Hector and the Fox
Laura Cartledge meets the man putting Sussex’s finest on to the map.
It seems like the ‘good old days’ have never been more in fashion.
However Petworth’s Ian Pearce (left) believes there is still more to be done to help people celebrate their surroundings so he’s made it his business.
“Our grandparents would say ‘how on earth have you forgotten these things? Why have you stepped away from that way of living?’,” he insists, “What I do is reintroduce people to what they take for granted.”
That is, namely, the countryside and the artisan producers that call it home by hosting very special events.
Recently Ian’s venture ‘Hector and the Fox’, which launched in October 2015, has taken people for a ‘Ramble and Roast’ in North Marden and given them an insight to ‘Working the Woodland’ in the heart of the South Downs.
“If life gets hectic, even our weekends get hectic and it is too easy to get completely detached from the world around us. And even food becomes fuel rather than for enjoyment. This is about changing that,” he says.
“You would be amazed how many people are transformed and transfixed by a roaring fire, especially if you place a hot chocolate made with chocolate in their hands.
“It feels very honest and easy so hopefully that means it is a good thing.”
There’s little doubt about that, or the fact Ian was always meant to be doing what he is now.
Born into farm life and a family which has the countryside running through their veins, Ian started off ‘cheffing’ at The White Horse in Chilgrove before moving on to the Weald and Downloads where he helped develop the Tudor Kitchen, and then Petworth House.
“It all links,” he agrees. “It was about a combination of the food and the history.”
These experiences formed a solid business understanding and gave him the confidence to ‘step out and do what I really want to do’.
But it is interesting to learn the passion Ian embodies now has taken time to develop.
“As a child you don’t really appreciate it, but when you get older you really do,” he laughs.
“Growing up you resent the fact there are no other children around and you are expected to muck in. You had to work pretty hard on the farm and look after the animals and garden.
“At the time you think this is so unfair, the typical teenage strop,” confesses Ian. “But in truth we were extremely lucky.
“Now, with that lifestyle dying, it feels more important than ever to highlight and support what these people do.”
As well as enabling the producers to work together, Ian sees his role as sharing their stories with the wider world.
“Everyone loves a good story,” he enthuses. “You can take anyone on a walk, but if you know the landscape and the stories and you can bring them back and cook up something from the land… for me the experience is really down to the charm.
“Your experience is improved by knowing about the product, you know someone has worked hard and with passion to make it the best it can be – you can taste the difference.”
Ian also acts as a valuable contact for people who have ‘relocated from London’ and find themselves thinking ‘we have the pretty cottage… but what next?’
“It is hard if you are used to the city life,” he reveals. “My events are for people who are shattered having worked hard over the week and need an escape. It allows them to step gently into it.”
Knowing where to begin can also pose a challenge for Ian, albeit from the other perspective.
With ‘so much quality’ around his approach begins with ‘just sitting down and working out what you can do’ then letting the venue take the lead.
“We are at Hill Lands Farm which has a farm feel so it is rustic and important to have food and drink that is about that outdoors feel.
“It lends itself to things that are cooked on a spit or wood smoked,” smiles Ian.
“If I was working in Emsworth the first thing I would do is work out what is coming in on the boats.”
The rest is all about giving people just enough to make them want to explore further.
“We will offer a taste and that is important,” he smiles, “we never do the same thing over again and again – we would then be a cafe or a restaurant.
“It is a case of us saying ‘you can go to this event and go there’.
“It is so nice when people come back and say we have done this and that, I feel like I have done my job.”
And it is a job he clearly relishes.
“Just before Christmas I did have a down day,” he insists. “I was out collecting greenery for a wreath making workshop, and you need a lot of greenery for that.
“It was tipping it down and freezing and I was soaked to my knickers. But even then I thought this is awful but it is better, any day, then being in an office.”
What is in a name?
Hector and the Fox was inspired by a visit to the Goodwood Revival where Ian and a colleague at the time were selling tickets for a ball.
“We got dressed up and decided a persona was needed so we became Hector and Fanny,” Ian recalls, adding that the characters soon became a hit and business boomed.
Plans were for the duo to reunite for this venture, but life intervened.
“Sadly, Fanny fell pregnant so she couldn’t join in the fun when I launched the business,” reveals Ian, “but she said ‘you will have to call it Hector and the Fox and I will join in later’.”
Woodfire Cooking, March 5, Hill Lands Farm, £100 (meal for four)
Twiggy Easter Wreath, March 15, Hill Lands Farm, £30
Ramble and Luncheon, March 20, Hill Lands Farm, £8 per child and £25 per adult
February 26, 2016 Food and Drink