Local sourcing and how taste matters

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Since taking over the Hawksmoor in 2007 Philippa and I knew we wanted to make it the best B&B in Windermere. As always all great works start with a plan, so besides the obvious work that needed doing on the rooms and facilities that we offered, Philippa and I wanted to create a brand that stood for something. Though a place like ours referring to itself as a brand has the potential to make me cringe at times I still haven’t found a more adept word to define the values and attention to detail that make the Hawksmoor the Hawksmoor. We’ve tried to build a culture here so, for example, when we hire staff they know they’re not just working for another Windermere B&B with a focus on occupancy rates and turning rooms around, they’re coming to work for a Windermere B&B where our focus is standing out from the crowd, nationally not just regionally, and providing a brilliant quality of hospitality and service. I also feel that’s why so many people go out of their way and take the time to write about us on Trip Advisor or similar review sites, which we always appreciate someone taking the time to do. I think in the past we’ve all been to hotels, guest houses or B&Bs that have left us underwhelmed and a bit let down. As the saying goes, ‘receive good service and you’ll tell three people, receive bad service and you’ll tell ten’. The good places are ones you never quite forget and are the basis of all travel stories that people tell at family occasions, the occasional dinner party and down the pub. What we are aiming for here at the Hawksmoor is to create a stay and experience that stands out, not only as a benchmark of quality, but also as a fond memory as well. So much so that when someone asks, ‘How was the hotel?’ our guests smile before they even answer.

So what helps us stand out from most other Windermere B&B s? We give people the best that the Lake District has to offer. We’ve got fantastic natural resources right on our doorstep full of farmers and producers who not only have a pedigree that comes through generations of experience but are also moving with the times and producing some ingredients and foods that are attracting the attention of some of the UKs best restaurants. For the local Windermere hotel or B&B this is an unbelievable opportunity to create something special. Ever wondered why Italian food tastes so much better in Italy or Greek food tastes so much better in Greece? It usually comes down to making the most of what the region locally produces, knowledge on how to work these ingredients together and, most importantly, letting their natural quality and taste shine through. Whilst a cooked English breakfast is a simple pleasure we wanted to make it another key wow moment at the guest house so we really focused on utilising the best that our area has to offer. Although we have won an award for our breakfast it isn’t a fine dining experience you’d expect to find in a Michelin Stared restaurant. We feel it’s exactly what you want; a relaxing and easy start to the day whether you are hiking, cycling or just taking a stroll around the lake. We want our guests walking out the door with a smile and eager for the day ahead. For me that makes the time that Philippa and I spend on tasting, hunting and testing all the more worthwhile because when you start making the key things stand out you can then create an experience that as a whole is something special.

My top tips for sourcing locally;
1. Accept seasonality as it will make you a better cook: There’s no way around it there will be times of the year when producers have an abundance of certain produce. This is fantastic as it means you can pick up some ingredients for a fraction of what you’d usually pay plus ‘what grows together goes together’. So not only can you save money compared to the supermarket but you get ingredients that are at their peak.

2. Farmers markets and local food halls: Both of these have become huge at the moment and allow you to get very close to the production source. Even with most niche brands in supermarkets the production scales are still huge and I think producers can sometimes loose what makes them special for the sake of volume. There is a growing demand for regional produce in all sectors of the market place so much so that since 2001 Waitrose has increased its local produce range from 1,500 lines to 2,150 ranging from more than 465 small producers. Going to markets and food halls also allows you to meet the producers so you can find out how everything has been produced and it will give you an opportunity to see the passion that these people put into something as simple as a sausage. This is a really exciting time for the British food industry as a whole at the moment and something you’d be doing yourself a disservice by not making the most of.

3. Ear to the ground and tasting a bit of everything (in moderation of course): Keep an eye out for regional awards that certain producers have. I know how competitive these awards are and how serious a lot of producers take them. The upshot for you, the consumer, is that competition breeds brilliance. You only have to imagine the hours of work that goes into creating an award winning regional food product built on years and years of expertise. In my experience these awards and recognition are your indicators of quality and taste so it’d be wise to use them. Plus, taste, taste, taste! Often producers are quite happy to provide samples and I know I have found two or three hidden gems on the end of a cocktail stick over the years that have turned out to be fantastic additions to our menu. Always be mindful of what you would place these products or ingredients with so they are either the star of the dish or play a great supporting role.