"I consulted with my two brothers, Dr.Reason and Dr.Experience...

and took a voyage to visit my mother Nature... and, being warned by Mr.Honesty, a stranger in our days, to publish to the world, I have done it." - Nicholas Culpeper. 

So there is this guy named Nicholas Culpeper.

Pretty active around England in the early 1600s, he was kind of the Robin Hood of medicinal herbs. Not to say that he stole the herbs from the rich, I mean it more in connection with his desire to bring medicine and pharmacology to all levels of society, and not just the wealthy and the latin-speakers*. Frankly, he was pretty reviled by the physicians of his day.  He treated the ill for free and published books actively encouraging laypeople to source their own cures from the surrounding wilds, rather than paying top-pound for a complex concoction from Dr.Bespectacled. 

Culpeper gleaned his knowledge from spending many years mucking around in the English countryside. He wrote several books cataloguing the various herbs and fungi that grew there and detailing how these native plants could (with the judicious application of astrology) be used to heal everything from excessive flatulence to an ectopic pregnancy. Not that he called it that, of course, but you get the idea. He also lent his expertise to some imported herbs from that time. But, given Culpeper's political leanings, I'm inclined to believe that he stuck to whatever was properly accessible. No point in giving a farmer the advice to soak his gouty foot in a bath of gold bullion, is there?

I was introduced to one of his books: The Complete Herbal...

Culpeper's complete herbal
What a sexpot, eh?

 

when I was first trying to suss out how authentic some traditional recipes I found were. "Would they really have had access to that then? What can I include in my list of 'British Spices'?" and other questions. I, and a billion other internet users, got a hold of a copy pdf-ed from the library of none other than my-once-upon-a-time neighbour: The University of Toronto. 

And I was put in mind to pull this post forward after our first market this past Saturday when I couldn't answer a question about cayenne pepper**. I had written most of this post some time ago, but I didn't give Nick the credit he was due back then, so he's headlining now. 

ANYWAY, moving along. 

This manual of herbs is truly great. Maybe not so much if you're actually seeking medical aid - I can't speak to the accuracy of any of these remedies - but if you're trying to determine what spices you can get away with including in your 'British sausages', you could hardly ask for more. 

Going by Culpeper's inclusions, and a couple of more modern botantical books, I came up with a list of herbs and spices that were not only delicious but also in line with C&Q's mission statement. 

Now came what I didn't realize would be the tricky part. 

Just because it comes from here, just because it still grows here...well, that doesn't mean you can actually buy some. You remember that Hilarious Acronym from my last post? One of the most important control points in any business is sourcing. You can't just buy ingredients from any schmo off the internet. How do you know whether they are being as careful about safety as you are? All the HACCP plans in the world won't help you if you make your products out of malarial-infested peppercorns.*** 

So I contacted every spice and herb merchant I could find - many of whom advertised using British farms as suppliers... and nothing. Zip. Bupkis. They rarely wrote me back when I asked about which items were being sourced from inside the country, and when they did it was a pretty clear shut-down. In one memorable case, a purveyor who advertised their use of British farms all over their website told me that: "We cannot maintain a list of which herbs come from British farms because we cannot ever guarantee that this is currently the case." When I said that I just wondered if they had an idea of which herbs might ever, EVER, even if they rarely had them, have come from England - they wrote back the rather succinct response of 'no'. 

This is amazing to me. I know this grows here! And you mean to tell me that I cannot have it? 

When we discuss the odd problems that come with our economies going global, the 'global village', and the high cost of low price, I never once suspected that it might reach as far as an herb garden. Would you? More than once, among the few merchants who I spoke with, the words quality and consistency came up. "We would source our juniper berries from England - but they are just so much better when they come from Croatia". Now, it's worth mentioning that juniper is actually having trouble surviving recently in England and Scotland. There's even a Plantlife conservation effort drive dedicated to trying to keep this native bush around. One of the key elements of encouraging new seedlings to grow, wouldn't you know it, is harvesting the berries. So our reliance on Croatian imports is hardly helping. 

And what does this mean for Crown & Queue? 

Well, let's just say I hope you appreciate how much work went into our statement of "as many indigenous herbs and spices as possible". After a long and generally fruitless search (pun definitely intended), I finally managed to find some very small producers with whom to work. Rich, pungent Sage from Hampshire. Bone-white Sea Salt from Cornwall. Spicy Elephant Garlic from the Isle of Wight. To name a few. 

But I'm not going to deny that it is tougher than it should be. And from a entrepreneurial's point of view, that it is more expensive than I might wish. Plus, I won't lie, there are some ingredients that I had to make the second-best choice of working with a small-scale family-run British importer to get because they just cannot be had from a local producer. Black peppercorns, of that malarial-mention, spring to mind. (But hey! India was a colony, right? Still counts.)

Ultimately, my hope is, if I continue to do my part, no matter how difficult, and maybe if other producers take the time and money to as well, we can look back 20 years from now and revel in a cornucopia of local abundance. 

 

Here's hoping. 

 

 

* Some context. Medical texts were still written in Latin around that time. Medicine and the practice of started in Greek and Arabic mainly, and when these were less commonly understood, it moved into Latin. Not just the terms mind you! The sentences explaining the terms too. Even after colloquial language had moved to Shakespearean English (Will actually passed away the same year our boy was born), medical texts were still completely in Latin - all the way until the 1800s actually

** I know that Cayenne isn't indigenous to England. It's named for a city in French Guiana - that's a prettttttty big hint. So I omitted it when I found it in a recipe for collared pork recently. But when a market-goer questioned whether a writer from 1807 would even have had cayenne, I was stymied. I pulled out my copy of Nick's book to settle the question, and it turns out, yes, they were using it as far back as 1653... so it makes sense that a Lady a couple of hundred years later might have had it in her larder too. 

