A photograph of interview subject Stuart Ovenden walking through some woodland.

April brings with it, usually, nice weather and fresh growth. Despite the nice weather being postponed, we here at Ultimate Library have spoken to author and photographer Stuart Ovenden. Stuart, who is based in Hampshire, runs his own kitchen studio in London. This is where Stuart takes his amazing food shots and works on recipes. He has worked doing food photography and videography for the last 15 years, with some of the biggest names in food.

Stuart, himself, has been cooking for the last 15 years, and has recently released his first cookbook – The Orchard Cook. Focussing on foraging and seasonal eating, this book features re-imagined classic recipes alongside more unusal dishes. We spoke to him to find out more about foraging and the perks of seasonal cooking.

What inspired you to take up food and nature photography in particular?

 I have always loved the natural world; I came quite late to photography but in terms of subjects when I started out the countryside was accessible, challenging and beautiful to photograph as I learnt my craft. The opportunity to work with food and nature seemed like a natural progression, as they are both subjects that I am passionate about. 

The cover of the cookbook 'The Orchard Cook' by Stuart Ovenden featuring a photograph of blossom and food on a slate background.

Before your cookbook, The Orchard Cook had you had any professional training in food?

 I have no formal training in food, but I have always cooked. I spent seven years and an art director on a food magazine before I became a photographer; writing, testing and tasting recipes was very much day-to-day life on the magazine. I learnt a lot about the process of developing a recipe. About twelve years ago I started trying out my own ideas (mostly using foraged ingredients) and things just went from there. There is something really satisfying about making little adjustments to a recipe to get it spot on, but one also has to be succinct – it can be easy to forget that while a dish may have been cooked ten times in the studio, the person reading your book will be cooking it for the first time.  

To eat seasonally promotes the idea of food as a treat – something to look forward to and savour.

In The Orchard Cook you use a lot of sustainable and foraged ingredients, is this a practice that comes from being climate-conscious or from somewhere else?

 Foraging is a much more mainstream pursuit these days, but when I started gathering wild food fifteen years ago it was still seen as being a little ‘out there’. Foraging captures the essence of seasonal eating perfectly. For example, one can only gather Elderflowers for a few weeks each year and they are all the better for it. To eat seasonally promotes the idea of food as a treat – something to look forward to and savour. Having said that, foraging is not automatically sustainable. I’m a keen mushroom hunter and always pick with discretion, but there have been problems in my local area where people will literally turn up with bin liners and completely clear a site in a morning. 

Now we are entering spring properly what are your favourite seasonal ingredients and dishes this time of the year?

 Nothing says spring quite like Ramsons, or ‘Wild garlic’ as they are also known. Every year I make a big jar of Ramson kimchi; it’s pungent, to say the least, but all the better for it. Young nettles are also incredibly versatile, I have been developing a recipe for a nettle and citrus cake, which sounds a bit off the wall but actually tastes delicious. 

What are three books that have inspired your work, either photography or cooking?

The cover of the cookbook 'The River Cottage Cookbook' by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall featuring a multicoloured text over a sepia image of the author holding a chicken.

The River Cottage Cookbook by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Simon Wheeler’s photography is wonderful in this book; it is quite rough around the edges but this brings a sense of unfussiness which completely suits the subject.   

The cover of the cookbook 'Forgotten Skills of Cooking' by Darina Allen featuring dark green and white text on a green background.

Forgotten skills of Cooking by Darina Allen

A book that chimes with the way I like to cook; there is a good section on foraging and ideas surrounding thrift, and using cooking with unusual cuts of meat. Skills that are completely relevant today.  

The cover of the food guide 'The Forager Handbook' by Miles Irving. It features green text on a background of black drawings of plants.

The Forager Handbook by Miles Irving

An in depth, interesting compendium of all things wild and edible – a must for experienced and novice foragers alike. 

We want to thank Stuart again for agreeing to be our expert this month. You can find out more about his photography and his cook book – here. You can also check out more of his work on his Instagram. It has been a pleasure to learn more about sustainable foraging and how eating seasonally can affect your food.