A Chat About Chutney with Candi Robertson

IMG_4756 For my first in a series of interviews with some of the best independent food producers in North Norfolk, I had the pleasure of meeting Candi Robertson, the woman behind the “Candi’s Chutney” brand. Having met Candi on a few previous occasions at Farmers’ Markets and foodie events, I was keen to hear how this former head chef ended up making award-winning products from her “chutney barn” in Holt.

Sitting down over a cup of tea with the deliciously warm, fruity smells of chutney wafting in from the kitchen next door, Candi told me that she’d worked as a chef for 22 years and during that time used to make her own small range of chutneys which she sold at local markets. The small profit that she made at these events selling a couple of dozen jars each time funded family holidays and treats for her children. When Candi had to give up working as a chef due to a shoulder problem, she had more time to spend on her own product and in 2012, she had a stand at the two day Holkham Food Festival where the 300 jars she’d taken with her sold out early on the second day. This is when Candi realised that her chutneys had a very promising future.

In the beginning, Candi’s business was home-based but rapid expansion meant that she needed to move into commercial premises in October 2015. During the interview, I had a quick peek in the kitchen and there were four huge pans of parsnip and chilli chutney (her best-selling flavour) on the go, with each pan producing 30 jars of chutney with no preservatives, artificial colours or additives in any of the flavours.

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I was surprised to learn that rather than having a team of kitchen staff, Candi makes the chutney herself so all of the ingredients are hand-prepared, grated, chopped and cooked and then each jar of chutney is hand-filled and hand-labelled. Candi admits it’s a time-consuming process but feels it’s the best way to control quality and ensure the results are consistent. Candi is in the kitchen from Mondays to Fridays and deals with other aspects of the business at weekends – that is, when she’s not attending markets or food festivals.

Currently, there are 186 stockists of Candi’s products in Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire including ‘Bakers and Larners’ and ‘Jimmy’s Farm’. Tearooms, pubs and cafes also have Candi’s Chutney on the menu, for example, The Art Café in Glandford, Pensthorpe Natural Park Café and The Crown Hotel in Wells, to name but a few.

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Candi currently only sells her products within East Anglia and takes great pride in sourcing ingredients from local growers and suppliers although certain items such as cassia bark and star anise have to be obtained from further afield. Candi has won several prestigious awards for her chutney and her most recent success was “Best Norfolk Food Producer” in the Muddy Stiletto Awards 2016 and he brand has just been nominated as a Norfolk Food Hero by the Aylsham Show. Three flavours have also won “Great Taste Awards” namely the Parsnip & Chilli Chutney (2013), the Norfolk Crier Onion Marmalade (2014) and the Spiced Carrot Chutney (2015). Also in 2015, Kettle Crisps chose Candi’s Chutney as the winner of their “Business Mentoring Award”. There were also “highly commended” certificates from the “Norfolk Food & Drink Awards” in 2013 and 2014.

 

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Candi has signed up to the “Proudly Norfolk Food & Drink” labelling scheme and the idea is that products with this label stand out on the shelves when lined up with mass produced items. For the consumer, you know that you are supporting genuine local food producers who care passionately about their products.

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I asked whether, given the amount of recognition Candi’s Chutney has received from the food industry, she had plans to expand the business further. Candi replied that although it’s something she’ll have to consider, she’s is concerned that the business could lose its “small family business” element if she grew too much.

If you’d like to learn how to make chutney yourself, Candi has set up a “Chutney Club” where you can find out the secrets of how to make a good chutney, suggested ingredients and a “how to” technique. Contact Candi via her website or speak to her at one of the foodie events she attends if this is something that would interest you.

Candi will be attending the Royal Norfolk Show on 29th And 30th June 2016 so it’s an ideal opportunity to sample her chutneys and take a few jars home.

This is Candi in full sales mode – always with a smile!

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Other upcoming events for Candi are:

Saturday 2nd July 2016 – Creake Abbey Farmers’ Market

Saturday 9th July 2016 – The Norfolk Diet Farmers’ Market

Saturday 16th July 2016 – White House Farm, Norwich PYO

Sunday 17th July 2016 1pm to 5pm – Barnham Broom Village Fete

 

 

 

Candi’s website is: http://www.candischutney.vpweb.co.uk and she’s also on Facebook and Twitter (@candischutney1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Flavoured Shortbread Bakery – purveyors of very special shortbread

Shortbread 2When I attended the BBC Good Food Festival at Hampton Court last month, I met a lot of food (and drink!) producers and sampled various goodies, some of which I’ve already written about on this blog.

Another stand that I saw, I liked and I tasted at was run by Rayo Earls who makes a variety of flavoured shortbreads. Now you may think that shortbread is shortbread and that’s it but Rayo’s products took it to another level. I’ve had lavender shortbread before (which I have to say isn’t to my taste) and some with nuts in but that’s about as far as my shortbread experience goes. I tend not to make it at home as we aren’t a particularly ‘biscuity’ family.

Rayo had samples of several different shortbreads on offer and of course, I couldn’t write about them without having a nibble first! Rayo flavours her shortbread with a combination of herbs, spices, fruits and nuts and while some combinations may be well known, others are quite different for instance ‘walnut & fennel’, ‘cardamom & pistachio’ and ‘juniper, gin and lemon’. The shortbread itself is made from only butter, flour and sugar and so the flavour combinations are not dulled by additional ingredients or additives (and all ingredients are sourced from the UK with a preference for local suppliers).

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I was interested to find out how Rayo’s company came about. She told me that she had taken a career break from working as an engineering consultant before starting her baking business. Like many people, Rayo baked to relax and after successfully testing some flavoured shortbread on a group of friends, the idea grew from there.

Rayo bases her flavour  combinations on things she thinks will go well together and does a lot of trialling with willing volunteers (I must give her my address!) before finally selecting a flavour that will go on sale. Her target market is quite simply people who love shortbread and enjoy experimenting with new and potentially unusual taste sensations.

At the moment, Rayo has a regular stall at the monthly Farmers’ Market at Walton-On-Thames (9.30am to 2pm on 1st Saturday of the month) and has plans to supply independent shops and farm shops and thus get the shortbread word out there.

If you’d like to read more about Rayo’s company and her variety of flavoured shortbreads – which you can order by post – please visit her website: www.theflavouredshortbreadbakery.com.

I hope to work with more small, independent foodie producers to review their products on my blog. If you know of any that wish to get their name ‘out there’, please point them in my direction!

Disclaimer: I did not receive any freebies from The Flavoured Shortbread Bakery nor was I paid or asked to write this review.