Hugo is a chef and Olive is an artist, together they run Glebe House; a guest house and farm to table restaurant in East Devon area of outstanding natural beauty, offering food and art centric experiences. Time spent in Italy visiting family run farmhouse restaurants inspired them to turn Hugo’s family home in Devon to an English ‘agritourismo’.
OLIVE – My parents moved to the Le Marche region of Italy in my early twenties and when Hugo and I were first together we took every opportunity to spend time there. As an escape from London, it was always a place we felt creatively recharged and inspired.
HUGO - During our time in Le Marche, we grew incredibly fond of some of our local ‘Agritourismos’; working farms with accommodation and small restaurants generously showcasing all of the artisan products from that particular farm. They preserved traditional techniques and championed the local larder.
There was something so satisfying about turning up to a place and being fed whatever was available on that particular farm. They were using pig heads, knuckles and hearts; I knew that nothing was being wasted. It felt generous and homely.
When my grandmother died in 2014, she left me some money to ‘hone a craft’ I knew I wanted to go back to some of these places, spend some time with people like the norchini (pork butchers) and learn more about these skills that had been passed down through the generations.
Shortly after, I travelled to Italy to undertake a professional Salumi course in Tuscany to deepen my knowledge and understanding of the craft. The course involved a number of hands-on practical sessions with experienced Italian norcini whose families have been making salumi for generations. It was an unbelievable privilege to be able to access their knowledge totally unrestricted and to be shown first hand their approach to pork preservation.
My original idea was to start a British Salumi company which I did for a short time. It was called "The Humble Swine" and we sold at a few farmers markets but the balancing act of working full time in the city and trying to make and sell salami at the weekends was too difficult. The day job prevailed in this instance.
For as long as I can remember my parents had run Glebe as a generous and foodie guest house. Every time I came home, I noticed most things we were eating were either from their own garden, one of the local farmers or glut from one of their friends or neighbours. This old-fashioned sense of sharing food within the community was something I felt was unique to the countryside and rural parts of the UK. It was reminiscent of the agrotourismos we’d visited in Italy. When there was talk of selling the family home, we started to think seriously about whether we could make this work for us. After many long talks around our kitchen table, grant applications, planning applications, the idea slowly started to turn into fruition.
With the broader vision of Glebe in mind, I retrained as a chef in 2017. I spent a summer back at home with my parents training at Ashburton Chefs academy then went onto work in London kitchens. Having Glebe as the end goal meant I could be laser focused about the choice of kitchen I worked in, prioritising kitchens that would allow me to continue to develop my knowledge of butchery, fermentation and craft techniques over fine dining restaurants.
Most restaurants in London are restricted by space and the equipment they use but the beauty of Glebe was that we could have the space to execute in the same way I’d been taught by the Norchini’s. There were woods where we could rear our own pigs and we had an old garage I could see could hold the potential as space for curing and ageing. One of the key aspects of the project was to build a specialist aging room to be able to hang and age our pork in a safe and precise manor by regulating the temperature and humidity accurately. We follow more traditional Italian methods of pork preservation (with a leaning towards Tuscany specifically) which is why we use the word "Salumi" instead of "Charcuterie". The aging room also offers an ideal environment to and ferment and pickle vegetables. Something I’d also become incredibly passionate about.
Knowing that bread would also be the underpinning of all meals at Glebe we built our own bakery for making sourdough. We built a polytunnel and growing area where we grow most of the vegetables and herbs for the restaurant. Everything else is sourced from our neighbouring farms.
There were points at the start in early 2021 where it felt like a labour of love, and we seriously doubted everything we were doing mainly because the workload was so huge. But over time, things got a little easier, we quickly understood where more help was required, we developed smarter ways of working but we are still learning every day new ways of doing things. We have surrounded ourselves with other passionate and hardworking individuals like our Head Chef Sam, our general manager Maisy and a team of dedicated and knowledgeable people and we all work amazingly well together as team. We are very fortunate for this.
OLIVE - My mother and my grandmother are/were artists and growing up I was surrounded by colour. Time in Italy with my parents would always involve a lot of time sitting on windy hills and hilltop towns with sketchbooks, studying the changing landscape. My grandparents’ house in Wiltshire was like Charleston House, there were easels everywhere, hand painted decorative chairs, wardrobes, murals and objects that had been loved throughout the generations with a story to tell. When we started to think about the interiors for Glebe, I knew wanted to re-create this sense of home that I felt when surrounded by art and things that had so much thought and love poured into it. I worked with my good friend and interior designer Studio Alexandra to help me bring this to life.
Most of my twenties was spent working in a London advertising agency but an evening oil painting course re-sparked my love of painting, it soon developed into regular work and commissions. I was painting on evenings and weekends, working towards exhibition deadlines. When I became pregnant, I knew it would be impossible to balance all the moving parts as well as Glebe. So much of my artwork at the time was inspired by the sea and the English landscapes I felt like it was my subconscious was calling me back to simplify the moving pieces and commit to a move to the countryside.
Initially I was worried about re-living Hugo’s life and childhood. We had quite independent lives and careers in London, and I was reluctant to let go of the security that our jobs had been providing us. But we had fallen out of love with our jobs in London and after some time, I started to see the opportunity in Glebe and what that meant for a change in lifestyle.
We wanted to be working more with our hands for me that meant spending more time painting. Simultaneously we wanted to be closer to nature and the things that inspire our work and made feel good, the seasons, the sea, walking, growing our own flowers and vegetables.
We also wanted to start a family which meant more space than London could offer us. Both of us grew up in the countryside so moving to Devon felt like we were coming home.
Glebe was already a happy place for so many people, so we didn’t want to lose that sense of a family home. But it needed to be gutted and we needed to start again with how we configured everything to allow for this new incarnation of Glebe as a restaurant and with 7 bedrooms. The house was filled to the brim with antiques and art, some of it we wanted to somehow repurpose – things like the old aga with the Greek tiles, the grape vine in the garden room we felt were the heart of Glebe.
Knowing how special the view at Glebe is and the surrounding countryside I also wanted to house a space for people to feel inspired to create whilst being immersed in the landscape. The West Country attracts some of the most talented artists in the country and being able to work with local artists like Rosie Harbottle and Meg Fatherly who both teach courses here in such an interesting and contemporary style has been so inspiring.
Bringing up a young family and working on site can be very challenging at points and we’ve had to work hard to create boundaries around work and life. I still don’t feel as though I’ve nailed the balance with motherhood, managing Glebe and my painting, but I do feel lucky to be able to bring up our children in this way and preserve something that has been so special for the family over the years. We have created a gallery at Glebe and are developing new cabins and rooms, so the art and interiors are always evolving which keeps me energised. The people we work with feel like extended family, I feel grateful for the community we’ve created and many of the interesting people we who walk through our doors.