A taste of Cornwall Life with James Strawbridge
PUBLISHED: 21:39 13 June 2013 | UPDATED: 22:12 13 June 2013
There is a huge revival in baking that must make many of our grandparents smile. It’s as though we all think that we are the first people to make our own soda bread or that we’re home-baking the first ever ciabatta. I like this domestic pride and renaissance in bread. In fact, it’s another classic example of people taking more responsibility for their own food and anyone who condemns it is obviously not a true fan of bread. The excellent thing about the artisan way of baking is that it celebrates individuality instead of simply the uniform bread of commercial factories. I love the experimentation with textures and taste combinations which I feel puts the art into artisan. To truly master bread you need to put in the hours and if you don’t have time to bake yourself then I would suggest finding a bakery near you that sells Real Bread.
Here in Fowey we are incredibly fortunate that such a new bakery has recently opened. The Quay Bakery is run by Tom French and his partner Nicky Hanks. Located on Webb Street near the main Quay in Fowey it is a fantastic sign of the times; that gourmet bread is now available in another small Cornish town. Nicky’s advice on how to find them is ‘follow your nose’.
Many Cornish towns have inherited narrow, steep streets that may be slightly harder to navigate but for a foody they are worth exploring. Webb Street in particular is on my gourmet radar as it’s quickly becoming the place to eat in Fowey. A select Bohemian style row of shops - an art gallery, trendy sandwich & ice cream bar next door, and a stunning view through to the harbour - which apparently looks stunning at five o’clock in the morning when they’re baking. I’m not sure I will see that anytime soon, so will have to take Nicky’s word for it... Community is very important to Tom and Nicky there is also a strong online scene with social media at its heart. Fowey has a real buzz so check out @quaybakeryfowey on twitter #webbstreet or their websitequaybakery.co.uk Nicky says that if you hear her say ‘tweet my muffins’ it shouldn’t be taken rudely...
The Quay Bakery’s windows have rows of marshmallows, malteasers and other sweet treats in old fashioned glass jars and the busy till is surrounded by stacks of pain au chocolat and daily croissants, caper and sea salt focaccia, muffins, sourdoughs and freshly baked bread. Plus, all the bread baskets and traditional bannetons that you’d expect to find in rural French Boulangerie. Tom describes it as having an ‘accidentally French feel’, it’s a ‘real bakery with the oven in the heart of the shop that looks quite artisan’. However, this is not a village in France this is a taste of Cornwall Life...
I visited Tom and Nicky and asked them about how their bread business started? They explained how it came about after ‘five pints of Ginger Tosser’ but really the story of the Quay Bakery goes back much further. As a couple the two of them have always been passionate about food and working together has been the culmination of lots of time in the industry. From chalets, to metal working, fish and chips to camper-vans they are now living the dream with a thriving bakery and shop. Tom is the baker and Nicky does much of the admin and dealing with wholesale customers whilst also baking all the cakes. When I asked about his background Tom told me how he trained as a Pastry Chef in Bristol and worked some time at the River Station. But in many ways fell into baking through a more technical interest. He studied an art and design degree, did metal work and then started cheffing. Part-time work grew into a proper career and his training fed his enthusiasm. ‘The science bit of it really appeals to me and the simplicity of bread - only four main ingredients.’ He confesses that he got ‘totally hooked’. Nicky chips in that the other aspect they both love is that their shop ‘makes everyone so happy!’ Nicky is a genuine local girl who learnt to bake very young. She tells me that her motivation for the Quay Bakery really comes from being part of a big family who had ‘huge family teas - epic Sundays’. I also think that it is fair to say, that behind every good baker there’s a Nicky - a catalyst in many ways, motivating Tom and in the process rediscovering her own love of baking. They are a lovely couple and I was interested how they make working together work!? Nicky explained that they spent ‘seven months travelling around Europe in a camper-van, so if you can do that you can do this...’ Also she says that they’re ‘very happy with each others company’ plus they ‘get any arguments out of the way before the shop opens.’
Baking revolution & community
As I mentioned earlier I think that nationwide there’s a real fascination with bread and baking at the moment. The Quay Bakery is open to new bread enthusiasts and they ‘love talking to people about any problems with their bread’. It makes them feel like they’re ‘doing something a bit worthwhile’. So the doors are open for people to go in for a chat, tips and advice. I love this classic Cornish attitude ‘have a go at making what you buy here’ and ‘we’re very happy to share tips and techniques and stuff’ sums up the positive vibe in this bakery. For example, they don’t just sell bread but also sourdough kits and lots of quality flour. When I asked how local people have taken to such an artisan style bakery, Nicky told me that, ‘I have been overwhelmed and bowled over by how well we’ve been received - Amazing.’
Gourmet bread doesn’t sound like a stereotypical Cornish product and The Quay Bakery doesn’t sell pasties - they’re next door at Lazy Jacks Kitchen. But what it does is celebrate Cornish ingredients, style, inventiveness and holidays. There’s a focus on cakes, handmade croissants, cookies, and muffins. But also Cornish staples like scones, saffron buns, rolls and of course their delicious breakfast-defining bread! Apparently the people on holiday tend to buy an awful lot of rolls - 300 a day in the summer! I can understand why as the fresh rolls are perfect for picnics. The Quay Bakery also supplies some local cafes and pubs as well as the local farmers’ market on Fridays at Lostwithiel. Seasonal ingredients are always on the menu at the Quay bakery - rhubarb preserves, strawberry jam, and rosemary bread. The winter months especially are a time to preserve and make large batches for the cakes that fly out of the shop in the summer. On the day recipes have a ‘very organic’ approach. Carrot Cake is legendary and the brownies are a bestseller. I listen to a story of how someone came all the way from France to buy their brownies. I have to say that I’ve walked the streets early in the morning and my wife Holly has smelt the chocolate coming from the Quay Bakery’s ovens - guided by our noses we weren’t disappointed - plus we didn’t have to travel from as far as France! For me their ‘Muffin of the Day’ epitomises the Cornish attitude to food - tasty, quirky and fun.
My personal favourite on the menu are the Cheesy Feet - I’ve confess that I’ve regularly stolen these from my son Indy when he falls asleep in his pram. They’re a great little product that came about from a family friend who gave Nicky and Tom a foot -haped cookie cutter.