Fotheringhay Christmas Fair

And…we’re off!

The last few weeks have exceeded our expectations on every level. The speed with which things have taken off, the amount of work required to get everything set up, the time it takes to plate up 100 portions of food, and the fact that we can still function after a 24 hour spell in the kitchen.

Our catering blog has suffered profoundly from the lack of time but we have come a long way since the last update. We now have a website, business cards, leaflets and company bags 🙂 We’ve found local suppliers for eggs, honey, vegetables and meat. We’ve gathered almost all required equipment and practiced numerous new recipes. We’ve also been busy with new business.

We are now the regular supplier of sweet and savory bakes for the Waterloo Farm Shop near Market Harborough where we participate in a monthly Taster event. We have catered a Ploughman’s Supper to a 100 people attending a lecture in Fotheringhay. We provided a buffet for an event of 80 guests couple of weeks ago. We took part in the Fotheringhay Christmas and Crafts Fair (and sold out of all items by lunchtime!). We are in talks about numerous future jobs including a wedding for 100 guests!

We’ve had many sleepless nights, drank gallons of coffee, our kitchens often resemble a battle field. Our husbands have been living on cheese on toast and ready meals whilst we prepared yummy dishes for the orders.

We’ve probably aged 10 years in those few months, but we’ve never felt better. It’s such a cliché but doing something you love really does awaken a superpower of energy and motivation.

And it feels like the journey is only just starting.

Business Cards

Inspection – check, Insurance – check………

Following 3 hectic weeks I am finally sitting down to update the blog – the lack of posts guilt has been killing me! I do have a good excuse. Sue and I have been working frantically to get everything ready for the 2nd of October, our first official job. The last few weeks have been spent arranging the inspections from the council to review and approve our kitchens, sorting out specialist insurance, stocking up on produce and equipment, printing business cards and menus and other exciting stuff. Pleased to report that we’re now all sorted! Firstly the inspections. Both Sue and I have been visited by the same lady from the local council. And in both cases the inspections turned out to be much less stressful than feared. We have spoken with the council in the past, so we roughly knew what was expected from each kitchen. I was asked to seal some gaps around the worktops and tiles. Sue had to fit self-closing hinges on the downstairs bathroom’s door. We both decided to have our ovens professionally cleaned.With our kitchens thoroughly scrubbed, equipped with professional kitchen thermometers and with the contents of cupboards and fridges re-arranged to adhere to food safety standards we awaited the inspections. We both got an approval! We will still be inspected on a regular basis to ensure that we maintain the safety standards but the most important thing was that we were ok to start. Only downside is that our ovens are now so clean it’s almost a shame to use them… With the green light from the council we had to look at insurance. Our accountant has recommended a broker with expertise in specialist insurance policies. At roughly £25 per month this came slightly cheaper than we expected and we are now fully covered. We’re also in the process of opening a company bank account. We needed business cards as well. Luckily, I know a very talented graphic designer – my Mum:) Since she designed our logo and the general branding, she knew exactly how the cards should look. We used Moo.com to print them out. They are not the cheapest on the market but the quality was worth the extra £. We ordered a sample pack a few weeks before, and we fell in love with the paper and the finishing. Our cards arrived just in time – a day before the first job! It’s weird how holding that small piece of paper with your details on makes it feel so much more real. And gives you a sense of pride. So that’s it. There are no excuses. Off we go to conquer the world and taste buds. We have two jobs behind us already and so far we have loved every minute. We will let you in on all the details in the next post:)
CIEH_certificate

CIEH Level 2 Qualification – What do you mean I have to pass a test??

