Cumbria Foodie by Alan Spedding

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 9th March 2012
I`m a little bit fanatical when it comes to my hobbies , I always set my sights quite high on a particular challenge and then use that as a target to focus on. I set off at 15 years old when I took up the martial arts, obviously gaining a black belt was my goal and once I’d reached it the challenge was over. I followed the Karate with photography when I was 19-20 yrs old and bought myself a Canon A1. My goal this time was to see one of my photos on the front of a magazine in WH Smiths, it only took me a couple of submissions to magazine editors and a few months later my photo appeared on the front cover of Airgun world and a double page glamour shoot in Amateur photographer magazine. That was the photography hobby finished. I then took up rock climbing, trained for a winter indoors then straight out on the Cumbrian lakeland rock faces and tackled an "E grade" (extreme) climb...hobby finished again. I settled into family life , got married had children and went out for a fantastic meal to Sharrow Bay country house hotel in the lakes , it was one of the best restaurants in the country at the time....I was bowled over with Michelin standard food , how anyone could cook to this standard was beyond me...I was hooked. I went back out through the restaurant gates that night a different person.....and my goal for my newly discovered passion was to be able to cook food to the standard of a Michelin starred chef. Next day I went into WH smiths and bought my first cookery book "Raymond Blanc’s Recipes from Le Manoir" and went from there. Long story short , I studied the book , taught myself to cook from both the book and television cookery programmes, contacted the top chefs at the time `Anton Mosimann` , Michel roux , Raymond Blanc and spent days working with them in their kitchens in London. This led on to Masterchef 1992 , Richard and Judy , taking on the channel 4 challenge of running a Michelin starred restaurant for the night in "chef for a night" with Roy Ackerman and various other TV programmes and also winning `family cook of the year`. ...challenge over. In August 2010  I took up food photography and eating out in nice restaurants again. I bought a point n shoot ( fuji finepix S9600 ) and took some photos during a 30 course meal in a restaurant called Lenclume in Cartmel. Chef loved the pics and added a couple to his website www.lenclume.co.uk I then went up to Edinburgh , done the same in a restaurant called the Witchery www.thewitchery.com  They also loved the pics, used them for their website and then invited me back up to shoot the pics for their 3 other restaurants.....and my price.... "a pics for food deal" , they feed me and put me up for the night and I take pics from a diners perspective ( what the punter is actually going to get on their plates).I`ve also started to shoot the food photos for a 180 page hardback cookbook....Could this be a very short end to my new hobby ? Surely not....I like this one. For food photos at home I purchased sheets of glossy white and black acetate (perspex) off eBay for my bases and backgrounds. Some large pieces of Cumbrian slate which I can oil to make nice textured bases for the food. Window light is fantastic for food shots but i also bought a couple of cheap soft boxes (£120 ) off eBay to balance out the shadows. I`ve been getting tips from the top from the high ranking food photographers , Dominic Davis ( he shot Heston Blumenthal's  award winning cookbook ) He’s been keeping me right as I’ve been going along. I used his pics as my benchmark and something to head for. When he shot Heston’s cookbook he actually shot it in Heston’s dusty old garage and with mirrors and white card from B&Q and a couple of Dedo lights...and that’s it....and that was his little secret. Everyone expected him to use a huge studio set up but didn’t realise that it was done so cheaply. As for my day job - I’ve worked at the Sellafield Nuclear complex on the West Cumbrian coast on and off since I left school. I currently work in a Safety and Surveillance job on a Project management team on a new 200 million construction project within the site. I’m an Electrician by trade for my sins and whatever direction that I find myself turning in then at least I always have `fall back` to return to whenever the need arises. The job pays a lot better than anything in the food trade so in turn enables me to eat at the best restaurants and enjoy my fantastic...but expensive hobby. My blog just came about a bit by accident really. I wanted somewhere to store my photographs online so I uploaded them on to the Flickr website. I then got an email message off another subscriber suggesting that I put better versions of them onto a ‘WordPress’ blog along with better descriptions of the story behind the photos. Then discovering that it`s actually free and also idiot proof I registered, found a template that I liked and launched the Cumbriafoodie blog page. My visitor numbers started off slowly at 7/8 per day and then began to grow depending on the blogpost launched and the tags that went with it. Twitter helps a great deal and adding Chefs and other bloggers to my account and blog roll also pushed up visitor numbers. My peak came all of a sudden one day when I made Heston’s "Meat Fruit" at home. I took a few pics during the six days that it took me to make the Mandarin covered chicken liver parfait and then posted.....WOW , my numbers went through the roof with over a thousand hits immediately after launching the online recipe. This was followed by a story in the Irish Times magazine and an online interview with an American magazine. It is my number one visited blog post and most searched for item on the blog....and right up at the top on the Google search engines. So my Cumbriafoodie blog has only been up and running for just over a year now. I can receive anything between 300 and a 1000 visits a day from all over the world.....I`m more than happy with that. It generates lots of new friends with similar passions and it’s a great outlet for my mindless ramblings , reports and photos from within my foodie world. I enjoy creating my own twists on classic recipes and attempting recipes from the Michelin restaurant cookbooks. Also living in Cumbria helps me out with a few stories, we are pretty well known up here in the North for our English lakes country house restaurants so there`s quite a lot to get through. Also it`s a food foragers dreamworld out there. I have the beach five minutes away and the rivers , lakes and mountains ten minutes away. It really is an amazing and very beautiful place to live. As for the future of the Cumbriafoodie blog.....well at the moment I’m enjoying my new interest. It generates good feedback from the chefs, restaurants and foodie people worldwide so it`s up there on the world wide web for the foreseeable future. I’ve had a few invites to various restaurants, overnight stays and free run of their menus in return for a DVD with the photographs on. They’ve then been used on the restaurant websites so I’m more than happy with a food for photos deal. Another big plus is that i always seem to get a few extra courses thrown in once i get my camera out....a nifty little treat now and again. There are negatives to maintaining a blog of course and that’s "time"....it will take me a good week to get a post up on the blog and most of that time is spent editing, preparing and bringing out the best of my photos on Adobe photoshop. Even the good pics still need a bit of care and attention....but it`s all well worthwhile. Follow the Cumbria Foodie on twitter Follow the Cumbria Foodie's Blog         @sped98  

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 9th March 2012

Cumbria Foodie by Alan Spedding