This is the end .... of the year, my sweet friends. Time for analysis, reports, summaries which demand pragmatism & reality checks of an ongoing business ; even if a nostalgic abandon seems to move us towards the end of January 2013, when we'll celebrate our 4th St.Sugar anniversary.
So? How did we do ? How was our performance in 2012 ?
Well... What can I say? We did & we are doing exceptionally well. Considering that many businesses are feeling the crunch after the recession, plus the added pressure of an increasing competition for the best pitches & so many people becoming self-employed jumping the street food revolution bandwagon, we never did better.
Competition is good, competiton is great; it emphasises what is truly handmade, where the high quality is, it separates the trolls from the artisans putting the best on high horses.
There was a gap in the market 4 years ago in London & that gap is still there: upmarket patisseries in the tradition of the great French pastry chefs where beauty & superb craftmanship join forces together to turn food into art. It happens in Paris & Tokyo, a megalopolis like London deserves to have the same. In Britain the focus seems to be mainly on snacks & savouries, food to feed you, instead of
-food to please you
-food for food's sake, in the name of Aesthetics.
We are doing our bit to propose a new perspective. I'm sure we'll get there eventually.
In the meantime we had to make some tough choices in difficult times.
After displaying thousands of colourful giant French meringues in the Covent Garden Piazza & being, proudly, the first ones to start new street food trends over there - like our own version of Eton Mess during the summer & the hearthy combo of soups & artisan bread during the cold months, we had to leave that market.
Apparently, restaurants & cafes in the area were resenting our food challenge. Well... I am, nonetheless, proud, in few years of trading in Covent Garden,to have informed thousands & thousands of tourists from any part of the world about the existence of British classics like bread&butter pudding, Eton mess & tea slices.
When it's necessary to move on, you need to know what you stand for. I believe you need to have some ethics even in business because you cannot play a game without rules - as Kant said ; the starry skies above me, the moral law inside me.
We decided to turn down the invitation to attend a new high-standard farmers Market in Old Spitafields starting in 2013 on sat, in order to concentrate of what we have, represented by our regular & growing number of customers.
Moreover, who needs to grow, when you already trade in a road which was part of the Roman Empire : Roman Road Market!
Recently I've been maturing few ideas due to new economic & philosophical reads, with increasing environmental credentials floating into my brain. I am looking for a new, more resposible & sustainable approach in business,which puts producers & consumers face-to-face with direct & personalised offering & service.
Call me crazy, but I even came out with a new oxymoron :
Small is the new Big.
Enough said for 2012. Time to continue the Christmassy celebrations.
I'll leave you with some peace:
Please allow me to be cynical, it's Xmas.
Before the adjectivation goes overboard starting this weekend when the festive season commences & all you can hear would be a proliferation of 'delicious', 'scrumptious', 'tasty', 'indulgent', 'luscious','superb', 'lavish',.... even 'sexy' sometimes. Rightly so because it's the time of the year when we should celebrate & everybody has the right to enjoy himself as he/she pleases.
Before initiating the feast & reverting to my usual positive & jovial mood, let me use irony, sarcasm to unleash my repressed aggression in the role of a doomsayer.
To be honest, I am fed up with meat at the end of the year. One of my New Year's resolution would be to eat less of it.
Don't get me wrong, a double whopper meal was my favourite lunch when I first came to London & still, rarely, I am weak & foolish enough to punish myself with a family bucket to devour on my own.
As Bob Dylan said I am younger now & , personally, diced steak & pinky burger don't go effortlessy down my elegant throat anymore; when they do they get stuck in my intestines for ages.
My stomach has become too sensitive or it's the subliminal effect of my intensive reading addiction.
I found an interesting article in the books review of The Sunday Times culture section regarding the history of the treatment of animals in Britain ( 'Animal Encounters:Human and Animal Interaction in Britain from the Norman Conquest to World War One' by Arthur MacGregor). Apart from confirming the exploitation of beasts & a diet relying heavily on meat in the past, it was very intriguing a mention to a theory of plenitude; we humans seem to be so positive & optimistic to believe that our world has got plenty of stuff, that our resources & supplies would never end. It seems to be in keeping with the narcissism of nowadays, when we can, individualistically, consume as much as possible without care for future generation & the planet.
There is the environmental issue of meat production which can negatively impact on eco-systems & poses questions of sustainability. There is the health risk of meat consumption with several scientific publications linking a carnivore's diet with an increase in death, cancer & heart attacks. There is the recent controversy about food hygiene between Westminster Council & burger restaurants concerning meat served bloody or in 50 shades of pinkish.
Above all, there is a trend, a buzz, a beefy hashtag wich has uncounsciously dominated us all since the recession started: a desire to be hippy. It was cool, it was affordable.
In the beginning it was about clothes, then we moved from our bodies to other bodies & therefore meat. When we became all covered with moustaches, beards & any sort of hair, we needed a catwalk to show it off & what's better than a street market? By coincidence,wandering kerbs, we found ourselves very attracted to our childhood naughty & greasy food: salty, sugary & juicy slabs of meat modified in every form & aggregated to filling ingredients & spices.
Before there was the guilt of eating junk food, the bad image of burgers & chips so... a cosmetic meaty make-up was required: local suppliers, handmade products, posh chips, cool & young traders always handling a smartphone for regular tweets. Ohhhh.... clever marketing can win hearts & wallets.
It's like being posh upside-down, when we queue under the rain for a trendy burger joint in cool Clapham or Shoreditch which don't accept bookings, in order to eat some messy food ,without the availability of the greatest invention in human history -a fork.
