Noah Ellis is the owner of Nomadic, which creates feasts over fire in a magical woodland setting in Chalfont St Giles. Rebecca Pitcairn finds out more
Noah Ellis’s restaurant-without-walls concept Nomadic, designed to create exceptional edible experiences immersed in nature, has featured in Gordon Ramsay’s Future Food Stars and the team have worked alongside Masterchef champions, Michelin-starred chefs and have catered to Hollywood A-listers.
What inspired you to launch Nomadic?
I used to work in transactional real estate. I worked for eight years in London looking for and analysing property deals for real estate sites but became very disillusioned with it, so left and went and studied for an MBA at London Business School with a view of starting my own business.
There is a Japanese concept called ikigai, which is essentially where passion meets opportunity. I’ve certainly always been passionate about the natural world and enjoyed both eating and cooking and then I saw there was an opportunity to bring people together. Nature and food are a great catalyst in order to facilitate that.
Our original idea was to create a hidden hotel in the middle of the woods, but unfortunately we weren’t given planning permission by the local authority so instead we operate as a pop-up woodland dining experience.
Explain the ‘restaurant with walls’ concept?
We began hosting our woodland feasts in May 2018 as a natural alternative to the formulaic dining experience. We hosted our first woodland feast for friends and family after finding an abandoned clearing in the forest, which forms part of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty [and is part of an estate previously owned by Dame Bridget D’Oyly Carte, heiress to The Savoy Hotel Group]. We located a craftsman to create a huge table out of a fallen tree and invited a local chef, who scoured the land for wild ingredients and gathered fallen wood to cook over.
Our aim as a business is to use food and nature to reconnect our guests with the world around them and our restaurant-without-walls has no boundaries. Food is a universal language and through it, we aim to tell the story of the ancient bluebell woodland and the wild ingredients you can find within it through the dishes we serve our guests.
What can guests expect from a visit to Nomadic?
When guests arrive, they are welcomed with a seasonally-inspired cocktail before they head off on a guided foraging tour around the forest to collect wild ingredients to be incorporated into their meal. We then take them to a stunning glade in the middle of the woods, which is surrounded by ancient forestry, wild fauna and roaming animals such as deer, rabbits and badgers. They sit around a large table, which has been carved out of a birch tree, whilst their four-course meal is cooked on an open fire made from wood gathered from the forest. After the meal we gather around the fire, toast marshmallows and drink hand-picked herbal tea.
What sort of wild ingredients do you help guests forage for?
It varies because we trace the edible landscape through the seasons so what you’ll pick in the spring will be things like wild garlic, gorse or cress and that will form quite a large composition of your meal, as opposed to in autumn when it will be predominantly different types of mushrooms.
Nomadic featured on Gordon Ramsay’s Future Food Stars, what was that like?
I got a phone call out of the blue from someone at the BBC who had previously produced The Apprentice and was exploring a new concept which involved 12 food and drink entrepreneurs taking part in a series of different challenges to win a £150,000 investment from Gordon Ramsay. Twelve months later, we had a BBC film crew and about 200 people turn up to the woods. The contestants were tasked with curating a menu to cook on our open wood fires but, despite us offering some advice, what they came up with didn’t lend itself particularly well to open fire cooking, although it did make good TV of course!
It was a great experience. I only got to speak with Gordon for about five minutes, but he seemed very nice and was very complimentary about what we were doing – that’s got to be one of the highlights of the past few years.
What local people help to create the Nomadic experience?
A local tree surgeon helped us build out all the tablescapes, we work with The Badgers Garden a no dig vegetable garden just five minutes away to supply our veg and Ash Claydon, at The Nagundo Tree, grows fresh flowers and helps us with our decorations.
We’ve also partnered with Treeapp, which supports brands to offset their carbon footprint by planting trees where they’re most needed, and have managed to plant hundreds of trees around the world thanks to donations from our guests. Wanting to own a business which has a force for good both by supporting local people and from an ecological standpoint is really important to me.
Where are your favourite places locally?
I grew up just down the road in Rickmansworth so I love spending time in Chorleywood Common and I really like visiting Chenie Manor with my three young children. We’re really friendly with the team at Rowan Garden Centre, just down the road, and they have been really supportive and, we always encourage our guests to go and visit Chiltern Open Air Museum, which is right next door and, funnily enough, my mum volunteered at when I was growing up.