Durn Sugar! The answer was literally blowing in the wind, my friend, last Sunday (25/11/2012) at 5 o'clock in the morning.
The high gust speed of 50 mph was in the forecast call - we, street men, know everything about climate change; the first thing you learn on the job, which can make or break a day of trading.
In Brick Lane, under that durn bridge where my bread stall is positioned, regularly every Sunday, that morning, extra salty beef & extra chewy bagels accompanied by plastic bags & empty cans of beer were flying around because of that good durned wind!
It must had been a hell of a climate if even the Chinese noodle guys realized it was a better idea to leave,refusing to set up a tender gazebo in that turbulence. And you know the chinese traders, right? They are laborious, hardworking, disciplined, organised, not the sort of guys who give up easily.
At that moment some intrusive thoughts of self-doubt,indecision & human fragility started to roam into my mind. Let's be clear, my friend, you know how the long hours, all that standing on the job, not getting many hours of sleep, exacerbated by changeable and humid weather, can in the long run wear yourself out. Why don't we just pack up & leave? Why don't we vanish, disappearing in the wind? Who cares?
Well... some people care. I can easily think of few examples, even keeping our hordes of followers in Brick Lane aside.
-The old lady with declining eyesight who every Saturday in Venn Street, Clapham, wanders around the food stalls trying to spot our bacon & cheese turnover.
-The guy in precarious clothes who sells junk in Brick Lane and he does not miss a Sunday without taking some pastries & sweets from us.
-The elderly couple who were left disappointed after braving the morning snow in one rare occasion on Sunday when we had to skip the market.
Those experiences can be referred to the concept of gratitude. Customer service; here to provide a service; to thank, thank & thank your customers again is central. You exist for them.
It reminds me of the existentialism of Heidegger. We, as human beings, exist in an openness where our interactions qualify us and give sense & purpose to our being. That's why it would be more appropriate to use the word 'gratefulness' which implies a state, a condition in which we feel the need to thank something or somebody. Moreover, all our knowledge is intentional, because it tends to something or somebody; we cannot give value & meaning or understand ourselves without referring to other beings. Therefore, in this social openness,our customers define our business.
I would like another more generalisation: as we exist & increase our qualities in relation to others, in the same way, ingredients aquire more value in combination with other ingredients. In pastries, the use of nuts is tempting, but the match of pistachio & almond is irresistible. The same can be said for chocolate & almond. Choux pastry & creme chantilly is another classic.So on. So on.
To summarise, my friend, my stall is my being, that the wind intentionally opens for other beings, my customers, to follow.
The period before Christmas always brings a calm trading in the London streets: a soporiferous combination of passers-by intentionally saving up for the coming holidays and dark,rainy, cold weather.
Unexpectedly, we had a positive week , which would pay off for the days spent in food preparation, for all the early starts & lack of sleep.
In Greenwich on Friday our soups were very popular. A beef goulash made from a Slovak traditional recipe sold out immediately. It was a very super warmer, thanks to the rich sauce including more than a touch of paprika. Obviously all served with handmade soda bread or 100% sourdough rye.
Some people are skeptical about the success of an artisan bakery in a decadent area of East London like Roman Road... on Saturday we were there &, almost contrary to popular belief, we won ; our bread disappeared in just few hours. When high quality joins beauitful handcrafted presentation, the temptation is too powerful to be defeated. It's a fact.
And then... after few days spent coooking soups for several hours, laying hundreds of madeleines on tables to cool down, rising at 5-6 am, here it comes almighty Sunday with Brick Lane market; a human show, bigger than a circus, larger than a theatre with thousands & thousands of participants walking in a crazy,crazy street.
It's a bit of a day of physical & mental struggle for us. Getting up at 4 am, in East London at 5 am setting up the stall, collecting the bread at 6 am when the huge round loaves of rye sourdough are still hot from the oven and ready to trade at 7 am. After that, you stand up & wait till 5 pm,in the meantime, your stock disappears little by little; you see every character of la comedie humaine walking in front of you... rubbish men, prostitutes, bike thieves, fashion designers, photographers, junkies, models,artists, Chinese tourists.....
while you are making a huge effort to keep your eyes open and focus on.
Last Saturday, braving an inclement weather forecast, our tarts & giant meringues appeared in the famous Roman Road Market for the first time. The Mary Portas Team was there filming a new show that Channel 4 should broadcast next Spring. The guys from Tower Hamlets Council asked us to participate in relaunching the historical market in the heart of the East End; they needed a stall with a pretty display and some visually stunning stuff. We obliged.
The locals' response was positive; everyone leaving nearby was happy to finally see different food. Unfortunately, we sold out so quickly that when Mary came over to us for filming, the table was almost empty!
This is a reminder that diversity,colours & variety of tastes are keys to a street market success.
As last year, During the 4 weeks before Christmas, starting on the 30th of November, we would be selling mulled wine & giant handmade mince pies in 'sable' pastry as a special event organised by Greenwich Market.
Where? Outside St. Alfege church in the centre of Greenwich,
Greenwich Church Street SE10 9BJ
When? Friday/Saturday & Sunday from 30th of Nov.