Supplying a Foodie Empire

Linda McDonald-Brown spends a day in The Lakes learning about cakes

Cooking is not one of my fortes, an unusual thing to admit I know when my whole life nowadays revolves around encouraging people to keep pigs for their own consumption.

I was never interested in learning the necessary skills as a child, and as I grow into an adult, I would much rather spend time with my horses, than waste time cooking.

Nowadays, even having a family has not made me want to take to the stove; it is therefore left to my husband to take over the role of producing meals in our house.

This is not as bad as it sounds because Graham does actually enjoy cooking, and takes pleasure in producing delicious meals, especially from leftovers.

So when the opportunity came my way, to attend a day’s cookery course at LucyCooks near Kendal in the stunning scenery of the Lake District, there was no way I could turn it down, here was an opportunity to improve my cooking skills and show friends and family that I wasn’t completely hopeless.

Lucy Nicholson, the driving force behind it all, is an amazing and inspirational woman. For starters, LucyCooks is only a part of her foodie empire.

The Lucy Cooks article in SmallHolder Magazine

Coming under the umbrella of Lucy’s of Ambleside, there is a wine bar and Bistro, a cafe, a restaurant and if that isn’t enough, Lucy also offers the discerning customer outside catering and mail order.

For me though, it wasn’t the fact that Lucy has made such a success of her business that impressed me, or the fact that Lucy is so so passionate about buying local produce.

It was the fact that when Lucy talks about buying local, unusually it’s the smallholders and local artisan food shops that she will turn to first rather than the big boys.

Lucy is just as likely to buy pork from the smallholder with just two breeding sows as she is to buy beef from the local farm with a hundred head of cattle.

Not many proprietors can say that and not many proprietors can lay claim to donning wellies and spending time with suppliers on their farms or smallholdings, keeping up to date with rural matters.

For Lucy, buying locally doesn’t just stop at the local farms, as far as humanely possible, even produce that is not usually grown or produced in the area is bought from local businesses rather than faceless companies hundreds of miles away.

In fact Lucy feels so strongly about letting the world know what Cumbria has to offer in the way of delicious food, that she has put together a tape called Lakeland on The Table, featuring 11 Cumbrian food producers, each describing the legends and the secrets behind their produce.

Its not just the exceptional food though that is behind Lucy’s success, it’s the whole package. Eating at Lucy’s on a Plate as I did the evening before the cookery course was a delight. Just reading the menu lifted my spirits and made me smile.

Forget choosing from a menu that instantly told you what you were eating, Lucy’s menu, for most of the time had you guessing until you read the description.

Would you for example have any idea, what was going to be on your plate if you ordered Figaro, Figaro, Figaro or a Bobbing Bobotie, but this is Lucy, she doesn’t follow the rules and it is all part of the attraction.

The staff, many of them students were fantastic and helpful, oozing the confidence that being young and attractive brings.

Lucy hasn’t always worked with food, in fact her background is in the music business, I bet she could tell a tale or two. In 1989 a burning desire for eating local food and knowing the provenance of it led her to open Lucy’s Specialist Grocers.

It was at a time when buying locally was unheard of and knowing where your food came from didn’t really matter. Lucy started to change this, at least in Cumbria and she soon had the support of the local people. It wasn’t long before the success of the deli encouraged her to open Lucy’s on a Plate and from there, well, Lucy was on a roll.

As you would expect from someone who cares so strongly where food comes from, Lucy also has very definite feelings about recycling. Everything is recycled.

Rules and regulations nowadays unfortunately prevent the feeding of any waste to animals, so Lucy composts everything instead and all cardboard, glass etc is recycled.

The day spent at the cookery school was as expected, enjoyable, fun and without pressure even for someone like me who is more at home in the pig pens than in the kitchen.

Everything you needed for the day was included in the price.

Recipes, ingredients, refreshments throughout the day and of course lunch together with a glass of wine which just happened to come from an organic wine merchants steps away from the school – why am I not surprised! There was a surprising mix of people taking part, including a man! And what cookery course wouldn’t be complete without a couple of ‘yummy mummies’.

All of them though were friendly and keen to help each other. Tellingly a large percentage of them had been on one of Lucy’s courses before.

Lucy runs her courses throughout the year and the choice is fantastic. I chose cakes, only because my first two choices Sushi and Italian were fully booked.

Though as it turned out my two young boys thoroughly appreciated my efforts and quickly devoured them within a couple of days of bringing the cakes home.

I must admit I was pleasantly surprised at how they turned out and can only think it was down to the fantastic instruction.

I was lucky enough to stay the night before the course at Broadoaks Country House Hotel, a five star hotel that oozes luxury.

Lucy and Broadoaks have recently got together to offer a 20 per cent reciprocal discount on bookings. If you book to stay with Broadoaks Country House Hotel, LucyCooks will give you a 20 per cent discount off their standard tariff pricing and vica versa, Broadoaks will give you 20 per cent off their standard tariff pricing if you have booked to go on one of Lucy’s cookery courses.

For more information on LucyCooks call 01539 822507 or visit www.lucycooks.co.uk or for more details about rooms and prices at the Broadoaks Country House Hotel call 015394 45566 or visit www.broadoakscountryhouse.co.uk.

From my point of view, a passion for cooking may always allude me, but the inspiration I gained from speaking to Lucy will, I hope, transpire in other things.

LucyCooks is a culinary experience, you just don’t learn, you are inspired and if either you or your spouse is lacking as I am in the cookery skills department.

I would thoroughly recommend a day at LucyCooks as a Christmas or birthday present. I do have one complaint though, I wish I lived closer to Lucys on a Plate.