British Larder Suffolk

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 25th July 2012
  Madalene Bonvini-Hamel and Ross Pike run The British Larder, a pub restaurant just outside Woodbridge, Suffolk. The British Larder started off as a website created in 2008 as a recipe diary where Maddy and Ross could share their cooking tips and culinary discoveries among likeminded foodies. On 6th August 2010 they opened The British Larder, Suffolk and within the first year it had won awards such as Best Gastro Pub East Anglia 2011 and was one of only 13 new entries in the Good Food Guide that year. Maddy grew up in South Africa. She came to Britain in the summer of 1994 and began her career with Rowley Leigh at Kensington Place as a commis chef. She worked in a number of Michelin starred kitchens, as well as contract catering. Before creating The British Larder with Ross she worked in product development. Ross started his career as a pot washer in his local village pub in Hertfordshire. He worked his way through the ranks from five star hotels to contract catering, which is where he met Maddy.   Ross, Maddy thank you very much for inviting me in. Sum up British Larder Suffolk for me in a paragraph if you can. (Ross) British Larder Suffolk is an evolved pub from a website. We started nearly three years ago in which we wanted to create a place that someone could walk through the door in a pair of shorts or they could come dolled up on a Saturday night in a suit and a tie and just enjoy really good food, cooked really well, not too complicated, but just cooked with of love, using local food, You are living the dream aren’t you?. (Maddy) We are, and my main draw is, British seasonal and regional food. We do not serve strawberries in the middle of December. Why have we lost the seasons? Is it Supermarkets do you think?… (Maddy) I think partly its supermarkets. As a chef… (Ross) It’s just chefs being lazy. (Maddy) No I think that's slightly unfair. Michelin star restaurants drive, is about being consistent. To be consistent you have to serve the same thing every single day exactly the same. When I was working in a Michelin star restaurant in London you’d get asparagus in the middle of December and they’re all perfectly straight, they’re all absolutely the same size and it was normal.. On the contrary I was brought up in a country where we had sanctions. We had to be self-sufficient and we “ate the seasons”. Michelin stars are great, there's a place for them in this world and they absolutely need to exist because it gives us all something to aspire to. If their choice is to use these ingredients great for them and I'm really pleased they’ve managed to actually source the ingredients 365 days of the year. It shows their dedication to what it is that they’ve set out to do. However, our ethos and aim here is to celebrate the seasons and encourage diners to think twice when they are having the urge for asparagus in the middle of December. The British Larder website when you created the website was the end goal to create a living, breathing entity or is it just natural evolution that the pub has come along? (Maddy)No it wasn't. It was a natural evolution. With the website purely we wanted to give something back to this amazing industry. We realised there's a lot of skill lost and there's a lot of fast. People go to catering college, and all of a sudden they walk out a finished article, a chef de partie, I've had young students applying for head chef’s jobs, but who put this idea in their mind? They should go through a development process, and start at the bottom. I've worked with some amazing people who have been hugely generous, whether it’s recipes, advice, experience, or just teaching me about seasons, teaching me about British traditions, whatever the case might be. We just wanted to give something back. The pub came about because we needed to move the website on, people ask when is the cookbook out and the other popular question was where can we eat this food? The Website was a huge success? (Maddy) Oh absolutely. (Ross) Yeah definitely. (Maddy) We did drive it. It became a slight obsession. In my book I write about obsessions and it was definitely obsession from both of us. (Ross) The first year every minute of the day we had spare, we were developing recipes, either photographing dishes, coming up with something all the time. It was all about the website and we both had day jobs. (Maddy) But it came to a point where you’re almost being slightly deflated because you don’t know where is it going to go, it was back to the drawing board to think, ‘Okay what are we going to do?’ and the natural thing came up to have a business. We didn’t know what that business was going to look like. We love our brand, we thoroughly believe in our brand. (Maddy) We looked at a tearoom we looked at pubs, we looked at a restaurant, we looked at a shop, we looked at delis, we looked at… A cookery school would have fitted in my mind yeah. (Maddy) Yes however it needed to accommodate both of us. We're two very big personalities. Do you argue? (Maddy) Oh absolutely but it’s healthy, healthy arguments. (Ross) Yeah, we're both passionate about the British Larder and we just want the best for it and we've always got different ideas about what we're putting our energy into next and we probably think of too many things if there's a downside to that we… So you live together, you work together but is there a time where you just need to be on your own? (Maddy) There was a time when we first set up the British Larder Suffolk when both of us worked in the kitchen and unfortunately it came to a point financially where we’d chosen a really tough county and we had a really, really bad winter. We were snowed in and it was make or break and after a period of time of having so many different general managers, who tried managing us, which is slightly impossible, we are slightly just too difficult to manage, we can't even manage ourselves. It was a very lonely time, we could almost not speak to each other as we where scared. We realise that we have to change how we do things and it’s the best thing we've done for ourselves. Now Ross spent most of his time in the kitchen where he's in his own little world and he manages his own team. I'm a percentage of my time outside front of house and I do have a bit of dabs in the kitchen, I do the bookwork, not physically writing just the cookbook but I'm running the business, I'm general managing the business, hiring, firing, employing, you know, stock take every week, purchasing, the banking, marketing, PR, everything else that it requires to actually run a business. We where and are always putting the business first, then the two dogs and finally our own health and wellbeing. (Ross) And to get the business off the ground in such a short period of time as well.  