As well as rest and relaxation, the idyllic country house hotel located in the Cotswolds is renowned for its food — and a sustainable approach to cuisine

After building up his chef credentials at such renowned restaurants as Soho’s Quo Vadis, Charlie Hibbert returned to the family firm, becoming Head Chef of Thyme’s renowned Ox Barn. Here, he tells Wildflower all about his culinary style, commitment to sustainability and why he won’t be cooking at Christmas…

What is your food philosophy? 

If I had to sum my food philosophy up in one word, it would be “enjoyment”. I want to get pleasure out of cooking something and I want someone to love eating it. 

What has influenced your cooking style over the years?

Seasons are key to a chef’s life and I feel very close to these at Thyme with our kitchen garden, orchards and farm working so hard
for us all year round. Wherever I have cooked — Ballymaloe House in Ireland, Craggy Range winery in New Zealand, Quo Vadis in London and now Thyme — remarkable produce has been the focus and I love sharing this with our customers.

Can you tell us about Thyme’s commitment to sustainability and how you bring this endeavour into your cooking? 

Our vegetable gardens at Thyme are carefully managed so that they deliver abundance from the land while protecting and maintaining a healthy rich soil. Sustainability is at the heart of the kitchen’s modus operandi and we’re committed to removing all single-use plastics where possible — this is more difficult than you might think when it comes to suppliers, but our resolve is steadfast and we are getting there. There is a rigorous composting, reuse and recycle policy in place and we’re working towards “no-waste kitchens”. Prep and plate waste is already sent for anaerobic digestion, where it’s converted into fertiliser. 

For the past four years, we’ve maintained the highest rating of three stars with The Sustainable Restaurant Association. We’re also members of The Slow Food Movement and supporters of the Free Range Dairy’s Pasture Promise campaign.

How involved are you in deciding what is grown in the kitchen garden at Thyme? What are you looking forward to growing next year? Are there any unusual or heritage varieties grown in the garden?

We get together with our Head Gardener Steve in early January to go through plans and growing schedules. We cut what didn’t work well in the previous year and add in new varieties and plants. It’s exciting anticipating the year’s crops. I’m keen to perfect the radicchio next year — I love bitter leaves. And we’re going to hone in on more tomato varieties such as San Marzano and Cow Heart. We’ll also be continuing with unusual produce such as yacón, medlars and wine berries.

What is your favourite dish, and what do you enjoy cooking most? 

I chop and change, but right now, I’m having a pork renaissance. We bring in half a Middle White pig at a time and use everything. We had a salad Lyonnaise with slow-cooked pig’s head on the menu recently; I do terrines, sausage rolls and braises with the shoulder and serve the loin with borlotti beans from the garden.

What do you think of the rise of plant-based eating? Have you changed the menu at Thyme as a result of this? 

I think there are more people coming to Thyme choosing vegetarian and vegan options — and there are lots more flexitarians around. We’re lucky — we have amazing produce at our fingertips and wonderful suppliers such as Hodmedod’s Pulses & Grains and La Fromagerie, which does a delicious polenta. In the summer, we had a very popular braised artichoke dish with fennel, tomato and aioli. We’re now thinking about pumpkins, cabbages, brassicas and squashes from the garden. Personally, one of my all-time favourite dishes is a risotto con bruscandoli (wild hop shoots) and asparagus.

What does the future hold for Thyme? 

It’s taken us so long to get to this place where the Ox Barn at Thyme is now a glorious space welcoming customers that I just want to take a little time to relish that. One of the underlying feelings you get when you’re at Thyme is that there’s no hurry — life is for savouring. I therefore want to savour what we’re doing at the Ox Barn, in the cookery school and for hotel guests — until we move on to the next project. There are to be some exciting additions to Thyme in the new year, so watch this space.

When you are not cooking, what do you like to do? 

I don’t get that much time off, but my wife Molly and I have just moved house and we have also got a new puppy, so we’ll be up to our eyeballs with both for the foreseeable future. I’m a sociable creature and am at my happiest being cooked for at a friend’s home, hosting at mine or eating at restaurants. That said, even if I’m on my own, I always find great joy in the sociability of a restaurant.

How will you spend Christmas this year? 

I love spending Christmas with my family. We don’t veer far from tradition at Christmas, so it’s turkey and all the trimmings, party games and frivolity. And, I try to avoid cooking on Christmas day… 

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