A Kitchen in a Quarry: Why Charlie Bigham’s Food Campus Was Named the Best Quadrant of the Year | A vision for better food

Charlie Bigham talking to me on a video call from a view room. From his office in his company’s kitchen in Somerset, Bigham can see 30-meter-high cliffs, and wildlife that includes peregrine falcons. This morning, he walked to work across 20 acres of wildflower meadows where six species of bees thrive.

It’s a surprisingly unusual home for a manufacturer – but the way Bigham handles all aspects of his food business is anything but ordinary.

“When I was looking for a new location for a kitchen in the Southwest, I had a few simple questions to ask about each option,” he told me. “There were things that made sense like: ‘How big is it and how much does it cost?’ But my last and most important question was: “Does she have a little magic?”

“We saw over 30 sites before we found a huge unused quarry, which fits perfectly with what we’re trying to do at Charlie Bigham’s – plus it means we didn’t have to plow a beautiful green field to build our kitchen, which was a great start.”

Before Bigham built the sister kitchen at his headquarters in northwest London in 2017, the quarry near Wales had been untouched for 25 years. The plan from the start was to work closely with the architects to create a workplace that would not replace the local wildlife, and would be built with sustainability at its core.

“When I first came here, I felt like I was on the moon,” Bigham says. “It was completely empty and desolate, although there are some wild animals residing here which have found a nice place to be, and we have tried to work with and even improve it.

“Five years later, we have a large Newtonian with a large mane and six species of bats, which we keep an eye on. We have a nested pair of peregrine falcons, as well as many badgers, foxes and rabbits. It is really diverse – and I am happy to say that there are actually More wildlife is here now than when we arrived.”

View of the quarry approach
Detail of flowers
View from a window in a quarry

With the help of a local conservationist, tons of soil was brought in to grow the wildflower meadow that surrounds the kitchen. Locally harvested seeds were used, while special drains and drains were built to protect bats and skunks. “We’ve also built a house for the bats, so they have somewhere to go if they’re feeling a little shy,” Bigham laughs. “There’s always a lot of detail to consider, but it’s fun.”

Within the kitchen itself, Bigham is working toward his goal of net zero when it comes to carbon emissions — a goal he believes food manufacturers, in particular, should aim for.

“If you’re in food production, you’re very close to nature, and everyone has an important role to play in the amount of carbon we produce,” he says. “Something like flying is a choice, but we can’t just stop eating – that means food producers have to commit to minimizing their impact.”

Sprinkle herbs on food

For Charlie Bigham, that commitment includes not sending any waste to landfill for the past 15 years, making packaging materials out of wood and ceramic instead of plastic, and being an early adopter of green electricity, which began over a decade ago. And now, Somerset Kitchen is striving to do things better.

“We had the privilege of designing a building from scratch, which means we can design energy-saving mechanisms in it that are really hard to modify,” Bigham says. “We are on a journey to reduce our energy and water use per dish, so we are 25% more energy efficient than our old kitchens, thanks to things like LED lighting and better cooling and cooking equipment.

“Three years ago, we put £250,000 worth of solar panels on the roof, which means we generate about 10% of our electricity, and we will be putting in more soon. We also clean our water in our sewage treatment plant, and then we drain it, monitoring Minutes by the Environment Agency, at the local river. This means we take responsibility for our problem, rather than leaving it to someone else to deal with.”

The company’s interest in sustainability extends beyond the boundaries of the site. Nearby is a bike path, partly funded by the company, which makes it easier for employees to walk or cycle to and from Wells. The links to Cathedral City were further strengthened by the company’s participation in the annual Wells Food Festival. His involvement – including live cooking for festival-goers in October – is centered around giving back to the local community, as well as promoting business.

Banner for Wales
Wales Food Festival

“This is our sixth year of supporting the festival, and our philanthropic partner, Chefs in Schools, is participating this year,” Bigham says. They inspire young people to eat different foods and learn how to cook, but they are currently only in London. We hope the festival will create an incentive to get them to work with the local schools here in Somerset.”

Chefs in Schools is just one of several charities Charlie Bigham works with, and the design of Somerset’s kitchen reflects one of Bigham’s other key passions: people. By coordinating closely with the architects he hired to build, he ensured that the kitchen was designed to create a harmonious working environment, connecting its occupants with nature and each other.

“How people get in and out of the building, and how they interact with it and with the other people in it was a big part of our brief,” Bigham says. “For example, we have a lot of natural light here, which is unusual in a manufacturing environment. Because in this amazing location, we have windows all around, strategically positioned so our employees can connect with the landscape.”

One of Bigham’s favorite details about his kitchen is a design element that led to it being named the 2018 Southwest Building by the Royal Institute of British Architects. It’s a feature that’s easy to overlook – but it neatly sums up a man’s determination to do the right thing when it comes to the food trade.

Quarry view
Detail of wildflowers
Electric vehicle charging points in the quarry

“It’s a small but really important thing, and I like other companies to follow: We only have one front door,” Bigham smiles. “At some point in the murky past, manufacturers started building one door for people who work in the office, and another for everyone else. This seems old-fashioned and basically wrong to me.

“When you start creating different entrances, where do you stop? Does that mean that there is one set of loss for some people and another set of others? Because that is not true either. So we only have one front door, one set of barns, and one coffee shop, which means That we all eat lunch together. It’s valuable, it matters—and it’s the right thing to do.”

Even the best home chefs love to spend the night sometimes, and that’s where their Charlie Bigham dishes come in. With everything from steak pies to paella and salmon en crus, it’s never been easier to feed your family well.

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