18 Apr 2004: Moving to the coast from Notting Hill enabled the founders of Green & Black’s, Jo Fairley and Craig Sams, to live the good life. Amy Raphael pays them a visit.
The house is painted in respectful black and white but the front door is a dazzling, brilliant pink. The hallway, covered in paintings of the seaside, is a primal aqua blue. Shoes off, padding down the hallway on the wheat-coloured sisal carpet, there are glimpses of quiet rooms crammed with books and magazines, bright cushions and original Sanderson curtains. A tremendous whirring noise comes from the room at the end of the hallway as lunch is prepared.
In the kitchen Craig Sams is liberally pouring the greenest organic extra virgin olive oil into a blender. He tastes the salad dressing and nods to himself. At the butcher’s block in the middle of the kitchen, Jo Fairley is pouring a gleaming dark brown liquid into a baking dish. She puts the mixing bowl down, wipes a finger round the rim and smiles to herself. The chocolate brownies should taste good today.
Welcome to the Hastings home of Sams and Fairley, the husband and wife team who created the Green & Black’s organic chocolate brand after a holiday to Belize in 1991, where they befriended some Mayan Indians and came home with the idea of creating their 70 per cent cocoa solids chocolate. Since then they have won numerous awards – including OFM ‘s best organic producer prize earlier this year – and are now surely contenders for the most organic couple in Britain.
Sams has an impeccable history as a health food junkie who is now chairman of the Soil Association; Fairley is a former glossy magazine editor whose quest has always been to combine outer and inner beauty. When they first met, Sams turned Fairley on to organic food and she encouraged him to recycle. It was a relationship made in organic heaven.
Together they try to lead as pure a life as possible: the only non-organic food in the kitchen is Marmite; almost every bit of waste is put in huge recycling bags or thrown on the compost; the house paint is organic, the carpet made of natural fibres; nearly all of the furniture and crockery is second-hand, from local junk shops or the Women’s Institute mornings Fairley attends every Friday. Sams wears organic linen shirts and jumpers Fairley has knitted for him from organic wool. Yet they don’t particularly look like hippies or eccentrics: they are simply a modern couple living the good life.
Sams and Fairley, who met at a party in London 22 years ago and became a couple 15 years ago, have adopted a holistic approach to their interest in all things organic. They are aware that Green & Black’s may be the only organic product in some people’s shopping baskets, but they prefer to take things as far as they can – without settling for second best. ‘I will not compromise on quality or style,’ says Fairley firmly. ‘Organic food has to be as good as or better than non-organic food. And as for clothes… I’m not going to walk around looking like I was crocheted.’
Their philosophy naturally extends to the environment; they go everywhere by foot, driving only when absolutely necessary. Travel abroad is anathema as it harms the environment; anyhow, they maximise living in England, swimming in the sea from May to November and taking long walks in the stunning Sussex countryside every weekend. Earlier this year they went on pretty much the first long haul trip since their honeymoon 10 years ago – on a macrobiotic cruise round the Caribbean on an eco-cruise liner.
Sams, 59, lived in and around Notting Hill since he moved to London from his native Nebraska in the mid-Sixties. He opened Seed, Europe’s first macrobiotic restaurant, in 1967 and introduced a basic menu of rice and vegetables for four shillings (20 pence). Regular customers included Marc Bolan, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, the Rolling Stones and Terence Stamp. ‘It was a cool place to hang out for those who were health conscious,’ explains Sams. ‘It was almost like an evangelical church offering a new way of eating.’ Three years later, Sams set up Whole Earth Foods with his brother Gregory; a pioneering organic and macrobiotic food company, it still sells the best organic peanut butter around.
If Sams seemed to be firmly ensconced in west London, then perhaps 47-year-old Fairley was even more of a capital girl. At 23, she was Britain’s youngest-ever magazine editor, editing first Look Now and then Honey. She has co-written two beauty bestsellers – The Beauty Bible and Feel Fab Forever – and once wrote an environment column for the Times . Yet, after a decade in their Portobello Road home, with its roof terrace overflowing with pots of organic vegetables, the archetypal Londoners decided to make the move to the coast.
Fairley puts the brownies in the oven and chats as she washes up. ‘We had a weekend house in Hastings for 10 years and then bought this rectory from the church three years ago,’ she says, yellow Marigolds pulled up to her elbows. She calmly tells the story of the week she lost her best friend and gained a dream house. She found Paula Yates’s body in her Notting Hill home in September 2000, after her friend of 22 years had died from a heroin overdose.
‘It’s an extraordinary story. My best friend died on the Sunday and I had the trauma of dealing with that. As you know, I found her. I was arranging the funeral, which took place near Faversham in Kent. My other best friend, Maggie Alderson, was living in Australia at the time but she just got on a plane and came back.’
Fairley stops washing up for a moment. ‘Before the funeral, I brought Maggie to Hastings to give her a guided tour. I wanted to show her the old rectory that Craig and I had had an eye on for so long. As we turned the corner, we saw a For Sale sign which we discovered had gone up half an hour before. I put a note through the estate agent’s door offering the asking price, even though I didn’t know what it was. On the way to the funeral I kept saying to Maggie: “It’s what Paula would’ve wanted.” Because she would absolutely have seen the funny side of it. We shared a very black sense of humour.’