Asking how American-style processed cheese is really made & asking why some American/Mexican bottocks are so ginormous is like asking Bob Dylan how many miles a man needs to run to digest a burger.
Thanks for listening. It's time to go back to my ironic cheese straws.
December is the cruellest month,
breeding sweet mulled wine from dead grapes, mixing
childhood memories with more refined sweetness, stirring
root vegetables with fresh frost.
As T. S. Eliot would say, December is a month of high expectations for a perfect family in a perfect house which always fails to fully materialize. There would always be something missing, not fully understood & hanging in the freezing air like suspended snow.
Frozen fingers cannot hold tongs so it wears you out standing in the cold, protecting your market stall.
When the Xmas hype appears, the flow of advertising fluently would take you away, especially if you are a novice in the street food scene. Xmas fairs, festivals, community special projects, foodies get-together & secret supper clubs would present themselves under a spotless pine with expensive fees & dreaming about the boom of trade you may expect, you would end up with a lot of regret.
Shoppers too busy with their familiar Xmas affairs or too frightened of the Met Office weather forecast would excuse themselves from leaving their cosy, warm fireplace. A deserted sidetrack of stalls would leave you
high & dry.
They know the game too well in Greenwich where experienced food traders who regularly, year after year, have been there, without wallowing in somebody else's mire, depart for a long holiday in the middle of December.
Xmas is the bust which has no boom, a-part from the gift shop; an exported Olympics where too emphasys on streets full of traffic jam, leave the street with no traffic a-tall.
No hope? There is hope in fidelity & reward in loyalty. Week after week, hour after hour, same pitch, same street, perseverance & quality is a powerful mix. When the locals are with you, the loyal ones would always make sure you do alright.
When people buying food only for a photo shoot have left like the Fake Plastic Trees in the Radiohead song, the last customers standing are followers guided by an appreciative hunger.
I love the ladies in East End.
They buy bread in group of few loaves like a woman who really needs to feed family & kids. They go straight to the boule, with the dignity of who is doing the right thing.
The honesty of the female buyer is like a resolute tree left by pretentious pine needles &... talk, truly, through their eyes.
A perfect circle of truth & beauty. It was an old philosophical definition of Aesthetics.
It reminds me of 'Becket', the old black&white movie from '64. When the Norman King tries to understand why the British saint can be so loyal as a counsellor of an invading majesty in the same way he can act as an archibishop without a God; the explanation for him is Aesthetics. He is capable of doing it properly just for... Aesthetics.
It reminds me of the fact that the accent used in EastEnd is Cockney, coming from the name given by the Normans to London: Pais De Cocaigne = Land of Sugar Cake.
In this land of sugar, heroic & strong ladies did a lot for women's rights like that slogan "Votes for Women" placed by the East London Federation of Suffragettes outside a baker's shop at Bow.
It reminds me of a poetess, recommended by a mum of three follower on twitter: Anne Sexton.
In 'Christmas Eve', after the party, admiring her mother's portrait in the background of a Xmas tree, she finds the true character of the parent who is no more in the picture which does not seem to age.
Thanks for reading. I would like, just for Aesthetics, to close this circle of beauty & truth, with a song called Fake Plastic Trees.
Life is funny, isn't it?... albeit we should appreciate human diversity & take into consideration that what is funny for somebody, it may be deadly serious to others.
We had some cheerful highlights this week :
-a tourist in Brick Lane almost laying his head down on a loaf of oval-shaped Pain Paysan as it was a pillow, trying to smell it .
-a big man in Roman Road passing by our stall for the first time & starting a brief dialogue which was like:
-Hey ,mate, are you selling jewellery here?
- Sorry... I don't sell jewellery, I sell bread.
-That's it. That's what I am talking about. Those loaves are like jewels in a place like this...in Roman Road.
-Well... I don't know. It's just bread.
-ehehe... that's funny. Selling this in Roman Road... good luck!
-Plus, my personal stroke of genius when I tried to make some breadcrumbs for a chicken milanese using some wholemeal bread. You could have not kept those crumbs attached to the meat,not even using one kilo of glue.(to be fair to myself, I did not have any other kind of bread left).
Reflecting on those events, you can realise that something which is normal, common for you , because it's part of your job & your daily routine, can completely surprise & astonish someone else.
The luck of quotidianly dealing with food implies that what we do for a living even affects our eating habits & lifestyle choices. For istance, I am never forced to buy bread &, as a child, my mother used to knead loaves for all the family. Besides, with exposure to food markets, I have the opportunity to sample different ingredients & cuisines all the time. As a consequence , when I eat , I want to be pleased, I want to be excited, I want to be given something to think about.
A good analysis exercise would be to unplug the cable which ties us to our daily business & look at things, objectively, from the customer point of view. Therefore, you can understand people from a different background like the sturdy man from Bow & appreciate more the good stuff you make & mold with your honest hands.
I was reading an article about a research published by a university in Italy which relates the taste of food for 80% to our smell sense. Eating is a multi-sensorial experience &, for many, bread is associated to the smell of freshly baked loaves coming out of the family oven. It's about fond memories of comfort, hospitality & a cosy childhood.
Nobody can criticise that tourist in Brick Lane.He was a hero trying to go back in time, daydreaming of a natural relationship with food, which seems to be lost in artificial mass produced goods.
( Albeit he tried to do that in the middle of the afternoon, in a busy & noisy street, with temperatures just few degrees above zero... Optimism no more).