Festival Folk: Robin van Creveld

Robin van Creveld (aka Lewes Community Chef) is a familiar face on the Lewes food scene. His bread clubs are going down a storm, his passion is infectious, and his plans for a community bakery have a growing fan-base. He wears his heart on his website: ‘Good Food for All is a fundamental human right!’ Every good story has a beginning, Robin’s started slightly further south from Lewes.

He grew up in South Africa, the grandson of European Jewish refugees. His early memories of food are steeped in a heady mixture of Ashkanazi traditional cooking combined with the lush offerings from the fertile Transvaal, plus an excellent local Italian deli thrown into the mix. His mum instilled in him a passion for cooking which never left him, (he still calls her for tips and advice “She’s my Mum-app – everyone should have one”). With such a rich food background, a love of tasty, healthy, local food comes naturally to him and he’s keen to spread the word.

Having said that, Robin’s realistic about opportunities for changing deep-rooted food habits, and believes the way to make it happen is not through evangelism but small, manageable steps. “Preaching can lead to alienation. I recently worked on a homeless project where instead of trying to change lives in an instant, I just wanted to encourage people to cook one good meal a week and help them find the enjoyment and community that can involve. If that leads to more, then great. If not, at least it’s a manageable goal. Change needs to happen throughout, not just in certain sectors of society – the Bread Club is an egalitarian set-up intended for everyone. When I see busy community allotments in Landport I’ll know we’re getting somewhere.”

With the OctoberFeast Shop Local Challenge in mind, I ask him what he thinks about the outlook for local shops: “Nationally the forecasts are pretty grim. The high street homogenisation brought about by shops such as Costa Coffee, Boots, Superdrug, Tesco Metro is a trend which I think will rise as they have such huge marketing power. It’s a complex web, hard to unpick and change now that we’re this far down the line. In theory the Monopolies Commission has the power to limit ‘the big 4’ and tax them according to the detrimental effects they have on the ecology, health and local community.” Like he says, pretty grim – is there any hope on the horizon? “If we speak up and use our voices vociferously, we can make personal choices which will start to bring about change. The local reaction to big supermarkets expanding is encouraging for instance, and the Friday Market is moving from strength to strength – if I’m in a rush I often phone up the Market suppliers in advance and the goods are ready for collection on Friday morning. There’s also a great plan in place set up by the Local Community Land Trust for the Phoenix Space which would include a bakery, school, good community spaces, but people need to get behind it to make it happen.”

Robin’s favourite seasonal recipe suggestions are mouth-watering: minestrone in Winter with home-made bread, roasted asparagus with lemon and parmesan cheese for Spring, Summer home-made flatbreads with greens, spinach, chard and garlic in a quesadilla, and a warming Pumpkin Zinger Soup in Autumn.

My next question’s a bit lyrical, but as one parent to another I’m always interested to know what people would like to pass onto their kids where food’s concerned: “Eat with your hands! Try most things once. Know what you’ve got and how good you’ve got it.”

Robin is running two bread club workshops during Octoberfeast:Harvest Bread on Saturday 1st and Going Wilder on Saturday 8th, plus you can see him in action at the Lewes Friday Market on Friday 30th during the OctoberFeast launch.

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