Interview: Guy Ritchie on his love of the outdoors and playing with fire
We discover filmmaker Guy Ritchie’s new outdoor dining concept, WildKitchen, as he puts it through its paces over lunch with Tempus
Guy Ritchie needs very little introduction. The English director, screenwriter and producer has become a household name since he was catapulted into the limelight in 2000 with the critical and commercial success of his second directorial film Snatch, starring Brad Pitt. The London-based gangster caper followed his debut, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and quickly cemented his reputation as an auteur director.
Other successes followed, including an action-packed Sherlock Holmes franchise starring Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law (2009), and the live-action remake of Disney’s Aladdin (2019). The same year, Guy returned to the British gangster genre for The Gentlemen, which has now been adapted into an eight-part Netflix series expected to be released early next year.
Yet behind the scenes is a man more drawn to the grounding elements of a life in the country than the bright lights of the capital. This ethos is clearly seen in his latest venture, WildKitchens, a new luxury outdoor kitchen concept that allows owners to eat al fresco all year round, in any weather. To launch the concept, Guy has invited us to dine in his own WildKitchen, located in the grounds of Ashcombe House, his beloved family estate in Wiltshire.
“I want to be immersed in nature, that’s really what I’m after,” he says, revealing that he has cooked and eaten most of his meals outside for the past six years. “I love the city, but I just use it for work – I don’t know why people live there. Look what the country can provide in terms of living.”
Sitting in the estate’s tranquil grounds in the comfort of a 12-seater WildKitchen on a sunny afternoon, it’s easy to see why he feels that way. Dragonflies skim across the unnaturally cobalt New Lake (coloured, it transpires, with environmentally safe food dye), backdropped by a lodge-cum-cabin project on the far shore and – a work in progress – a sauna project nearby; this is clearly both a sanctuary and a playground for the prolific filmmaker.
As we settle in for our meal, Guy reveals that the idea was initially sparked by his need for an outdoor heating solution to keep his wife Jacqui comfortable while indulging his own love of eating outside.
“I became obsessed with it eight years ago, spending, I would say, 30 hours a week tinkering on it,” he says. An early prototype was first glimpsed in The Gentlemen. “It was a very early prototype, more of a cobbled tent,” he admits, adding that the kitchen has evolved greatly since then to become his dream personal restaurant.
After 38 prototypes – rigorously tested and refined with the help of famous friends including David Beckham – that first idea has evolved into today’s WildKitchens. Consisting of the WildTent – a fully retractable canvas and hardwood tent that protects diners from capricious weather – and the artisanal WildTable, that combines barbecue grill, wood-fired oven, dining table, cast iron cooking plate, countertop and prep station, WildHalo, natural heat source and a smoke-free controllable fire pit. The result is a stylish al fresco cooking concept that is entirely practical, yet comfortable and elegant.
“You want the benefit of the indoors and the outdoors, so we made the WildTent completely retractable. If you want to furl everything up you are completely outdoors within minutes, but if the wind or rain starts to hit, you just drop the roof and you are completely protected from the elements. And when the evenings get cooler, the table keeps you warm.”
COOKING WITH FIRE
Listening to Guy as he deftly serves up perfectly cooked steaks, talking us through WildKitchen’s many charms, it’s clear that our amiable host delights in the challenge that an open fire brings. The temperamental nature of an open flame seems to ignite a combative spark in him.
“Cooking on fire or embers, you think you’ve cracked it – only to then find out you haven’t,” he laughs. “It’s a little bit unpredictable. Enough to keep you guessing and refining, but not so much that it’s a bore.”
His enthusiasm for this kind of challenge may be the fuel of his invention – part of a wider world he’s creating through his lifestyle brand, The Cashmere Caveman Company.
“Guy Ritchie is a really charismatic person,” says Rich Millbank, Cashmere Caveman’s general manager. “He captivates and holds the room really easily and therefore – even if you’re pulled from pillar to post – it’s always good fun working for him. Guy’s most at ease when he’s cooking, so we’ve had team meetings, and team debriefs while we cook. I think that’s really illustrative of how Guy likes to lead the charge. He’s a practitioner in this as well – this has all come together from him doing it.”
As Guy explains the myriad features and minute design choices that make WildKitchens so unique, you get an insight into the aesthetic vision – and attention to detail – that has gained him such admiration and acclaim as a director. Entering the world as he sees it, every item is beautiful, yet ruthlessly selected and refined to be as functional as it is easy on the eye.
Gazing across the lake, we can see another part of the emerging Cashmere Caveman world in the form of hunting-lodge style cabins, which will eventually become overnight destinations for guests and clients who come to enjoy the estate’s game shoots, fishing or hospitality – Ashcombe already houses Guy’s microbrewery, the Gritchie Brewing Company, with a bar and dining facilities.
Ten years in the making, the cabins are made from natural materials and minimal foundations, with a fully retractable roof. Guy plans for the entire structure to be assembled in less than 24 hours, intended as a more comfortable solution to film set trailers – and an aesthetically pleasing, one to boot. “You don’t make an impact, and you immerse yourself into a natural environment as quickly as possible,” Guy explains.
Rich adds that storytelling is a natural element of the filmmaker’s extra-curricular work. “When Guy’s not film directing or scripting, the businesses provide a brilliant conduit for his creativity and energy. He really invests his care and attention into each of [his brands].
“That’s weaving together tighter in terms of brand identity. Storytelling is clearly a huge part of his personality and character – all the [Gritchie] beers are named after lores. He employs about 160 people which is quite significant. He’s created those businesses as a conduit for his creativity.”
Guy’s time spent on film sets is clearly a major inspiration for his creations, in both a practical and aesthetic sense – and with the WildKitchen complete he is already reaping the benefits. “Now on set we take a small [WildKitchen] and cook on it every day,” he says. “On The Covenant was the first [time], but it was only us using it because nobody else really knew what it did.”
Of the creation process, he says: “first you come up with the idea and then you moodboard the idea. You want it to have a certain aesthetic, so you want the wood, the real canvas; I didn’t want anything plastic. It’s a bit safari.”
When asked about the wider goals for Cashmere Caveman, Guy is unfazed. “I’m just the creative, I’m not really interested in the business of it,” he says.
This is where Rich comes in. “I think the big thing for me is that you’re working with a Hollywood-level creative director whose brain and mind are wired for creativity. He’s always moving at a real tempo and trying to keep pace with him is part of the challenge,” says Rich. “[Guy’s] hand is over the whole aesthetic creative vision of what the Cashmere Caveman Company will become. The aspiration is to have a really strong presence in the outdoor living space, cabins, saunas, hot tubs, the whole panoply of outdoor spaces.
“We’re at the start of the journey [growing] something that’s distinctive and really British – you can tell from Guy’s films that that’s the cloth from which he’s cut,” he adds. “Winning the battle against the British Summer, hosting, having great company and enjoying whatever setting that’s in.”
It looks like this new concept is only the beginning for Guy’s dreams of getting back to nature, but for those yet to discover a taste of WildKitchen’s abilities, the director says fans may catch a glimpse in the upcoming series of The Gentlemen: “It gets quite enough credit… You’ll see.”