Is Cooking work or art?

I have been asked many times what do I do for a living. I generally take the line of least resistance and say caterer. I am now beginning to think that this term doesn’t really cover it all. Looking at a number of my recent clients events I have organised music, marquees, tables, chairs, crockery, glasses, cutlery etc. None of these are cooking. Some may be connected to cooking but in reality they have nothing to do with the process of cooking.

So what should I call myself?

My business card says “Chef and Jolly Nice Chap” which I hope most people will recognise. But does it cover the real business of cooking? I am a great fan of  Franck Pontais. Many will not have heard of Franck. He is a chef who learned his craft in Paris and is now in the UK making a name for himself with Verrines and Terrines. This is his trademark and his book of the same name is fabulous. He now calls himself a Kitchen Artist. When you look at his creations in the book you will understand why.

Mullet and Mussel Verrine cooked at the Oxford Foodie Festival 2012

My chef heroes include Raymond Blanc, Thomas Keller, Gary Rhodes, Gary Jones, and writers such as Elizabeth David. Many more chefs and writers books are on my bookshelf. I use many of them regularly to help me create dining experiences for my clients.
These chefs and writers convey their passion for food, ingredients and regions where great recipes are handed down and developed still. Many of them I would call a “Kitchen Artist” because once the techniques and technical processes are completed the result still comes down to the presentation and appeal of the food on the plate!

Pear Poached in Beetroot Jus with Plums

Pear Poached in Beetroot Jus with Baked Plums

I broadcast regularly on BBC Radio Oxford and in providing the recipes based on seasonality, availability and simplicity I find that cooking live on air has a level of immediacy which adds to the recipe, hopefully making it more real for the listener. Part of this process is about being creative and also making sure that the recipes have that key element, they are easy to do at home.

Lemoncello Creme Brulee with Redcurrants

Lemoncello Creme Brulee with Redcurrants

Well perhaps calling myself a Kitchen Artist might raise an eyebrow with a number of close friends and family but I think describing myself as a caterer does not do what I do justice. I will certainly describe myself as a Chef and look for some other name that reflects not only the process of cooking but also the creativity of cookery. Let me know if you have any suitable alternatives for the term, Chef. Look forward to hearing from you.

Oh, by the way,  I have  started to publish a series of illustrated recipe guides on Amazon for the Kindle. Have a look in the Kindle Shop searching on Paul Bellchambers.

Wallingford Food Festival 2012 – what a lovely day!

The second Wallingford Food Festival 2012 took place on the 25th May. The weather was kind to the point that it was the hottest weekend of the year! The planning for the festival started at the end of 2011 with a date and a plan on having some new attractions and running our own cafe. The goals where to increase the visitor numbers by 750, double the number of producers and increase our sponsors.

Our Sponsors included many from last year and two new sponsors. VZUG provided our kitchen for the cookery demos and our chefs enjoyed working in the professional kitchen they provided. The second new sponsor was The Head Partnership who sponsored our event programme.

Our cookery demos were fantastic! The chefs utilised local produce from many of the producers at the festival.

Gary Jones and team from Le Manoir

Gary Jones and team

Gary Jones (Executive Head Chef at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons) provided a fantastic demo with two main dishes and a delicious taster.

Peter Lien - Chef Manager WI Cookery School

Peter Lien – WI Cookery School

Peter Lien (Chef Manager at the WI Cookery School) cooked up a storm and Nick Crosley showed how the cookers etc could be used to create great food.

Nick Crosley - Development Chef VZUG

Nick Crosley – VZUG

Momo Fujita-Clarkson cooked some delicious Japanese food and I cooked a starter and lamb dish using local ingredients. The VZUG Cookery Kitchen was full for every demo which was great for each of the chefs demonstrating.

Momo - I am Japanese

Momo showing us how to cook Japanese

The Late Chef

Me with Jo Thoenes and Alistair Cooper

In addition to the cookery sessions we had a number of producers presenting their produce:- including Loddon Brewery, Wines Unfurled, Wild by Design and others.  The range of producers was amazing!  Oils, Cheese, Meat, Bread, Cakes, Vegetables, Jams, Preserves, Plants, Indian sauces, Indian food, Japanese food and more.

Fresh Fruits - Yum!

Fresh Strawberries – Yum!

Fresh Veg - lovely!

Fresh Veg – Lovely!

The best Japanese food in Oxfordshire

Japanese sushi at its best!

Beautiful plants

Beautiful plants

To add some extra interest and colour to the festival we had 3 cars from the Aston Martin Owners Club on display and some great static art from Stephen Vince (Sculptor).

The stream of visitors coming through the gate from 10 am was constant and by the end of the day 2500 visitors had explored the range of local produce on display. The 43 producers showed a wonderful range of great produce from vegetables, meat, cheese, beers etc that is produced in Oxfordshire and locally.

We exceeded our goals for increased visitors, producers and sponsors! Festival 2012 was successful in every way but primarily in providing an environment for visitors to see the range of fresh, quality local produce that is available.

The goals of the this years festival have been achieved and we are looking forward to planning next years festival which will be in May 2013, the date will be announced on the festival website – www. , please keep an eye on the site for details.

If you have any feedback or would like to be involved in the 2013 Festival as a chef/producer/sponsor please let me know. And please vote in the poll below.


Press coverage and other ways to promote what you do

Having worked in large corporate environments, marketing to both external and internal audiences, and now for my fledgling business,  I would argue that the same basic principles apply in the small business world as well. Press coverage is tricky and can backfire if you aren’t careful, however, in my experience I have be fortunate to generate more interest and real business through press and media coverage than through any paid advertising.

Examples of this are the profile that Maggie Hartford of the Oxford Times wrote, .

Plus the articles on Pork Pies!

Plus the radio interview on BBC Radio Oxford on Jo Thoenis Afternoon Show earlier this year, which was a lot of fun to do! I was on the show again recently to promote the birthday celebrations for the local market I sell my product at.

Recently, I have made a big effort with the social media thing to start building an online presence which will expand the awareness and potential business opportunities for me. I continue to concentrate on the market and doing local events which will get my product in front of as many people as possible.

There are other ways apart from press, social media etc,  to extend the reach of the business. One example is getting involved with other organisations such as the local district council and business support organisations like the Federation of Small Businesses, BusinessLink and others like the PRIME Initiative.

The PRIME Initiative is a charity set up HRH Prince Charles to help over 50s set up/start and grow their businesses. I first came across the organisation on the web when I was looking at starting The Late Chef. I read through articles and guides on their website which helped me with planning and how to go about getting started.

I have been invited to present the story of The Late Chef at a PRIME event at the British Library on the 30th September. I am extremely excited about this as I hope I can explain my experiences and the benefits I have found being self-employed.

I also hope that this opportunity to promote the business will allow me to reach a wider audience and generate some new business opportunities.

Will let you know how it goes.