The offer was accepted and although Fairley was distraught about losing her best friend, she felt destiny had intervened. After all, they had found the kind of spacious, rambling house that makes you want to leave London and, within a year of buying the rectory, they had made the move. The house and garden needed some serious work doing, but many of the original features remain; the kitchen may be from Ikea (coming in at less than £4,000 including appliances) but has Georgian windows and the rooms have central heating but the fire places remain.
The prayer room at the top of the house is now a nursery for visiting children – Sams’s grandchildren alongside Tiger Lily, Yates’s daughter with the late Michael Hutchence, and Fifi Trixibelle, the eldest of Yates’s three daughters with Bob Geldof, both of whom are Fairley’s godchildren – but it retains a spiritual feel. ‘The kids love it here. There’s plenty of space and a big garden to run around. I am hugely fond of Paula’s children; I’ve known them all their lives. And it’s respite for Bob, who has them constantly.’
Before the guests arrive for lunch, Sams offers some tasters. He is always experimenting with food; he is just about to launch his tomato-free sauce, Nomato, and he’s also trying to cook without potatoes. The organic celeriac fritters are sharper and tastier than those using potato and the Nomato sauce, based on a mix of carrots and beetroots, is a great substitute for the real thing. ‘I first made Nomato spaghetti sauce in 1970 with pumpkin purée but there was no market. Now there is; for those on a macrobiotic diet and those with rheumatoid arthritis. Cutting out members of the nightshade family – including tomatoes, potatoes and aubergines – helps to reduce inflammation.’
As Sams goes out to pick some salad leaves from the organically certified vegetable patch, Fairley checks the brownies, which are based on a recipe from the late Linda McCartney. ‘We met Paul and Linda at a reception the Prince of Wales gave at Highgrove [his organic farm]. We found out that they lived up the road from our old weekend house in Hastings, so we swapped numbers. A few days later, the phone rang. “Hi, it’s Linda.” I froze. “Linda who?” Luckily, she saw the funny side of it.’
Fairley and Sams occasionally visited the McCartneys and at some point Linda mentioned that she was unable to recreate her family’s brownie recipe – until Sams experimented with Green & Black’s dark chocolate. ‘She was so pleased to be able to make her family brownies,’ says Fairley. ‘She was an absolutely lovely woman, so down to earth, so passionately organic.’
The guests arrive: Maggie Alderson with her husband Poppy and daughter Peggy, who moved nearby recently, followed by Sally and Stewart, who have lived in the seaside town for over a decade. They all prefer Hastings to the more fashionable Brighton, saying they feel part of a community of writers, artists and novelists.
Lunch is served in the lower part of the garden, which is a suntrap, even in the early spring. Sams and Fairley serve up mushroom soup followed by celeriac frit ters with Nomato sauce and wholemeal spaghetti with Nomato pasta sauce (all cooked by Sams). Dessert is Linda McCartney’s brownies with Green & Black’s ice cream. After an aperitif of Fairley’s homemade orange vodka, a little organic wine is drunk and everyone is in high spirits.
Back in the kitchen, while boiling up some water for tea, Jo Fairley talks about the nearby woodland they recently bought at an auction. ‘We are planting an orchard which will be organically certified; Craig will sell the fruit at local farmers’ markets. We are also using it as a burial ground. Craig’s dad is buried there; he had a green funeral with a wicker coffin.’ She pours the water into a huge second-hand teapot which she bought that morning from a local shop. ‘Both Craig and I will be buried there too. I really like the idea of becoming a tree. I do! I think it’s the ultimate in recycling.’
Nomato ketchup, pasta sauce and soup is available from good food shops from £1.59
To order The Ultimate Natural Beauty Book by Jo Fairley (Kyle Cathie, £14.99) for £12.99 plus p&p, call The Observer’s book service on 0870 066 7989
Linda McCartney’s brownies
300g unsalted butter
300g Green & Black’s dark chocolate (70% dark or 72% cooking chocolate), broken into pieces
5 large eggs
450g granulated sugar
1 tbs vanilla extract
200g plain flour
1 tsp salt
250g dried cherries
preparation time: 15 minutes
cooking time: 25 minutes
makes: 28 brownies
use: 1 baking or roasting tin 34 x 25 cm and at least 6 cm deep
Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/350 F/gas mark 4. Line the baking tin with greaseproof paper or baking parchment. Melt the butter and chocolate together in a heat-proof bowl suspended over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla extract together in a bowl until the mixture is thick and creamy and coats the back of a spoon. Once the butter and the chocolate have melted, remove from the heat and beat in the egg mixture. Sift the flour and salt together, then add them to the mixture and continue to beat until smooth. Stir in the dried cherries.
Pour into the roasting tin, ensuring the mixture is evenly distributed in the tin. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the whole of the top has formed a light brown crust that has started to crack. This giant brownie should not wobble, but should remain gooey on the inside. Leave to cool for 20 minutes in the pan. The greaseproof paper or baking parchment should peel off easily.
The cherries are optional – they weren’t in the original recipe, but they taste really good. Try adding nuts or other dried fruits- or make plain chocolate brownies without any extras at all.