If for you, like for me, the years in education are long gone (and almost forgotten) , you will understand my dread at the thought of having to now, all of a sudden, pass a test. But, as it turned out, that’s exactly what I had to do. Amongst the useful brochures sent to me by my local Environmental Health officer was the information that all food handlers handling high-risk food (in this case me) require training to CIEH (Chartered Institute of Environmental Health) Level 2 Award in Food Safety in Catering. I will later learn that this means that not only do I have to attend an allday training at my local council offices, but also, shock and horror, write a test at the end of that day. This I was not expecting. The last test I had to write was the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising exam roughly 7 years ago. I passed, but let me tell you, I did not enjoy that particular experience. I can still remember sitting on the steps of Westminster tube station an hour before the exam and with a mixture of panic and dread reading though my notes one last time. The added stress came from the fact that my employer at the time was paying for me to take this exam and that the results were published for all to see. But this time is different. The hidden blessing of being a mum to a 12 month old is that I have absolutely no time to be worrying about anything not baby related. There is also one other difference. Whilst the secret of marketing mix and SWOT analysis were fairly new to me, food hygiene is my secret obsession….. I scrub my worktops furiously, clean the inside of my fridge regularly and wash any food item entering my kitchen. If this was making me miserable, I would say that it is my OCD. But in actual fact, it’s my guilty pleasure. The different hygiene standards are also a subject of many disagreements between D and I. “Have you washed this?” starts most arguments in our kitchen. So when I realised that the training will be on food hygiene I began to get excited. Not only will I get to spend the day talking to people about washing food, but I will also learn more science facts to be used in discussions with D. Still, the idea of taking an exam was making me nervous. But the nerves were unnecessary. The day consisted of two parts, led by two different local officers. The morning session focuses on presenting the various risks and health hazards that come with handling food. There was a lot of talk about bacteria and the illnesses they can lead to, from the boring old food poisoning to some horrible, fatal cases. (At this point I was having a lot of second thoughts regarding handling food professionally). We also looked at pictures of some horrendous finds, uncovered by the officers on past inspections in dirty food joints. And then the lunch was served…. Luckily the afternoon session put everything in perspective. We went through the food safety management processes, from taking temperature readings when cooking, cooling and storing the food, to delivery times, cleaning and hygiene. I found all this very reassuring. Then came the exam. And I am happy to report that having listened to the lectures during the day, passing was very easy. Two weeks later the results arrived and I am now a qualified safe food handler (to Level 2 anyway..) The only side-effect, since attending this training is that whenever I look at D now, all I can see is bacteria multiplying….

Catering from home – Do I need a commercial kitchen?

When planning to do catering from the security of your home it’s not hard to work out where you’ll be preparing the food. That will most likely be the kitchen. Since I’ve been planning this endeavour for long before we moved home, the size and layout of the kitchen was one of the main factors in our house hunt. When looking at houses, D got to choose his favourite garden. I was allowed to choose everything else, including the kitchen space. And we were lucky enough to find a house that for both of us ticked all the boxes and captured our hearts. I got to cook in my dream kitchen (or what will hopefully be the dream kitchen, one year, one redecoration and way too much money later). Having said all this, I have to admit. I was a bit swayed by the popular misconception that in order to do catering from home, you need a full blown Masterchef style commercial kitchen. Splash backs, 8 burner cooker, industrial freezers. The lot. And, if you have a penchant for Heston, ideally also a dry ice machine. When I finally got around to calling my local authorities to verify this, I was more than a little surprised to be told that a normal, even petite kitchen will do just fine. There are however multiple rules and regulations that the kitchen needs to comply with. To legally run a catering business from home you need to register the premises with your local environmental health services. The application needs to reach them at least 28 days before your open for business. The Food Standard Agency website, an invaluable government source for all information relating to catering industry has a special tab for finding your local authorities. I was dreading the call, as I generally dread getting through all the red tape. But the local Environmental Health Officer turned out to be extremely helpful and soon I was provided with all the information including the requirements for the premises. One source I found particularly helpful is the Starting Up booklet. It’s available to download from the food.gov website here, and it gave me the information on what the rules are regarding the kitchen. The main thing really is that all surfaces (that includes walls, ceilings as well as work surfaces) must be in good condition, smooth and easy to clean. There must be adequate facilities for cooking and washing food, and separate facilities for washing hands. There are also other requirements, (including no pets in the kitchen – sorry Humphrey!), but none of them excessive or unobtainable. Next step – arranging the inspection by the Environmental Health Officer.
Setting up a catering business - documents

Setting up a catering business – to do list

Now that the doubt is dealt with and the decisions have been made, I am moving on to the logistics. Between me now and me the professional caterer, there are many steps and things to consider. To make them into a more manageable action plan I’ve put together a list. There is nothing more satisfying than a good to do list!
  1. Premises
    • Where will I prepare the food?
    • Are there any requirements regarding the premises?
    • Do they need to get inspected / approved?
  2. The Legal and other boring stuff:
    • Should I register a company with HMRC?
    • Registering the business with Food Safety
    • Insurance and Liability
    • Licence – when do I need one?
  3. Training
    • Do I need any specific qualification?
  4. Food, Health and Safety:
    • What are the risks?
    • What processes to put in place to ensure food hygiene and minimise risks?
  5. Equipment:
    • What will I need?
    • Where can I get it from?
  6. All the bits to figure out:
    • What type of catering company do I want to run?
    • What will be my unique angle?
    • How will I stand out from competitors?
    • Will I deliver or offer collection only?
    • What is my target market?
  7. The suppliers:
    • What products will I need?
    • How best to find the suppliers?
  8. The menu:
    • What foods do I want to offer?
    • What about the pricing?
  9. The profits:
    • How do I manage my costs?
    • How to ensure that I make a profit?
  10. The marketing:
    • What will I need? ( business cards, menus, posters and other bits)?
    • How will I get to my target market?
Over the coming months I will be (slowly!) working my way through this list and write about it as I go.  I most likely won’t keep to the exact order of the list, but I’ll try to make it as clear as I can. Exciting times ahead.