The third series of The Foodie Bugle Lectures was held at La Fromagerie in Moxon Street, Marylebone on 14th March. In front of a packed shop, all guests sitting at long communal tables in the candlelight of the café, we listened to the stories of Kai Knudsen and Sky Cracknell, founders of England Preserves, Elizabeth Carter, Consultant Editor of The Good Food Guide and Patricia Michelson the founder and owner of La Fromagerie.
Our dinner was passed around on beautiful wooden boards and white platters: charcuterie, cheeses, bread, dips, crudites, spring vegetable soup and a Yorkshire rhubarb tart, all served with the best French wines from La Fromagerie’s cellars. There was time for swapping ideas, asking questions, sharing contacts and making new friends. Here is what we learned.
Sky Cracknell and Kai Knudsen
Sky and Kai founded England Preserves in 2001, preparing their artisan jams, marmalades and chutneys from their home kitchen, sourcing the raw ingredients from trusted farmers’ markets. Their beautiful packaging carries evocative, vintage designs sourced from The Curwen Press by the creative agency Here Design, and labels carry names such as “Bermondsey Bramble”, “Cherry Amour”, “London Marmalade” and “Strawberry Days”. They now supply a number of top retailers, such as La Fromagerie, Neal’s Yard Dairy, Monmouth Coffee, Hotel du Vin and British Airways as well as being stocked in top food suppliers and delicatessens, such as Natoora, Poilane and Tom’s Deli.
Sky and Kai explained how they started making their preserves on a tiny Tricity Tiara cooker, selling them at Ealing farmer’s Market, where the response was hugely enthusiastic. They could not make enough.
Their goal was always to produce a product that was reflective of the British countryside and its natural bounty across the seasons, so they learned about traditional orchard apples of old, and historical recipes for quince and damson cheese, reflecting rich traditions of preserve making in English culinary history.
They very much wanted to make their preserves objects of desire and were helped by Here Design and the Curwen Press in creating their beautiful and covetable packaging.
Almost 90% of their market is now wholesale. When Chefs began to discover their jams and pickles they grew their output to start delivering to cafes, dining rooms, restaurants and even airlines. They realised early on that in order for the brand to develop they could not just sit in their “artisan persona” but develop as a business, evolving, marketing their wares and upscaling.
They described the latter as their biggest challenge: hiring people and getting bigger premises means you need to be really focussed on maintaining the quality of the product and not degrading standards. The dynamics of business growth are not as simple as just doubling ingredients, as everything in the business formula changes. They recommend that artisans remain in as small premises as possible with as few people as possible for as long as possible in order to minimise costs. Volumes have to justify every increased expense.
In order to keep their costs low, rather than hiring a distributor, they delivered their own jars to customers, with Kai driving very long distances to make deliveries as well as helping Sky to run the day to day business.
If they could turn back the hands of time, they would have asked for help much sooner. They advise new artisan food business to reach out and ask for help rather than try to struggle through problems alone.
England Preserves Website: www.englandpreserves.co.uk.
Elizabeth Carter – Consultant Editor of The Good Food Guide
Elizabeth was appointed as Consultant Editor of The Good Food Guide in November 2007. First published in 1951 and written and compiled from scratch every year, it reviews the best restaurants, pubs and cafés throughout the UK. The Good Food Guide does not accept advertising and every inspected meal is paid for.
She has been an active restaurant inspector and contributor to the Guide since the 1990s. Previous roles have included editor of ‘Les Routiers UK and Ireland Guide’ (2002-2004) and editor of the ‘AA Restaurant Guide’ (1997-2000). She has also worked extensively on many other food–related media, including Egon Ronay and Time Out Guides, Square Meal and UKTV Food.
Elizabeth believes that she was born to edit the guide, it was her lifelong dream to be its editor. In the last 25 years she has witnessed a sea change in the dining out culture of the British. She was brought in to revamp the guide because it had become stale, static and slow to adapt to the dining readership whose requirements were growing at the same pace as the growth in the restaurant, café and pub industry.
The Internet signalled the growth of online reviews and this helped to open up feedback and communication. Elizabeth is very proud that really unusual, small and family run businesses are featured in the guide, on an equal footing with really expensive, Michelin starred eateries. Every year the guide is re-written from scratch and every meal is paid for so that nobody can be bribed.
Elizabeth changed the inspectorate as well, she wanted to engage with food writers and foodies who understood the new food revolution, the growth of great food served in pubs and cafes, making the guide accessible, informative and inclusive from the top to the bottom.
The Good Food Guide iApp is now the top bestseller in its category of food and travel and it has enabled the brand to branch out to a much younger group of readers. In 2014 Elizabeth and her team will be publishing their 7th edition and she believes that the standard of food being served in Britain is improving all the time, making Britain a very interesting place to visit for its excellent produce.
The Good Food Guide Website: www.thegoodfoodguide.co.uk.
Patricia Michelson – Co-founder of La Fromagerie
Patricia’s first foray in cheese selling took place when she returned from Meribel with a wheel of Beaufort Chalet d’Alpage, which she proceeded to sell from her garden shed. She had always loved eating, cooking and shopping and had always dreamed of owning her own shop.
From those humble shed beginnings she then progressed to a stall in Camden market and alongside her husband Danny Michelson, she opened the first of their cheese shops in Highbury in 1992 and the second in Marylebone a decade later.
She decided very early on that education was key to selling cheeses that were not well known in Britain twenty years ago, so she wrote very detailed tasting notes for customers to understand the differences in flavour. She worked very long hours for many years, juggling raising a family with managing two retail shops as well as a wholesale business. She sells to some of London’s top restaurants and hotels and, with the help of her very capable Manager, Sarah Bilney, she has branched out into crackers and savoury biscuits to accompany cheese, and these are now sold globally.
Throughout the lecture she had plenty of advice to give to up-and-coming food entrepreneurs: always develop the core of your business, whatever your core product may be; run your business from the heart, invest in staff and their training and look after your suppliers; sell the very best artisanal produce and customers will always keep coming back for more. She urged new artisans to believe in themselves and the profits would follow.
Patricia and Sarah are prolific organisers of events, organising cheese and wine tastings, lectures, book launches and gatherings to widen the community of cheese lovers all around them. Next door to the La Fromagerie shop in Moxon Street is the renowned Ginger Pig butchery and in front Chantal Coady’s Rococo Chocolate Shop will be opening shortly. From their fruit and vegetable suppliers, to the coffee roasters, tea merchants and wine producers, they believe that creating a buzzing foodie hub creates a friendly, welcoming corner for those customers who are looking for authentic, curated food of good provenance.
Patricia is the author of two cheese bibles: “The Cheese Room” published by Penguin in 2001 and “Cheese – The world’s best artisan cheeses”, published by Jacqui Small in 2010.
La Fromagerie website:www.lafromagerie.co.uk
Follow on Twitter: @LaFromagerieUK
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