We don’t like things to go too slow, we're very impatient When you sat down and did your flipchart for your business two years ago what did success look like? Was it profitability, was it still being here? Was it accolades? Was it all of those things? What was your measurement for success? (Ross) Just to have a successful business by employing good people in this area. One of our goals was to employ as many Suffolk-based people as possible to make it sustainable. It wasn't about making loads of money or we wouldn’t have come into a pub. But profit’s not a bad word, we all need profit. (Maddy) Yes (Ross) Yeah we all need profit, accolades was probably one of the things that wasn't on our list. We first spoke about Michelin and it was very quickly put under the table. We had the opportunity to decide which direction we wanted to head for and we didn’t want to put that kind of pressure on ourselves. (Maddy) My biggest fear was and still is failure. Because you both had good jobs yeah? So it was an edge of a cliff moment wasn't it? Yes we literally we had everything we wanted we both had incredibly well paid jobs. We lived the life of Reilly basically. (Maddy) We wanted to build something to be proud of. We did start off thinking that maybe if we build a really good model we can franchise the idea. This way we could encourage more chefs like us who might not have financially the means to set up their own businesses but could have the same kind of ethos in various different parts of the country, things have changed. Our priority list changes often, almost every day. So very successful website, two years down the line, great product, things are going well, lots of people saying wonderful things about you, lots of awards, what does the next two years hold for you? (Maddy)  In our minds we've got a vision on what we see the brand to achieve. We don’t want to speak too much about it because we don't want to jinx our vision. Can you talk about the book? (Maddy) Oh absolutely yes. The book is coming out in November. Called the British Larder? (Maddy) The British Larder, A Cookbook for all seasonal. It celebrates British seasons with 448 pages and12 chapters, a chapter for each month of the year. Each chapter has an introduction, listing the season best followed by aproximaltey12 recipes for each chapter. All together there are about 160 recipes. The recipes are a mixed bag from making flavoured vinegars to how to kill a lobster humanely. But these are all things you would find on the menu here or you practise here or you use here? (Ross) Yeah a good percentage of them. We use the website as our recipe book and we keep on adding dishes we create in the pub to the website. It has a constant flow; slowly we are building the recipe database. As the season progresses our old favourites will reappear from the website onto our menus. We use the website how we envisage other people to use it as well. It inspire and remind us constantly, helping us to keep it fresh, stick to the seasons and cook well. Was there a commercial argument ever in the book? I mean obviously you had a vision, the publisher had a vision. (Ross) Yeah the publisher’s been very open with us, “This is what I want,” and Maddy’s like, “This is what I want,” and it is all coming together. When we discussed the workings of the book with the publisher’s opinion was that there hasn’t been a book like this with this comprehension out for about 15 years. The last one to come out like it was a Reader’s Digest season’s cookbook. Now if you think about that my mum and dad have got one of them sitting on their shelf and we want it to be a book that you could pick up tomorrow or you could pick up in three years time. Something for the future generations to come. So it’s not time bound? (Maddy) No, not at all. I hope I've written a book that has captured my own personality, because if it didn’t then I couldn’t do it from the heart. It is telling a little bit of a story, whether it is from my childhood memories, such as picking pawpaw’s with my grandfather or whether it is cooking in a restaurant in London. It has captured my life, however at the heart of the book it is about British seasonal ingredients. It’s about enough information to inspire people to cook with seasonal British produce. I think the food porn image recipe book’s been done to death hasn’t it? (Maddy) It has yeah. This is about a user-friendly book that hopefully people will pick up and they will refer to. I don’t want people to pick up the book and read it from cover to cover and then put it down. It’ll hopefully be one of those books you can pick up and go to page 25, for example, you read something, you put it down, a week later you come back then you go and read something else. pick it up and read it, put it down etc. and refer back to it when the season is right. (Ross) I think the proudest bit for having the book would be, and this might sound a bit weird, would be going into someone’s house and seeing a clearly used book, having the fingerprint marks all over it and that’s… Battered corners a little bit, yeah, yeah. (Ross) I think that would be, well for me and I haven't done most of the work all I've done is a bit of food for the book, Maddy’s done all the hard work for it but that would be the greatest thing for me to actually see it being used by people. (Maddy) Well not only in homes though I would like to see this in chef’s kitchens too.. I think personally your website appeals to both markets. (Maddy) Oh absolutely and the feedback I'm getting, whether it is an email from Australia saying, “Thank you very much,” to an old lady who has cooked for her friend’s 100th birthday celebration a dish for my website, it appeals to various different people from all walks of life and it’s great. I get an amazing amount of feedback and it’s always positive, people who genuinely from the bottom of their heart, whether it’s a tiny little sentence, they normally start with… “I don’t normally do this, I don’t normally comment on websites but just to thank you for inspiring me,” and then a name and that is it…really humbling and I start to get choked up when I get these kind of emails where people just, “say thank you,” for me it is amazing and that means job done. Well look guys I wish you every success. From a consumer this is just ideal for me, absolutely ideal. It’s just brilliant and I think it’s a great concept and I wish you every success with it. Good luck with the book and thank you very, very much for your time. (Maddy) Thank you Mark for taking the time to come and see us. Thank you very much.  

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 25th July 2012

British Larder Suffolk