“I was working with a woodsman when I was younger and I saw him cut his own finger off”. Mark explains whilst holding an instrument far more than capable of a similar occurrence. The London Log Company are a loose collective of individuals scattered through the city to the rolling countryside. Established in 2006 they’re an independent British company that provides wood and charcoal to the industries in the UK. They make the largest range of single species charcoals in Europe. Their central residence is a small two-door workshop in South East London, filled with paper and hessian sacks of different types of wood and boxes full of charcoal. Apple wood, English Plum and Oak to name just a few, all ticketed and labeled from origin to its then concluding destination.
We were lucky enough to get invited to their yard in Hertfordshire with company owner Mark, a visual array of old machinery, tools, burners and of course wood. A workman’s playground and photographers paradise, here is where much of the charcoal is made and a huge portion of wood is stored. Magnificent chaotic hills of used wood and chippings, ‘jenga’ like stacks of oak and silver birch glisten, towering over us as we make our way round what used to be a functioning pig farm. Lewis, who manages production on the site is maneuvering charcoal from the retort in an old pick up and sealing bags ready for the road as we gaze in awe at his effortless workmanship. The retort is a double-barreled steel oxygen-less sealed flask where the volatile elements are driven off by heat, leaving a high grade fixed carbon charcoal. “Part science, part alchemy and a lot of craft.”
To our left is a pile of unfinished cricket bats, all awaiting their cremated significant end, and nothing is wasted. As we equip Mark’s “Big Green Egg” (a small spherical BBQ oven) with some fresh oak charcoal and some local sausages for lunch I asked Mark more about his passion, his endeavors in charcoal and favorite wood types. “There’s been a huge resurgence of using wood and charcoal smoking techniques, incredibly apparent over the last year. It was a niche product where as now it cycles as a current uniform. It’s a return to craft, purist details that are simple and honest”.
“We aim to give customers as much variety as possible. Jamie Oliver’s’ ‘Barbecoa’ for instance opt for a real classic oak smoke where as ‘Ember Yard’ use the sweet chestnut and apple. It’s all about finding authentic flavor’s using our own original wood. Each individual smoke has a different note, much like single estate tea and coffee beans.” Specialized restaurants take up to around 80% of their business. But LCC has a wide variety of clients who burn wood at home. Canal boats, gypsy caravans, wood fire stoves. The growing move towards craft is both in restaurants and at home.
Mark’s week is made up out of meetings and deliveries, sharing his time between the workshops, farms and being on the road and physical production. Liaising with chefs and delivering to restaurants in the West and East end of London. It’s a demanding job and Mark stresses the importance of being comfortable when spending long days on your feet. Being a loyal fan of Red Wing boots he has two pair of Chukka boots to independently swap between during the day. He uses a Kevlar wrist guard and stainless steel chainmail gloves bought from a butcher that are now more than 30 years old.
“I watch the change in season’s, it keeps my spirit and soul alive, and my head moving in the right direction. I’m a very physical person, the physicality of being close to the product ensures I know its been processed the right way, I can warrant my happiness sending it out to our clients.” He’s a truly unique individual that really strives off the satisfaction he provides to this industry and his customers. His knowledge is acute and direct it paints a picture so vivid you can’t help but feel completely immersed in his work. He has a scientific yet methodical, natural understanding and above all a real thirst for life. When you enjoy what you do, you really believe in it and its plain for others to see. I think this is why more and more people are becoming supportive of what LLC pride themselves on and other independent companies alike because they want to be part of something. Of course you have to pay for these luxuries but it truly isn’t about the money. It’s about the exchange of trade and the building of a community. Support your community and build relationships.