The two questions I get asked at our seasonal cafe more than any other over the summer are: ‘Why aren’t you open over the winter?’ and ‘so what do you do with your winters off?’ The answer to the first question kind of feeds into the answer to the second, as they both relate to investment.
Firstly, although it’s pretty blissful at the Garden Kitchen Café in the summer, it can get a tad cold and dark in the winter out on the fields of Norfolk. Although the Hoveton Estate this time of year may be great for walks and gun sports, it’s not so good for al fresco dining in a courtyard café. The truth is that it would take some hefty investment to insulate our barn to winter dining standards, and though I’m happy to re-invest profits (check out our cart-shed ‘re-vamp’ coming summer 2018) a large part of my enjoyment in running my own business is that I don’t owe the bank a penny, and I don’t have investor ‘angels’ demanding that I explain my profit and loss!
The answer to the second question is that over the winter as well as being a more present father to my two little boys (I’m rather ‘lesser spotted’ at home in the summer months!); in order to remain a competitive business, we also like to invest time into planning and research for both our Garden Kitchen Café and our catering business Alex Chef. Much of the work we do with Alex Chef revolves around weddings, and we aim to improve our offer and business model year upon year. We offer all of our engaged couples a free example of their chosen wedding breakfast for them to try – fifty couples last year! As well as meticulously planning each big day!
In addition, there’s all the behind the scenes activity – websites get updated, menus have to constantly be refreshed, new dishes tried out.All in an effort to remain relevant and enticing, because let’s face it, there’s a lot of very good competition out there for us to stand up against!
In 2018 it’s quite a job to keep up in the hospitality industry, things move pretty fast!
Diets (both chosen and prescribed) are forever gaining or losing momentum, (we will be acknowledging vegans and gluten free much more across the board in 2018). Food fashions are forever dictating what customers may or may not want year upon year. I’m not one to foam and jelly because it’s ‘on trend’ but I like to at least seek out new interesting spice mixes, try unusual seeds, grains and pulses, or discover a new angle to an old classic. I love exploring Norfolk’s food producers, people are offering so much in East Anglia, in every sector – juices, rapeseed oils, cordials, beers, cheeses, preserves.there really are some world class products to be sourced right here.
Unfortunately, unavoidable and substantial food price increases are again predicted this year. This will inevitably force the hospitality industry to think about buying food more carefully. Perhaps being more creative with cheaper meat cuts and lesser used fish, or capitalising on gluts of fruit and vegetables, using new and old techniques such as sous vide or smoking, dehydration, preserving and pickling. I’m considering making our own cordials, butter and bread for the café in 2018, although I know that when the summer months come, time will vanish and I may well be on the phone to our reassuringly reliable suppliers.
At this time of year store cupboard items need to be made too, meats cured, vegetables pickled and chutneys bottled all ready for the year ahead.
It seems that in the kitchen at least, the best methods to combat new obstacles, usually lead me to the tried and tested traditional ways. The old sayings, ‘preserve what you can, eat seasonally and locally when you can and waste as little as you can’, seem as relevant now as ever.
To combat a grey January here’s a bright take on a classic sauce to accompany your New Year’s resolution of a low fat detox diet! Great with fish, chicken and almost any salad.
If you are trying to eat well, it can get a tad tiresome, a homemade mayo is a great way to add a little something special.
Norfolk’s rapeseed oil is second to none, the delicious nutty, corny flavour really shines through in this mayonnaise.
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 250ml extra virgin Norfolk rapeseed oil
- 250ml sunflower oil
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- Juice of ½ lemon
- 1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
- sea salt
Whisk your egg yolks with the vinegar, lemon juice, mustard and a pinch of salt.
Mix your oils together, and whisk into your eggs one drop at a time at first, for the first say, 25 drops or so, then a slow drizzle, until all is incorporated and you have a lovely yellow thick sauce.
Add your sesame seeds, and check for seasoning.
This mayonnaise will keep in the fridge for up to a week.