Les Becs collantes

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I bet when you woke up this morning, even in your wildest dreams, two editions of of the Sticky Beaks blog was too much to hope for. This is an international edition, talking about our little trip to France in October, including Les Allues in the Alps, where my brother and his family are in their sixth season running a ski chalet.

They are currently spinning more plates than 10 David Spathakys, you’ll have to Google that, which I definitely didn’t have to. Nope. They have taken on a second chalet (for their incredible business Alpine Ethos), decided to buy a house and rebuild everything apart from the outside walls by themselves and, most importantly, had this little guy:

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That’s Jake. Our nephew, wearing one of the many outfits Laura is going to dress him in for the rest of his life. It was great to spend time together with them and my parents for the first time in a couple of years.

But our family life probably isn’t really what you are interested in, even infants dressed as penguins.

I just wanted to talk about French food really. I’ll endeavour to avoid sounding like some preachy goon who thinks to praise the Europeans’ approach to eating means you have to disparage the way the Brits do things. In fact I think our approach is something our traditionally very culinarily insular neighbours could stand to learn some things from. Thanks to a long-standing tradition of immigration, a desire to explore the unfamiliar and a distinct lack of regard for food miles, the foods on offer in UK restaurants and high st shops are beautifully diverse. I believe that attitude is why Sticky Beaks and our fellow traders can successfully have businesses using flavours and influences from across the globe which customers are interested in trying.

Now, I won’t take you through every meal we ate, but here are a few highlights from our week :

1. First of all – markets. I don’t know how they do it, but French food markets are up there with some of the most enticing places I will ever visit. They somehow manage to just present their veg, fruit, meat and cheese in such a way that makes me go disappointed every time I wander up Walthamstow high st to the sounds of “paaahhhnd a bowwwwwwlll”.

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Maybe It’s a nostalgia for all the holidays in Normandy, Brittany and the Dordogne in my youth, but I get such a sense of excitment and awe when I visit the local markets that exist in every town. It’s essentially most of the stuff we would see and eat every day, so it shouldn’t inspire such wonder in me, but I can’t help it. Maybe it’s the fact you know all the produce is made by those selling it and they live close to the town or maybe it’s because I know I’m going to be eating a rotisserie chicken with potatoes cooked in the roasting juices, but essentially, it isn’t a trip to France without a market visit.

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2. Eating out – it’s a treat of any holiday really, despite now doing it for a living, I probably prefer getting someone else to cook my breakfast/lunch/dinner. We spent a couple of days in Saint Quentin, about 90mins south of Calais. We loved seeing the family but definitely needed some time to ourselves after a really intense few months with Sticky Beaks.

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Europeans seem to bloody love squares in their towns and cities and I suppose they are either tourist traps for restaurants and cafes or great focal points for locals to meet up, spend 4 hours eating lunch then fall asleep until dinner. So we managed to stop for lunch in the sun, Laura had moules frites, with which you can never go wrong.

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I had a salad, in what was probably the loosest use of that description of a dish  ever recorded. It was unbelievably good and indulgent. It included; smoked duck breast, lardons, cured ham, roasted potato cubes and, what I can only imagine was, an entire liver of foie gras.

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I think it was the token lettuce and tomatoes that qualified it as a salad. But only in the way that Kevin Pietersen is considered English.

3. Bread, pastries and confectionary – not much to say here , essentially probably the best in the world at all three. If you don’t believe me, just look at how excited Laura is by her giant macaron.

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But it wasn’t all great. I am going to bust one of the great myths peddled about French cuisine. Brace yourselves….. frogs legs are absolutely disgusting. Actually disgusting is probably a term that should be reserved for food that tastes of something.

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In an otherwise delicious meal, this was the dish that was so pointless, so devoid of flavour, it makes you reconsider if the French actually deserve their worldwide gastronomic reputation. I’ve heard them compared to tasting like chicken, which is essentially an enormous insult to chicken. The point I’m trying to make is, they weren’t very nice.

(Clarkson hat on here, without the not so thinly veiled bigotry) And on that bombshell, I’ll leave you. Hope you managed to get through both of these blogs. I can almost guarantee this prolific spree of musings won’t be a regular occurrence, so lap it up people.

Look at what owning a business does to my face

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I’ve managed to secure a pretty quiet first week of 2015, half through planning, half by chance.

I felt like the letting out of belts following the annual Christmas gorge, followed by their immediate retightening as people simultaneously check their diminished bank balances and increased guts may lead to at least one week where people felt street food might be an extravagance they could live without. Here’s to hoping 5 days of no carbs, gym promises and the inertia sitting at a desk will put sales back to normal from 8th January.

It’s also given me a break from turning our kitchen into a bomb site about 3 times a day to assess the first 6 months of Sticky Beaking and it only makes me break out in a stupid grin to think of the achievements since the summer. See, stupid grin.

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(Not to mention an incredible hair style)

I’m not going to try and convince anyone that it’s been anything like a smooth ride. We’ve made dozens of mistakes, but neither of us are chefs, business experts or lucky enough to have everything go perfectly to plan all the time. Becoming entrepreneurs feels more about multiple fuck ups and what they teach you than anything else, and you’re grateful for every single one.

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December itself was an incredible slog. From November 27th until Christmas Eve there wasn’t a day that didn’t involve trading, cooking or prepping and most of the time, all three. Regularly up at 5-6am and bed at midnight cursing whoever decided that slow roasted meats was a good idea for business model. But it really felt like there was a shift in fortunes. November had promised to be our most lucrative month, but bad business choices meant no profits and even fewer wages. December just felt like we got on a roll. We sold out multiple times, secured great pitches that will continue to ensure the business builds in 2015, got some really heartwarming and humbling feedback, found staff that we can rely on when bigger and better events come along and made the money back that was lost in November and then some. I may have forgotten what Laura looked like and her name every once in a while, but it did mean  her Christmas presents could be bought using money that she didn’t earn, so….. swings and roundabouts.

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Checking the Sticky Beaks business plan, which scarily was being conceived about a year ago when we were job, house and penny-less and living with parents, I think we are actually ahead of schedule. We are doing more weekly markets than expected and selling even more sandwiches than I calculated, the 3 and 5 year goals of getting Laura to join full time and opening the Sticky Beaks cafe may not feel so far away soon. It’d be a risk selling something other than  cereal with pink milk for ¬£3 a bowl, but there should be room for everyone in the market.

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We’ve got some ambitiously high hopes for this year, I am looking to find a commercial space to increase our cooking capacity and it’s only slightly down to the fact everything coming out of our oven has a pulled porkyness to it. A lot more foresight is going into the calendar, with March filling up already, giving us the chance to really target the big bucks at festivals this summer and start to really build a business. It’s invigorating, daunting and a load of other adjectives I would use Google’s synonym tool for if I had time. We hope that you can join us and help to make the equivalent blog in 2016 feature an even stupider grin than the one above.

You’re actually going to get two for the price of one in blogs today. We took a trip to see my bro, his wife and our new nephew Jake in October, which was lovely and full of French food, the pictures which will probably outnumber the words.