Lifestyle  Stories

Table Manners

Tamsin Carvan always knew what she wanted to do with her life. It’s just that it took this deep-thinking farmer, who also happens to be an accomplished cook, a natural stylist and the founder of the idyllic destination for lovers of handmade food, Tamsin’s Table, a while to get there.

On the eve of the festive season, I spoke to the Tamsin about her love for life on the farm, what it takes to be a good host and her hints for creating an amazing table. When we spoke for this interview, I was charmed by Tamsin’s beautiful, self-effacing style and it was clear that she thinks and cares so much about what she does. This inspired me to take a step back from the perfection of Instagram stylists and look at what it really means to invite people into your home to share the food you’ve made.

Was there a particular moment when you realised you were destined to live as a farmer or was it a plan that came together slowly?

When I was in Year 10 at school, we had to fill in a form detailing what we wanted to do for work experience. I wrote, ‘something with my hands, working outside’, but I ended up doing office-based work, which I did again for another 12 or so years after leaving school. I knew that I was biding time, but hadn’t quite figured out how to make a change. I’ve always known what I needed to do, it just took me a while to get here!

How would you describe your style as a cook and a host?

My hope for our food is that it is generous and delicious, while capturing the simple and unmistakable taste of truly fresh ingredients. As a host, what I want more than anything is for people to feel really at home, and comfortable to talk and laugh.

Can you share some tips for staying relaxed in the kitchen and making sure your guests feel the same?

I’m often asked this but I’m afraid I don’t have a good answer. I’m not sure that I am relaxed in the kitchen – if I was, no food would make it to the table!  But I am really comfortable chatting and cooking at the same time, and maybe that looks relaxed. The cooking and serving of food is wonderful, but in the end it’s an excuse for coming together, sharing a table, conversation and laughs. If nobody is relaxed, it kind of defeats the purpose!

Apart from your wonderful, homegrown food, what are the elements of the table you can’t do without?

We always have fresh flowers, just picked from the garden or the roadside, and always serve food on beautiful old shared platters.

Can you tell us a little about the process of planning and creating a lunch experience at Tamsin’s Table?

This is a hard question to answer as it happens over such a long period of time. We produce all the fruit, vegetables, meat and most of the dairy ourselves so planning can be months, if not years, ahead. For example, I’m training a house cow at the moment who won’t be milked for another nine months, but the training has to happen now otherwise we won’t be able to milk her. This winter we planted the garlic and onions that will see us through the next winter, and I’m just planting out tomatoes that we will use fresh and also bottle. There is feta cheese in brine in the fridge that I made because the peas and broad beans are almost ready to pick and they go so beautifully together. This is also a great way of preserving some of the fresh creamy milk from Tilly our house cow. Today I’m smoking bacon – food that was literally two years in the making. There is so much labour, time, thought and care embedded in the food that we serve.

What dish you can always rely on to please guests?

In winter, it would be one of our own extremely free-ranging roast turkeys, and in summer, handmade orecchiette with a rough pesto of just picked basil, raw almonds, freshly dug garlic and raw green beans.

What advice would you give to a host of a special lunch or dinner when it comes to styling the table?

Not to ‘style’ the table!  It’s best when it feels effortlessly put together but beautiful – I really believe that’s when people feel the most comfortable. Keep it really natural and simple, develop your own style and colour palette, and stay true to this over the years; pure linens and other natural textiles. It will feel much more like you.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself from working on the farm?

Before I lived here I was very attached to the idea that things had to pan out just the way I thought they should otherwise it was a disaster. These days I surprise myself with how comfortable I am with mistakes, or things going wrong or imperfectly. It’s been a gradual process of surrender, but all the while learning and adjusting…and continuing to laugh!

Do you ever think about returning to your old life in the city?

Short answer – no.

Lots of people will be reading this thinking they’d like to change their life like you did. What would you say to them?

If financial security and stability is important to you, then it’s probably not a great idea. This lifestyle is unrelenting and we don’t have days off. However, if like me you don’t make a distinction between work and life and problem solving and physical work energises you, then go for it!  There’s nothing more satisfying.

Let’s pretend you’re hosting your dream ‘harvest lunch’ at TT and you could invite anyone. Who would be on your list?

Well that’s an interesting one. If nothing else I’ve learned that being too interventionist when it comes to trying to create conversation and energy around the table is counterproductive. Everyone has an interesting story to tell. Let it unfold as it will and trust that the magic will look after itself.


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