If you can buy a sourdough and hand-reared bacon sandwich without even a flicker of an eye roll, if you don’t sniff at paying more than £3 for a cup of coffee; you’ll be well aware of the success of the artisan food culture in the UK.
The London Stock Exchange Group’s 2016 annual report ‘1000 companies to Inspire Britain’, identified 74 up and coming food and drink businesses in the thousand fastest growing companies in the UK. They were, the report explained, fuelling the success in this sector in response to ‘an insatiable appetite for the artisan, the alternative and the adventurous.’
With the market for artisan food here expanding at an ever increasing pace, there is a growing acceptance that it is reasonable to pay more for the perfectly roasted, single bean cup of coffee, for locally produced cheese, bread, beer, wine. We live in a world where the provenance of meat is now just as important as the way it is cooked. And as consumers, we now attach a much greater value to the history and geography of the food we eat, so we’re increasingly comfortable paying over the odds for thoughtfully-produced, high quality food with a heritage we can believe in.
We like food with a story.
But what does artisan food culture look like in other countries?
But obviously, Artisan foodie culture is not exclusive to the UK. Denise was in Japan recently and was fascinated by the high-end food here, as well as the astonishing prices people happily pay for them.
“One of the main differences I noticed between here and Japan is their unfaltering dedication to experiencing good food. They are willing to queue in the rain (I have seen it) and for hours on end to try the latest fad – which in this case was fresh flavoured popcorn.”
In Japan there is a long-standing tradition of businesses giving gifts of beautifully presented valuable fruit to colleagues or clients – so a perfectly arranged set of the sweetest cherries at £82, or a specially grown, square watermelon (yours’ for a mere £400) is a symbol of the regard the business hold you in, and the value they attach to that relationship rather than a weirdly extravagant trip to the supermarket.
But it is not just that – the £280 salmon fillet is testament to something deeper than just traditional extravagant gifts – there is a pursuit of utter perfection at the heart of the Japanese approach to food, which Matt Goulding writes about in his book Rice, Noodle, Fish:
“There are a dozen factors that make Japanese food so special – ingredient obsession, technical precision, thousands of years of meticulous refinement – but chief among them is one simple concept: specialisation. In the west, where miso-braised short ribs share menus with white truffle pizza and sea bass ceviche, restaurants cast massive nets to try to catch as many fish as possible but, in Japan, the secret to success is choosing one thing and doing it really well. Forever.”
Aside from specialization, there is a dedication in Japanese culture to the concept of Shokunin – which literally translates as ‘artisan’ or ‘craftsman’ – but the definition of it in Japanese culture is wider than that. It is the idea of an attitude and social consciousness beyond technical excellence. In Japan, the shokunin has a social obligation to work tirelessly for the general welfare of the people.
As the UK artisan market grows, it is inevitable that we’ll increasingly look to create our own versions of shokunin. The pursuit of perfection in terms of welfare as well as presentation.