care and an understanding of ourselves and others. Speed is a furnace of bad decision making. The world is a mess at the moment but where I see hope and completion, I see slowness and better thinking. I’m trying to be slow, as Lord knows I’ve made most of my truly bad decisions and panic reactions at speed.

Regret is wasted emotional time. My time with my father was cut short at a critical point for any young man I’d say, yet it was what it was and I had to find my own way. This is what we all have to do. Time has taught me that while my father was a truly extraordinary man, I am not him. With adoring admiration for him I’ve none the less realised his idiosyncrasies and faults. We are different.


On Time Well Spent

Time well spent is to be so deeply involved that time becomes unnoticed or indeed irrelevant. This is normally subject to those moments, hours lost in anything you do with that sense of  ‘second nature’. I enjoy such time when cooking, drawing, fishing or listening to music. Such pastimes allow for a sort of constructive disconnect, although drawing maybe slightly less so.

Spending time with people who really know their subject can soften mean refined knowledge delivered with that brightness in their eyes. The hours slip past fast in such company. I gravitate towards ‘nerds’.

Time in nature, our default setting!  I will often find myself as intently interested in a small piece of ground at my feet as I would a grander landscape. I will sit on the pine floor looking at ants without a care in the world while the rush of the wind passes through the high treetops and the woodland smell fills my nostrils. By design, colour, and function I find nature infinitely beguiling and when in the lanes, woods or hills time means little until turning back as the light falls.  I will forever continue to go for long walks until my knees can carry me no longer and hope that when my time comes, I will simply keel over into the bracken.

Time with my children. When I’m with them (they live with their mother in the Pyrenees) they get my undivided attention whenever they want it. When with them the wider world disappears.

Lying in the summer grass, as I so love to and very occasionally all human labels seem to disappear. The truest freedom it sadly never lasts as long as I’d like and disappears for the very want of it to continue. It’s a wonderful feeling.

I enjoy daydreaming and am prone to sit and stare out the window for long periods of time. I think this is very important for me to be able to do….. while I’m sure others would call it wasting time.

Talk with fewer people at a party for longer rather than darting around a room like a hummingbird on flowers is often far more rewarding.

It has taken me a long time to observe my patterns and no longer do I want “time’ to be a calibration for anxiety or panic.

I’m fully an advocate in ‘living everyday as if it was your last’, even if a day sees me do absolutely nothing…….as finally I’ve come to appreciate ‘nothing’ as much as ‘everything’. They are one and the same.


On the Value of Time

Born to two impatient, very social and busy parents, there was constant urgency to be somewhere, be ready for something. Life was pretty hectic. This meant that growing up I failed to realise the importance of my own sense of what time meant for me personally and privately. That time to process my thoughts, worries and feelings, with a sense of calm and space and in my own time. My daughter hates being rushed and so knowing this I go out of my way not to do the same to her, or in fact to either of them.

Ingrained in me is a constant and loudly clicking clock, present for most of each waking day. Subsequently it is important for me to get away from this perma-timer as it can cause me great anxiety when coupled with the fact I’m someone who is pretty harsh on themselves. So to be carefree, deadline free, outdoors, or to be cooking, making art, fishing or simply in good company is a wonderful release.

Punctuality, however  is important to me though and as someone who can be quite frenetic and indeed chaotic I can, at least, be relied on to turn up on time. With multi part-days I have a useful affinity to understand how long a task, journey, or person may take. Therefore I often plan my travels and movements to afford myself a lot of extra time that I can maybe visit that tiny mountain village I’m always having to drive past or sit on the edge of that river.  I leave very early so that I can then enjoy these pockets of spare time with that sense of ‘carefree’.

Sitting down for administrative office time makes me squirm and can pass slowly because of being denied (a) a more expansive movement , or (b) denied creativity in the face of what I deem as boring. Yet to complete any day like this efficiently gives me a huge feeling of time well spent.

Lastly but so often said, ‘time flies when you’re having fun’ and so in good times I enjoy looking at my watch in the realisation  “Oh,  good I’ve still got another hour.”

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