The St. JOHN Family Tree: Part I
Since first sliding open that heavy wooden door in Smithfield way back in 1994, St. JOHN has championed plenty of things. To start with, there’s the very concept of Nose-to-Tail dining — an original and steadfast philosophy of “purpose and simplicity” lead by the markets, the seasons and a confidence in quality — which has organically morphed into a kind of global school of culinary thought. Fergus puts it on the plate and Trevor puts it in the glass.
St. JOHN is also a champion of people. Suppliers, chefs, producers and a carousel of interesting customers. To celebrate the launch of our inaugural collaboration — the latest extension of a friendship that’s been ongoing for years, we thought that it would be a good idea to highlight some of the people who make, and have made, St. JOHN what it is. A Family Tree, as it were.
Wearing select pieces from the Drake’s for St. JOHN collection (available soon), in Part I of the Family Tree we visit London’s queen of rare tea, a chef who went from burning soup to becoming a culinary star, and the Dalston brewery that turns the restaurant’s famous Eccles cakes into a signature brew.
Former Sous Chef at St. JOHN, Smithfield / Head Chef at Le Grand Bain, Paris
"My origin story is an epic tale! As far back as I can remember I wanted to be a cook, and as soon as I wanted to be a cook, I wanted to work at St. JOHN.
I had a trial shift in the kitchen. I wanted it so badly that I was shaking the entire time. On the pass was the executive head chef. On the corner was the junior sous chef, whose CV was like: Arzak, El Bulli, you know? And I was on the grill. I was surrounded by the top of the top of St JOHN… and I burnt a soup. I don’t how, or why I did it. I’ve never done it since, but I didn’t get the job.
I got a nice email from them saying ‘we’ve chosen someone else, but please feel free to reapply.’ So I did, continually, for the next six months. Everything. I was applying for driver’s positions without a license. Anything that came up. I just wanted to say that I had worked at St. JOHN. I started at the bottom of the bottom, as an intern in the office, and it was great.
I ended up working at the pop-up at Selfridges a few years ago, then I ended up in the pastry section. Then I went full time in pastry, and eventually I was made sous chef. I couldn't believe it.
There’s a philosophy. I wanted to learn butchery, and sustainability, not just in terms of food, but in culture and lifestyle. There aren’t many places in the world, let alone any city I’d worked in, where you get six shifts a week, you do a maximum of 48 hours, and they cap it, and won’t let you do anymore than that. It’s so rare, the only other place I can think of is The River Cafe.
They understand how to keep employees and keep them as part of the fold, even if they decide to leave. I come back here and still see people I worked with. I’ve been given so many opportunities that I don’t think other people would have given me."
40FT Brewery & Taproom
Steve Ryan — Co-Founder (left)Edwin Methu-Frost — Sales Director (right)
"I’ve been in this space since 2012. I’m a photographer and it was used as a creative space, but I was home brewing with my housemates at the same time, as a bit of a side project.
I also had a food magazine called Root + Bone, which meant that we met a lot of brewers. Eventually we approached one to see if we could start the brewery. We put together two shipping containers, 20ft turning into 40ft… get it! We were three drunken artists, and he was a legitimate scientist. Brewing is a bit like yoga. Everyone who does it has to become a teacher.
Root + Bone featured St. JOHN in our second issue back in 2013. They made a special donut for us for it, and ever since Trevor and Fergus have been friends. We gave them a column and they wrote in every issue until the pandemic, when we put it on ice.
We’ve been adding shipping containers like lego. We’re at 150ft now. We brew five times a week, which is about 5,000 litres a week — 7,000 pints, including the ones at St. JOHN. Every Christmas we do an Eccles stout with them. We’ve done four so far, and the idea is that we treat it like a vintage.
Each one we try to make it more Eccles-y and spicy. Our current one is the best one yet… and that’s not propaganda! Those are Trevor’s words. And you know he wouldn’t say that if he didn’t mean it.
St. JOHN… it’s just unique, isn’t?"
Founder of The Rare Tea Company / St. JOHN tea supplier / The Rare Tea Lady
"Years ago I was working in corporate finance. On a business trip to China I got taken out for tea and fell in love with it. In England we have tea bags, in China it’s a way of life. I went around China, and India and fell deeper and deeper in love.
I set up the business in 2004. Everyone said, ‘It’s not going to work, you’re a fucking idiot!’ But people did take notice, and the first ones to were great chefs and restaurants, which is how I met Fergus, who did care. People go to St. JOHN so that they can have something more beautiful than what they can have at home. Now I do tea for Noma, Chateau Marmont, Claridge’s, Momofuku and lots more. The great chefs have always been the real champions.
The St. JOHN blend is a mixture of East African and Indian teas. We went through loads and loads of permutations. It’s like a handmade suit, you have fittings. If someone comes in and says they want a grey suit, well then you look at fabric, lining, fit. They wanted a breakfast tea, so I made lots of blends with Fergus and Trevor.
It’s been tweaked over the years. It’s stronger now because people mostly drink it with milk. As long as it’s blended for it, that’s fine! If you put milk in green tea, then I’d be upset. We should all be drinking tea that is sustainable, and supports farmers and growers with a real income, not brokers and middlemen and multinationals. They’re not the good guys.
St. JOHN and drake’s are similar: it’s about people and quality and, I hope, approaching things the right way."