I am sitting in Alice Bamford’s kitchen in Fulham, and I can see and smell that my meal is going to be good. Alice has just finished two catering deliveries for the day, and is now preparing for her “Ode to Asparagus” pop up restaurant tomorrow night, where 18 diners will be feasting on the locally sourced fresh produce she has been out to collect. She called her private chef and catering business “Love a Locavore”, after the American term for someone who only eats from locally bought, grown or reared food.
She is now spooning chilled Vichyssoise into a bowl, and I am eating her squid ink bread, fresh out of the oven, as well as a slice of her spelt loaf. With ingredients so fresh, seasonal and delicious the dish is obviously a triumph. Next up is a rhubarb jelly, which Alice has turned out onto a Calvados snap, and decorated with caramelised purple asparagus, fresh crème anglaise and ginger. It sounds an unlikely combination, but in fact the mix of sweetness and tartness and the earthy fragrace is really pleasing and refreshing. I could eat it twice.
I ask Alice how her love of cooking all began, and it is clear that she has a deeply rooted interest in the provenance of food from family history. Her grandmother and her nanny were excellent cooks, and her parents, who live on a farm in the heart of the Cotswolds, grow their own food in a 2 acre walled kitchen garden. The garden is managed by their helper Boyce Keeling, who also keeps two chickens, Gin and Tonic, from where the family source their eggs. It is from this family farm base that Alice sources crates of ingredients for her supper club and catering business.
She reminisces about being a little girl, coming home from school on a Friday and finding that her dinner was freshly made fishcakes, made with potatoes and curly parsley straight from the garden. “Absolutely nothing beats fresh, home grown produce, there is nothing like it. Everyone wants to come home to it, and that is what I try to provide for my guests.”
Much of her shopping is done within walking distance of her house, or deliveries arrive to her door when she is very busy. Morning Fresh, from under the arches in Clapham bring fruit and vegetables, fish is sourced from H. Formans, Marky Market goes to Smithfields and Billingsgate at 3 a.m. and leaves an ice-box delivery of meat and fish on her doorstep, and she enthuses about Elizabeth King, the delicatessen, food shop, butchery and florist in Parsons Green, where we go later to pick up some supplies.
In October 2009 Alice went to New York to visit a friend, and she stayed for 6 months to do a cookery course at the National Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts. There she learned all about holistic nutrition, vegetarian and vegan cookery and how to create dishes for diners with food intolerances. She loved this experience so much, it formed a seminal work template for all her cooking thereafter and it imparted a deep respect and understanding of the importance of sourcing local, seasonal, fresh food and cooking it very simply with an honest and generous heart.
She tells me how much she loves the whole supper club and pop-up restaurant scene that has developed and grown all over the country in the last few years. She went to a pop-up night at “The Shed” in Stoke Newington, run by Nicola Swift, and from that evening she decided that she wanted to do her own unique events, incorporating the training she had in New York.
By nature she is a very nurturing and gregarious person, with a very wide circle of friends. “I find that friends come over to my pop-up nights, as it really is the only way I get to see them,” she explains. “I work such long hours in my catering business, my boyfriend lives in Portugal and I go and see my parents as often as I can, so my life can be quite hectic”.
The roll call of her many commitments sounds quite overwhelming: she freelances for a catering company called Sugar and Spice in Battersea, as well as another event-caterer, Ginger Jar, as well as running her own business and working for various chef agencies dotted around London.
Aged just 29 she has built up a portfolio of loyal, happy customers who keep asking her back, to organise parties, celebrations, hen nights, weddings and corporate events. I watch her move around her kitchen with the speed of summer lightening: feeding me, sorting the ingredients for tomorrow night, printing out Menus and laying out the table in the dining room.
I read the list of previous Love a Locavore events that she has held here: “A simple Indian supper”, “A French inspired supper”, “The Summer Sessions” and “A Taste of Portugal”. Some of the events have live music and include tapas, harvest festivals, Chinese New Year celebrations and detoxing.
Her cookbook shelf is quite eclectic, but she says her mainstays for reference and learning are the Leith’s cookery bibles and Harold McGee.
We pay a visit to the Elizabeth King shop in Parsons Green and my heart drops. I so wish I had such a beautiful, well-stocked shop in my neck of the woods. Alice worked here briefly, so she knows all the staff very well, and she is updating the owner on the Menus that she will be cooking, checking to ensure that all of her shopping list is sorted.
The diners at her “Ode to Asparagus” night are in for a treat: starting with a Capricorn goat’s cheese and asparagus tartlets, moving on to asparagus mousse with squid ink bread, followed by an asparagus, watercress, rocket and spinach salad with pancetta and hollandaise sauce, then free range chicken thighs stuffed with asparagus spears and Parma ham with a lemon jus, and for pudding the Rhubarb jellies.
This supper club encapsulates a taste of the country in the middle of terraced, leafy suburban London. The ideas, energy and drive behind the events are truly inspiring, they speak to the zeitgeist and all our hearts and beliefs. It’s common sense, committed cooking, and Alice Bamford has common sense and commitment ingrained in her farming family background by the spade.
Alice Bamford – Love a Locavore
E-mail: [email protected]
Facebook Group: “Love a Locavore Catering”