True Grit

With the world in turmoil, let’s learn from our food and drink entrepreneurs, whose determination results in products that bring joy to all our lives

By William Sitwell

May 4 2020

A theme emerges from this issue’s food pages: Determination. There is determination in the number of pages themselves – more than ever before covering food and drink – the fruits of determined lobbying by our most esteemed proprietor, Ranald – a most benign dictator, I must say. If you’re a News UK underling, when Rupert Murdoch summons your presence, you’re probably in for a thrashing. When Ranald asks to see you, you’re in for a lunch.

And so these pages, with the sun casting its warming light, grow eagerly, like the fresh young shoots of asparagus. As I write, the shoots are busily making their way to the surface. (They say that on a quiet day, if you listen carefully, you might actually here them pop as the purple spears break through the soil and take their first breath of air.) Asparagus is a great example of determination in the plant world, as is the vine. Its roots dig deep, curling round obstructions, until they reach water. With equal determination, in South Africa, members of the Old Vine Project are preserving the Cape’s heritage vines (page 60) for future generations. Meanwhile in Scotland, ingenious and determined distillers are creating jobs and supporting their communities with innovative and exquisite gin-making (page 64).

On page 54 you’ll meet a wonderful selection of food entrepreneurs who share the wisdom they have acquired on their individual journeys. Anyone contemplating entering the culinary landscape with a good idea up their sleeve could save a fortune if they cut out this story and stick it on the fridge. “We are still on a knife edge,” says Alessandro Savelli, who sends pasta and sauces through the post. His honesty is refreshing. Each of these entrepreneurs has had to battle against naysayers, has had to pitch, endlessly, their ideas to everyone from banks or lenders to retailers and customers.

There’s another determination in this section that I adore. The fevered, exhausting, relentless, almost crazy lust that Valentine Warner brings to his food quests (page 52). As he describes in the most evocative and lyrical way, it’s worth making your hunger an adventure. Like all of us, Valentine’s life is filled with angst and worry, yet he finds catharsis in simple experiences discovered in remote towns and villages across Europe. But he works for those moments. His determination to look for culture, for depth in food, is a lesson for us all to try harder preparing food for the table.

We must also salute the determination of a more unlikely hero: Joanna Bell (page 48). Val may risk his own safety as he arrives in unknown towns with the mad gleam of hunger in his eyes, but Joanna risks her own reputation among her contemporaries as she does that most outrageous of things: eats meat. But good luck to the girl as she tramples her way across the delicate feelings of her millennial vegan chums.

Then there’s the ultimate in determination: Damien McCrystal (page 50), lunching where so many fear to tread. His lifelong campaign to preserve the liquid lunch should be taught in schools. Meanwhile, I am entering month four of not drinking. I call it “Dry Generally”. I am determined; I will not falter. Well, not yet. I’ve been summoned to lunch with Ranald. I can’t wait to be dragged, kicking and screaming with joy, off the wagon.