Now that the dust has settled on Christmas and I’ve had time to sit back and think about the past year, I’ve realised just how much we’ve achieved….and wow its been a real rollercoaster! I thought I’d share a few of the many high’s (and far less low’s) of 2011 with you.
For those in the know we’ve come a long way in a short space of time…there can’t be many supper clubbers with such humble beginnings….I was made redundant, my money had run out and I was signing on…with fifteen job rejections, a mortgage to pay, two kids and a marriage that was under increasing pressure as the reality of living on one salary took its toll it was time to do something. Things were getting really tough and I was pretty down. But then I had this mad idea. “Let’s set up a supper club, there are lots of people doing it now in London”…I knew we could do it and I thought it would be fun at least while I was searching for a ‘proper’ job. The family went along with it and so I chucked the last of my cash and a great deal of dole money into funding and setting up the first Welsh supper club. We scoured charity shops and boot fairs to find plates and dishes as enthusiastically as I put my creative energy and love of writing into this blog. It was a risk but I had little left to lose. I didn’t know if it would work up here in the mountains of Wales, if anyone would read my work or come and eat my food so I gave it a year. That was October 2009 and a year on there was no going back.
Two things happened at the end of 2010 that made me carry on. First Rachel’s dairy emailed me and asked me to sample and write about some of their products; that made me realise that people were actually reading my blog and second ITV contacted me and asked if I would consider being part of Britain’s Best Dish.
2011 began with a whirlwind of auditions and TV filming. Had I anticipated how far I would get in the competition I might have attempted to cook something more exciting than a trifle! But it was amazing to win for Wales and a huge amount of fun. I met some inspiring people (Sarah of Food for Think, Julie who went on to start her own supper club the Raspberry bush supper club in Blaenavon and of course Conor the 14-year-old lad who eventually won over all). At the same time I started a Creative writing MA at Kingston University but as the success of supper club grew and the lack of academic jobs remained I took another bold step and registered as self-employed, this took my catering to a business level. Helped by a small business grant from Menter a Busness and financial help from an old and good friend (you know who you are) I had enough to buy basic equipment, stock and insurance and so I was away!
In between all of this….
the local produce market committee asked me to join them in establishing a monthly market for my town Bethesda (Gwynedd) and to run a pop-up cafe; both have been a roaring success and huge amounts of fun.
I’ve made jam and chutney by the vat-full and people have bought it and come back for more.
I’ve taken our supper club from being a monthly hit and miss dinner to being fully booked a month in advance, usually with a waiting list.
and I’ve cooked some lovely food, found and developed new recipes and surprised myself a lot!
Still our financial fortunes were not great…there were times I had to borrow money from family and friends just to fund supper club and I still had to cancel occasional dates due to low-interest and lack of money. These days we are so well established this no longer happens. I have also built great business relationships and trust with most of our local producers.
I have cooked for some lovely, wonderful people and have forged great friendships (including lots of the wonderful local producers that supply the most amazing produce) and supper club retains the same buzz and excitement it did when I began. I have worked with some wonderful local people…Gemma Brook, designer of my jam jar labels and business cards, she faultlessly transferred my ideas on to a jam label; Sophia Ingham of Phia designs for her wonderful supply of beautiful organic cotton table linen, aprons, bunting etc. and for standing in as waitress and jam seller when we need an extra pair of hands; Sean McClearn for chatting up the local ladies who bought jam in response and the small posse of teenage waitresses that are so keen (Rosie McClearn, Elin Cain and all the others that have helped out).
The summer arrived and through Ellie of salad club I got the opportunity to cook for the wonderful crew and production team at the Green Man festival. I met Delyth from Calon y Gegin in Cardiff. She contacted me when she was setting up her supper club so it was a chance to meet in person and work together. It was hard. Sixteen hours a day of flat-out cooking and a very steep learning curve but it was also one of the best months of my life despite the strain it put on me and the family. It was also the first time I’d paid myself properly since going self-employed so that was a major plus!
This was closely followed by more festival catering, this time Harvest at Jimmy’s where I finally met Ellie and Rosie of salad club after two years of email communication. They were the loveliest people to work with and we had a whale of a time. I also met some of my foodie hero’s; Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Stevie Parle and Jay Rayner.
Conwy Feast invited me to cook up a ‘supper club’ alongside accomplished chef Jimmy Williams. It was amazing to cook on the same bill as Bryn Williams, michelin starred chef Bryan Williams and Aled Williams from Cennin (above MooBaaOink). I also met Morfudd Richards and Sian Lloyd and made lots of new friends and fans, including twitter follows from some of my musician hero’s.
I catered for my first wedding and business lunch, both nerve-wracking and hard work but enjoyable and successful
I finished my creative writing MA with a distinction and hopefully my writing has improved as a result.
I finished the year with a nomination for the Daily Post food hero 2011 and although I didn’t win it was still a great honour to be held in the same esteem as the other amazing producers up for nomination and perhaps a fitting end to a year of hard work. The runners-up, Rhyd y Delyn cheese, Helen Holland from Mon ar Lwy ice cream and the clear winner MooBaaOink in Beaumaris were all totally deserving. They too work damn hard to make the best.
…..and on to 2012. What next you may ask. There are plans….lots of them. I want to write more, visit more people to see what they producing and am planning lots of collaboration! There are new supper club dates with a more formal set-up. We will be doing one weekend on and one-off with Friday and Saturday night dinners. I also have four weddings in my diary during the summer months and who knows what else!
For Christmas I was given a little note-book for writing down my recipes! Hopefully this also marks the beginning of what might eventually become a book on modern seasonal Welsh food (for all the family). All I need now is a decent camera and to remember to take some photos!
Also I’d love it if more readers posted their comments on this blog…a little bit of feedback from readers goes a long way 🙂
So a happy new year to you all and I hope it is fantastic, amazing and prosperous. Maybe I will see one or two of you around the supper club table
Denise & co xxxxx