Continuing my series of interviews with local interesting folk, here is the mouthwateringly innovative Rosie Llewellyn. Rosie runs a pop up supper club, designing and cooking all the menus herself. Next one is on Saturday 18 January – book via http://grubclub.com/a-little-lusciousness-a-little-lusciousness/707
We've all had those a-ha moments (often in the shower or walking to the tube), where and when did you have your little lusciousness aha moment?
I've always loved cooking but never had the confidence to turn it into a career until someone suggested I start bottling my special BBQ sauce I make in order to sell it. My mind wandered, and thoughts of cold market stalls suddenly seemed less appealing, but feeding my food to people in my area seemed like a much better idea! That way they could get more than just sauce, and in fact more than just food – a really great evening out.
Then again, most of us don't follow our great ideas through, so what was the driver in making your dream happen?
A good friend of mine runs the booking website for my pop ups – Grub Club, kind of forced me into it! I’d mentioned to her that I was keen to start doing my own pop ups, but I kept on finding excuses as to why I couldn’t. Sick of my moaning, and a fan of my food, she pushed me into it, and booked me to cater for a small event, and I haven’t looked back!
Tell us the key magical qualities that make a pop up supper club work?
I think the first thing is the most obvious, but it has to be good food. People book pop ups/supper clubs in order to go out and eat. So that’s the number 1 quality I try to make sure is as good as it can be. Having said that, there is so much more that goes into pop ups to make them successful.
The attention to detail and to the guests is also crucial. I could cook the best food in the world, but if I don’t make sure my guests are all happy, comfortable and introduced to each other, then it won’t make for a great night out! Equally from my point of view working on promotion of the night is crucial as with no guests then there’s no supper club! And as a new pop up host, this is one of the most time consuming parts of my preparation.
What kind of people come to your events?
I’ve had photographers, a journalist, an artist, Nigel Slater’s literary agent, tourists, students, office workers and stay at home mums. I’ve been really lucky to have such a wonderfully eclectic mix of people come.
Do people come as friends, couples etc, or do you get singles? Or a mix?
I've done pop ups for 1 group who were all friends, but for example the latest pop up at home, we had a variety of groups – a few couples, some friends but no more than 3 people who knew each other before the night. I'd like to hope that some of them have stayed in touch since!
I seat people on one large table in order to keep the community spirit present, but can also split tables up to cater for small groups of friends who book together, if that’s what they want.
I overheard a conversation between 2 ladies at my last event, one asking the other what she did for a living. I nearly dropped my dishes when I heard her reply that she was a food writer for various national publications!
Do you get nervous before each one?
Yes! Seriously nervous. And it doesn't get better the more I do. I worry about my food not living up to people's standards, I worry about everyone getting on who comes to the meal, I worry about silences I can hear from the kitchen, I worry about our carpets getting mucky…
I wind myself up about far too much, but also find that meticulous planning and lists all over the kitchen tend to help alleviate the worst of my nerves! Plus a strong and emotionally sturdy assistant always helps calm me!
How long does it take you to prepare the food?
I start preparing each event 2 weeks in advance – making ingredient lists, working out weights, tweaking the menu details and ordering all my produce. I still have a full time job which I do Monday – Friday so I normally start the actual cooking during the evenings of the week leading up to the event, although obviously there's lots I can't do til the last minute, so Friday night and Saturday daytime are normally very busy with cooking.
Where do you source the ingredients from?
The source of my ingredients is of huge importance to me. We live in a world where even the most basic of food now has tens of ingredients in it, if not more. My food is about stripping that back to the basics, and serving top end produce that speaks for itself. For example, the beef I'm using for my pies on 14th December is sourced directly from the farm where the cows are bred. This particular farm is called Oxen Park and is on the Devon downs, in the most picturesque setting. The cows are 100% grass reared, having only ever eaten clovers, herbs and traditional grasses such as vernal, timothy, meadow fescue, etc. The taste this produces is extraordinary, and it is so nice knowing exactly where the food has come from.
I source cheese from Somerset, as that's where I grew up. I'm obsessed with Montgomery cheese at the moment so I’m using that for my cheeseboards, having had a tour of their tiny factory a few weeks ago.
The origin of my vegetables is equally important – so many supermarkets sell imported, force grown vegetables that are days old and taste of nothing. I only use vegetables I can get that are naturally in season in the UK when I want them, and I order direct from growers when possible. That way I always have variety through the months, and always get the best produce possible.
Your menus sound mouthwatering – how do you come up with each one?
My menus are 100% based on the seasons. I look at what produce is going to be in its prime at that time and then start to build a menu based on that. I also always try to do a menu that flows – I don't want to do a pie for mains, then more pastry for pudding! If people are coming to my house to eat 4 courses that they can't choose, then it's my responsibility to make sure they get a good variety of food.
It’s also all food that I would love to eat, as the minute I start making up menus that are based on anything else then I’ll lose all authenticity and passion behind my food.
What would you say to someone shy about coming along? Perhaps a mum who misses good wine and good conversation, but hasn't got out on a Saturday night for a while?
I would say come along! What a perfect setting to ease yourself back in with. It’s not a noisy restaurant where you have to clamour for the waiter’s attention. This is home cooked food in a homely environment, eating with other people who want to go to a pop up rather than a restaurant.
It is such a relaxed evening, and really good fun – eating great food, drinking cheap booze as you’ve brought that yourself, and meeting new people from the area. I don’t know many restaurants that offer that!
How do people book?
People can book via Grub Club – http://grubclub.com/a-little-lusciousness-a-little-lusciousness/707. This is a website that’s similar to agency – listing “alternative” dining events that those interested in attending can then book. They charge a small fee that’s included in what the guests pay, but I couldn’t have done this without them, and they’re always there for advice and support when I need it. They offer a really friendly, personable service. If anyone is thinking of setting up their own pop up, then Grub Club are the people to turn to!
Do you do alt menus for veggies, special requirements etc?
Absolutely I do. I wouldn’t want anyone to feel that they couldn’t book one of my events based on what I’ve said I’ll feed people! I’ve got a hen do coming up that I’m doing a pop up for, and I’m doing 3 different main courses to cater for their needs. The one thing I can’t do though, is no nuts. I live in a house with other people, so even if my menu didn’t contain nuts, I could never guarantee that our kitchen is nut free, and that’s therefore a risk that I’m not willing to take!
What's the age limit?
There is no age limit at all! I’ve done a pop up for a 30th birthday, and at my last event we had a 40 year range, with the youngest being around 25 years old, and the oldest over 60. It was brilliant and everyone got along superbly well.
Yum….thanks Rosie for such an inspiring interview…
If you'd like to be featured in a 5 minutes with interview then please drop me a line at Chiswickmum at yahoo.co.uk