Down a leafy street that straddles the borders of Hackney and Islington, I arrive at a horsebox. The horsebox itself kind of blends into the winter surroundings of the unusually wide neighbourhood road – I assumed that’s why this was the chosen location to park up. I knocked, and was greeted by restaurateur Jeremie Cometto and his adorable son, Dagobert in their horsebox home. I met Jeremie almost 5 years ago, when I perched up on Primeur’s wine bar during their first weeks of opening and have watched him and David Gingell organically grow the neighbourhood food and drink scene since. Suffice to say, when Jeremie sold most of his belongings and announced he was moving into a horsebox his friends at Soma helped him design and build, I was intrigued and wanted to know more about his decision for the lifestyle change and how it was all intrinsically linked to his work and his passions.
Can you describe the journey you took that lead to start your three neighbourhood restaurants?
Like most stories, you fall into it by accident or necessity, you fall in love with it, you learn the trade, you work every position within the industry, you advance through senior roles and then... well, then you take the leap. It takes 20 years to get there but I feel I opened my first restaurant at the right time. Not too early, not too late.
Tell me how you decided on the names for them? We don't think too much about names.
Primeur has French roots; it means first and has both food and wine connotations (a Primeur in France is a vegetable supplier/en Primeur relates to the first batch of wine before it is bottled). Westerns Laundry was the previous use of the building and its original name. And then we just liked the name Jolene for the bakery.
From where do you draw inspiration for each site?
We get excited about produce, and the people who grow/catch/rear/forage them. We care about the soil and how it's cared for. We care about sustainability and we open places we'd like to eat at. People we meet through food/wine trips are hugely inspirational, and often David (my business partner) and I think: “wouldn't it be great if we could create a platform to showcase this, or that...” and pop comes another restaurant. Creating spaces where our staff can grow is hugely important too, so we need to have new projects.
Do you have days where you don’t feel inspired, and if so, how do you overcome this?
You've got to have those days... that's when you get to drink lots of beers with your business partners, and etch new plans on napkins and fag packets!
What does a 'typical day’ running your restaurants look like?
I get up at around 6:33am. Breakfast and school for Bear, and then I walk to work around 8:30am. We don't have a central office, we prefer to be present - on the ground, so to speak. It's too easy to hide away in an office and lose touch with your staff and guests. David and I are visible and available to everyone. When we don't troubleshoot, we get fat eating our own pastries while responding to emails. We finish our days around 3:00pm. We try to spend a shift on the floor at either place when family life allows it.
Do you have a ‘uniform’ for work? Perhaps your wardrobe is for both work and play and there is no separation?
My truck wardrobe is pretty slim, so I tend to buy second-hand and hard-wearing utilitarian clothes, often military. We have aprons at work which I can just wrap around whatever I'm wearing when needed. I save so much time not thinking about what to wear every day, it's wonderful.
So, you sold most of your belongings and moved into a horsebox in the summer of 2018 - what lead you to this decision?
A weekend with my son, unplugged from daily life, where he pulled carrots out of the ground, made fires to boil water for cooking and bathing, and no electricity. That weekend, I realised he learned so much without the distraction and conveniences of the modern world. It dawned on me then, that teaching was more effective through adventure and discovery, and that we had to spend more time outside in nature. To do that, we had to make our home “less comfortable” and more engineered towards adventure, autonomy, education, the environment, and conservation. And now we live in a truck... What’s the best part of truck life? We feel like urban pirates. I love the simplicity of it - I read more, I sleep better hours. Our living room is the world outside and we are hopefully creating relevant experiences and memories. Reusing our own organic waste into fertiliser is pretty cool too!
What’s the worst part of truck life?
The cold is a challenge, but we are getting better at it. Has this way of living changed the way you do business, or did it go hand in hand? The two are very much intertwined. The people who have inspired me to live this way I have met through work, and now we are trying to run our restaurants as responsibly as possible, with minimal impact on the environment, and promoting ethical working methods.
Is there an item in your wardrobe you could not live without?
My woollen hat and mittens are vital in and outside the truck. I'm thin topside and welcome extra insulation. What are your top three ingredients in your home kitchen? Cayenne pepper, parmesan & brazil nuts.
What is your favourite dish to prepare for friends and family?
A big dish of spaghetti, butter, parmesan & amp; fresh cracked pepper with a side of endive, blue cheese & walnuts.
Describe yourself in three words.
I am human.
What’s your biggest weakness?
When you’re not working, how do you like to relax?
What are your favourite places for…
On a wood stove, by the sea, after a winter swim.
Via James Brown & Christie Fels (Blue Mountain School) and nature.
At the moment, it’s Puglia, Southern Italy.
What are you currently…
‘17 Days’ by Prince, Piano and A Microphone 1983.
‘Travels with Charley’ by John Steinbeck.
…most looking forward to?
Building an autonomous passive house in Kent and growing my own food.
Tell me your top three restaurants or cafes (other than your own, of course)?
In london… Towpath Brawn Maos Name three men who inspire you. Masanobu Fukuoka Andy Cato Jacques Massacrier Henry David Thoreau Sir Albert Howard.
What’s the best piece of advice you have been given?
Youth is the time you have in front of you.
Are there any upcoming exciting projects or collaborations you can share with us?
We are opening a little place in Cornwall which we are thrilled about.
Finally, if you weren’t a restaurateur (if that’s what you’d call yourself), what would you be?