Cornwall, Where Old Traditions Are Giving Way To Something New
Travel+Leisure India|April 2017

Cornwall has always been a place apart from the rest of England—a proud and fertile province where the pasture meets the sea . But now the old traditions are giving way to something new, as the next generation of chefs, farmers, and fishermen transform their pastoral corner into a culinary eden.

Jeff Chu

One day last summer chefs Tom Adams and April Bloomfield splashed through a stream and then crossed a field behind Coombeshead Farm, their 18th-century Cornish farmhouse. Adams, of London’s celebrated Pitt Cue, and Bloomfield, a British native best known for her New York City restaurants the Spotted Pig and the Breslin, have turned the property, which is set on 66 acres of gently rolling hills near the village of Lewannick, into a five-room inn and restaurant. They were expecting a dozen dinner guests that evening, and the afternoon’s mission was to forage ingredients—wild sorrel, blackberries—for the meal.

We stopped under an oak tree reputed to be well over 600 years old. “I wonder what this tree has seen since day one,” Adams said. Consider: it would have been 150 years old when Queen Elizabeth I ascended the throne, nearly 400 when the American colonies broke free from Great Britain. Adams shook his head. “How insignificant am I?”

The land doubles as a buffet, if you know what to look for. I didn’t, so Adams narrated. We passed wild watercress, common hogweed (whose seeds taste of citrus—more orangey than lemony), and pineapple weed, which Adams plucked, rubbed between his fingers, and held to my nose. It offered an instant olfactory trip to the tropics. The sorrel we gathered would go with pig’s-head rillettes. Blackberries were destined for an arranged marriage with Cornish cream. “Such abundance,” Bloomfield said.

Returning to the farmstead, we skirted a streamside forest. Suddenly, Adams and Bloomfield unleashed a litany of expletives more typically heard in the heat of professional kitchens than the cool of the Cornish shade: “Holy sh**. Oh my god.”

The object of their awe was in a tree: a chicken-of-the-woods mushroom about the size of a human head. Within hours, it would be transformed into the best version of itself, bearing the wood-fired oven’s char, the fragrance of thyme and garlic, and the glow of golden Cornish butter. It was an expression of Cornwall itself—unexpected, unfussy, and gorgeous.

Bloomfield and Adams aren’t the only outsiders to realise the fertile promise of Cornwall. Some of Britain’s most inventive young chefs and entrepreneurs are settling here and finding inspiration in the region’s traditions. Together with the Cornish farmers and fishermen who trace their roots back generations, they are sparking a profound, renewed confidence in the bounty of this land. What’s old is new again—and it tastes phenomenal.

Before meeting Bloomfield and Adams, my husband, Tristan, and I spent three days hiking 30 miles of Cornwall’s South West Coast Path, from Boscastle to Padstow. The poet John Betjeman, who spent much of his life in Cornwall, described Boscastle as being set in “half a mile of winding, gloomy chasm where overwhelming cliffs of shale and slate are parted by tidal water a stone’s throw across.” In the sunshine, the fishing village sparkled. When it rains, the terrain can be tragic; in 2004, a flash flood washed away much of the village.

From Boscastle, the path traverses slope after seaside slope, some so steep that we ascended and descended by earthen staircase. Gulls squawked but kept their distance, much as the locals did. Everywhere we went, they were welcoming but reserved, embodying the ambivalence that the Cornish have about outsiders. Legend has it that when Saint Piran, now Cornwall’s patron saint, arrived, having floated on a millstone across the Irish Sea, his first converts weren’t people—they were a badger, a fox, and a boar.

It’s easy to see why outsiders still come to this fat finger of land, which points from Britain’s southwesternmost corner across the Atlantic. Though Cornwall is England’s poorest county, it may be its richest in heritage and beauty. Every hill on our hike brought new vistas, every bend a different field—this one framed by an ancient stone wall, that one filled with golden rapeseed blossoms. Just as abundant: the stories, stretching back centuries. In Trethevy, we sat for a few silent minutes in a 14th-century chapel dedicated to Saint Piran that had languished as a farm outbuilding until its restoration in the 1940s. In Tintagel, we clambered amid the cliff-top remnants of what’s said to be King Arthur’s castle—a history buff’s dream, a health-and-safety officer’s horror. In several places, we marvelled at gravity-defying seaside towers of slate, souvenirs of Cornwall’s quarrying days.

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