Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Local and Lemons

I had an excellent day at the inaugural Foodie Bugle Lectures last Friday. Held at Thyme At Southrop Manor, an exquisite cookery school on a Cotswold country estate, the setting (and the weather) couldn't have been more divine.

The format, after tea, coffee and biscotti made by the organiser, Silvana de Soissons, was a series of 15-minute talks by 'foodies', giving a slice of their life in establishing and running their businesses and addressing that prickly question, "What would I do differently?"

The speakers ranged from the lovely, avuncular Trevor Herbert from Hobbs House Bakery, via the elegant and VERY no messing about Thane Prince to the charming and expansive Jared Brown of Sipsmith and Mixellany. Despite the variety of people and subjects some common themes emerged:

Clarity of purpose - a desire to just do something that meant something. All the speakers had a genuine connection with the very product that they were lovingly nurturing and offering to the market. Chantal Coady's love of chocolate drove her to found Rococo Chocolates with an art school training in textiles and a very helpful Mum. Stacey Hedges went round the best cheesemongers in London, including Paxton and Whitfield and Neal's Yard, to find out what British cheese they needed - and then set out to make it. The result? Her award winning Tunworth.

Connection - their own connection with their love of their product, their ability to understand their role in the bigger world, their understanding of how connections with like-minded people, others doing the same thing - are key to learning and growing, the importance of connecting with your customers, genuinely and honestly. Inviting people into their home for the National Gardens Week gave Sir William and Lady Hanham the opportunity to get close to their customers at Deans Court and build on that close connection.

Delegation - the art of empowering the people that work with you, training, trust, talking, and hiring the RIGHT people. Monika Linton of Brindisa has built up her business with her contagious enthusiasm and got the right person to become her MD.

Marketing - yes, branding and marketing - getting the right message out to the right people is everything - if nobody's heard of you they can't buy your stuff, and it takes a while for people to really hear you. Caryn Hibbert, founder of Thyme At Southrop Manor, understands the importance of her branding and design, and uses her photography to great effect. And it is important to note the entire event was publicised by Silvana using Twitter diligently and effectively.

Integrity - really caring about what you do, the quality, the customer experience, the taste, the ingredients, the impact on the earth etc etc. Trevor Herbert's family values and drive to 'Put Bread on the Table' lie at the heart of the vein of integrity that runs through his six-generation business.

Local and lemons - Thane Prince hit the nail on the head with her mix of enthusiasm, foodie verve and practicality when she talked about the limitations of claims like, "All our food is from a 10 mile radius" as a rallying call. Her point? "Does that mean I won't get lemon in my gin & tonic?" A beautiful abbreviation of the philosophy to respect and encourage local producers but bring in essential ingredients when you need them, and build on our heritage of a mixed multi-cutural community with a great tradition of being a trading nation - local AND lemons.

The lovely Monica Shaw, one of the delegates, has written a thoughtful piece on her blog about the day, with her beautiful photographs. And oh! the lunch - a brilliantly balanced al fresco treat of goat's cheese and nettle frittata, cured ham (George the 2-year old Kuni-Kuni apparently), quail with pesto made with macadamia nuts and wild garlic plus a well-dressed radiccio salad. I finished that off with a naughty helping of chocolate dessert and double cream.