INTERVIEW -Firepot founder John
Today we are with John, the founder of Firepot. He talks us through how he gets his inspiration, what his "go-to" comfort meal is, and what they have planned for the next dish.
What made you want to create meals for Firepot?
"The initial drive came from a personal need. A few years ago, I crossed a section of West Greenland with a friend and we knew we’d need to take our own supplies. Testing out the different brands, I found it hard to understand why expedition food had to taste so nasty. It was all packed full of chemicals and artificial flavours. I wondered if I could make our meals myself, bought a small dehydrator, did a lot of research, and set to work. A few months later, we had three or four recipes which seemed to work. At the end of that trip, waiting for our flight in Sisimiut airport, I gave our spare rations to a Danish hiker who had just landed. He called me up a few months later to ask if he could buy some more. That set things in motion and three years later I took the plunge, quit work, got some investment and set up Firepot."
How different is this style of drying from the freeze drying process?
"Most people don’t understand the difference between freeze-drying and dehydration - effectively they are two methods of doing the same thing. We find dehydration to be a gentler process and we believe it maintains the texture of the food: it involves blowing warm air over trays of food for 12-16 hours to remove the moisture content, rather than reducing the temperature to sub-zero inside a vacuum.
What really makes the biggest difference though is that most freeze-dried meals just assemble pre-dried ingredients (freeze-dried meat, potato flakes, freeze-dried rice etc.) without cooking them. Not only do we use local ingredients, we choose not to use anything artificial in our kitchen, and we also cook our meals like you would at home: in stages. This means the flavours have time to develop properly while the meal is cooking, before it goes into the drier."
Where do you get your inspiration for your dishes?
"I am a bit of a foodie so I get ideas from everywhere. In our current range, we have age-old family recipes which I’ve been cooking at home for years, as well as recipes which we’ve picked up from our travels as a family. Sometimes I’ll try a completely new combination of flavours, find they really work, and I’ll see how we can incorporate them into a meal. Naturally, we have to be mindful of dietary restrictions, and I know what tends to dry and re-hydrate well, but aside from that, we have pretty free reign to experiment. We just lack the time!"
What is your biggest challenge when creating a new dish?
"Texture. People always assume that flavour is the challenge. However when your meal is served in a single pouch, the real challenge is how to provide a texture distinction between the different elements. Once we have decided on a recipe, we start the long process of trying out different ingredients in different formats - sliced, diced, pureed, steamed, grilled, etc - to find the perfect texture. This is a long, drawn-out process because with each variation you have to cook the full meal, dry it overnight, and then test it the following day. As soon as you have found the ideal combination, the final stage is then adjusting the flavours to match."
We love the fact there is no palm oil or artificial additives- you can really taste the quality and passion in your food. What is your secret?!
"There’s no real secret in the way we cook our food - we genuinely do very little differently from what you might do in your own kitchen at home. I think the ingredients are critical. We are lucky to have brilliant and passionate local producers here in West Dorset and we’ve used them for years in our own cooking - our meat comes from the same butcher we’ve been going to as a family for twenty years, our veg comes from the local greengrocer over the hill.
After five years’ development we now manufacture our own food driers. If we have a secret it is probably contained in the design and technology behind these. They allow us to efficiently and safely remove the water content from an entire meal without affecting the texture or flavour of the end product."
Which is your favourite dish on the menu?
"That’s a tricky question because developing recipes that work can be quite stressful! Our mushroom risotto took months of trials, so although it’s probably the recipe I am most proud of, it also makes me think back to how long it took to get it right. If I had to choose just one dish it would therefore have to be Orzo Bolognese. It was the first meal I learnt to cook as a kid and remains a family favourite."
What is your “Go-To” comfort meal?
"Dal and rice. I spent a year working up near Everest in 2016 where Dal Baht makes up a large proportion of your weekly diet in the mountains. It’s the signature dish of Nepal. Recipes which have evolved high-up in extreme regions are always a good bet when you are looking for a comfort meal."
Where is your favourite location you have seen someone eating your meals?
"As a family, we travel a lot. My wife is a travel journalist and, before I started Firepot, we spent a great deal of time out in Mongolia. From the beginning, I said that I’d love to come across someone eating a Firepot meal somewhere remote. Last summer, we were out in the Mongolian steppe, eight hours from Ulaanbaatar, in the middle of nowhere. My ten year old son was trying some rock climbing and a stranger passing on a motorbike stopped to watch. He unpacked his backpack to make lunch and pulled out a Dal and Rice. Amazing."
Any hints on what is next on the menu?!
"We’ve been experimenting with variations of a chicken curry for about a year now. We’re at the point where we’ve got something I’m really happy with, so I hope that will launch in the next few months, along with a second breakfast. With winter approaching we get a little more time to develop new meals so I hope to have three or four new options on the menu before the spring."
A huge thank you to John for taking some time out to speak with us. Also a big thank you to Tim the chef and also Ian for the beautifully captured images.