Introducing: Rob Howell
For most of us, knowing what we want to do when we grow up is difficult. However, a lucky few can follow a more set path, finding true enjoyment and turning it into a career. This is what happened to Bristol-based chef and restaurateur Rob Howell, turning weekends full of joyful cooking with his Mum into co-founding and heading up the kitchen of Root, Bristol.
At Home in the Kitchen
However much Rob enjoyed the process of cooking, he admits he never really saw it as a career choice until finishing school. Working weekends in a small local restaurant and spending summer in the kitchen of a well-established restaurant in his hometown led to a full time job which presented an array of opportunities. Soaking up all the knowledge he could to match his natural passion for food, Rob learnt from some incredibly skilled chefs.
At 18, the budding chef felt his thirst for knowledge had outgrown his hometown of Wells in Somerset, so he packed his case and took the plunge. The idea of being a young chef in the big city was appealing, and Rob spent some time working in a few restaurants across London, picking up tricks of the trade and gaining more hands-on experience. However, the longing for the company of friends and family eventually drew him back to the South West, but this wasn’t disheartening for Rob as he admits “the area has some of the best produce and suppliers in the country, so it all worked out pretty well.”
Back to His Roots
Upon moving back to the South West, Rob settled into the role of head chef at The Pony & Trap in Chew Manga, Bristol. It was at The Pony that Rob met top chef Josh Eggletons (he was always going to meet Josh here, seeing as he is the owner of restaurant!) who had big plans for an eatery in which vegetables were the main focus of the menu, but didn’t exclude meat and fish.
Rob and the team behind Root felt a restaurant that has a mainly vegetarian menu, with easy vegan substitutions, but also a daily-changing specials board featuring meat and fish dishes, would fit well into the market in Bristol. Not only is this universal appeal something that isn’t seen often (we’re always up for bridging the divide between veggie lovers and meat eaters!), but it also gave Rob the opportunity to work with his now-wife, Megan, and offered a new sense of freedom in the Kitchen…
Root is described simply as a vegetable-focussed, small plate restaurant (with a little meat on the side!) situated in Bristol City’s charming Wapping Wharf, showcasing the best of local produce. Currently, the restaurant is closed due to lockdown restrictions, however Root “at home” offers a taste of the delicious dishes in the meantime.
Although the focus of Root is mainly things that grow in the ground, Rob admits he is still a fan of a piece of meat every now and again. A better understanding of diet and nutrition has taught him the importance of quality, well sourced and high welfare produce, such as grass-fed, organic meat and seasonal produce.
With every dish, Rob places attention on the health of himself and his family (and often customers too!) as well as for the environment and looks to support local businesses wherever possible. For him, this means following the seasons when purchasing food, especially vegetables, and shopping for organic food when he can.
Having said this, the chef does admit to a love of comfort foods and a soft spot in his heart (or should we say stomach?!) for a good Sunday roast. Us too!
Rob has been busy creating a variety of delicious veg-based recipes using fresh produce from the Eversfield Organic farm. He advises avoiding stressing over the outcome of cooking and just trying to enjoy the process. “Don’t be put off when things don’t turn out as expected, it happens and will always be the case.” We couldn’t have put it better ourselves, Rob!
For more of Rob’s delicious Root-based recipes, you can now pre-order his cookbook which is packed full of “small vegetable plates, a little meat on the side.”