***I'm pretty sure you can't infect peppercorns with malaria. Sadly, Nicholas Culpeper wasn't as helpful about solving that query. But I'm pretty sure. 


"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

...For he to-day that sheds his blood with me/ Shall be my brother" Henry V., William Shakespeare

When you gather together all the decisions I've had to make in the dreaming, creation, and realization of this business, there has only been one that has really weighed on me. 

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that is because, generally, I have allowed my personal ethical, moral and flavour preferences to guide me. Decisions are pretty easy when you have the hubris to believe in your own good sense and taste. But the decision I am going to share with you today (and yes, gather your opinions on) wasn't so easily negotiated.

I can argue my future customers over to my choices regarding animal husbandry, because the defenses are so logical. It's rather harder to argue them over to my sense of humour

So I set about trying to get a carry-bag designed. I thought it went well with my mission to offer a sustainable option to market purchasers (and hey! It doesn't hurt my advertising dreams neither). I thought I would get it to say something HILARIOUS, because who doesn't love a bag that tickles the silly bones? And that's where I hit a snag. My first instinct was to plaster "Get my meat in your mouth - and like it!" all over them and be done with it. 

... yeah. And then a load of people rather vehemently objected. And I realized that I would never pick the right phrase on my instincts alone. SO: I put it to you, dear readers. Please pick a bag style and sentence from the options listed below. And help a lady out. Everyone who helps out with the decision (as long as it is not a hung jury! That ain't no help!) will get a bag when they are finished. They'll have the ultimate sentence on one side, and my logo, designed by the amazing H.D., on the other. Incidentally, the bags themselves are completely fabulous. Super heavy-duty, hand woven and printed by a really cool co-operative that gives economically disadvantaged women the skills and equipment to help support their families. Tres cool. So here we go. 

 

Once more into the breach! 

(Remember that this is primarily for a British audience... and they aren't always as ribald as you North Americans...)

 

OPTION #1 - 

We know where our meat comes from... Do you?

 

OPTION #2 - 

Do you know where your meat comes from?

 

OPTION #3 - 

I know where my meat comes from... Do you?

 

OPTION #4 - 

I know where my meat comes from./We know where our meat comes from. 

 

Alright - and now the design.

It'll always be black lettering on natural canvas. BUT, it could also be: 

- All natural bag and handles

- Natural bag with Black handles

- Black handles and black reinforcing

- Black handles and black gussets (the bag has gussets that allow it to sit square  - please note, the reinforcing, if made a different colour, does not continue onto the gussets) 

 

And now, some pictures to help you visualize. My apologies that I don't have mock-ups of all the options.

 

 

Choice of Handles

Choice of Handles;Sentence Side
NOW VOTE! Which sentence, and which style of handles? 

Please leave your email address if you would like a bag afterwards, I'll need that to get your postal address. 

 Fine Print: Limited to the first 50 comments; Limited to one bag per person. 


"The overarching desire to do the right thing well is something we can't train for...

"It's either there or it isn't." - Danny Myer

I had an interesting meeting the other day. I arranged it myself actually, although it didn't exactly go as I had planned. 

I don't want to get too deep into the nitty gritty  - but basically, there is a program I want to develop at the Organic Co-Op. I think it would mend a pretty serious gap between our practices and our mission statement. To develop this project, I needed board approval (we are a co-op, remember!), a hefty dollop of my time, and a bit of effort on the part of my team's members, and the team members of one or two other departments. But those kinds of needs kinda go hand in hand with 'briding a gap'; Not exactly a light undertaking. 

So, the meeting I referred to earlIER was between myself, the managing director and the head of my department, as I tried to get the first part of my recipe. I presented my project, answered all their questions and assuaged all their doubts. Or well... I tried...  Anyways, here's the interesting part: As the meeting wrapped up, and I could tell that the answer was a 'no', the managing director pointed to a poster across the conference room detailing the Organic Co-Op Mission Statement. 

"Look." he said, "This is part of the reason I'm doubtful about your project. This is our mission statement, but the employees here make it hard for us to enact it. Your idea supports our mission, but our employees don't". 

Okay, okay, he didn't say exactly that. It probably wasn't nearly as well-turned, but his implications stand. 

Except for the fact that you probably shouldn't shake the managing director of your company (especially when you're practically low-level compared to him), I wanted to grab his shoulders and viciously rock his body back and forth after he said it. Are you kidding me?! How can you so matter-of-factly say that?! Why is that acceptable?! And how can you accept it so thoroughly that it is actually used as an excuse NOT TO MAKE THINGS BETTER?!

Now that a few days have gone by and I am feeling more calm - I've started analysing where this gap (even larger than the one I had initially proposed filling) had come from. 

I've heard a lot of reasons from my direct supervisor, before. He mostly blames it on 'youth today' and assorted other comments of 'entitlement vs earning' and 'take benefits for granted'*. And although I see the rationale of all of that, I have to disagree. 

I know I've mentioned before that creating the right culture takes creation and implementation right from the get-go. But it also takes involvement. No one likes to be dictated to. I'm deep into Ari's treatise on mission statements (next post!) and he very off-handedly remarked on how, in developing the Zingerman's statement, they involved every single employee, up to and including a teenager who had only been with them for a few weeks. 

That's the element that was/is/continues to be missing here. You read the Organic Co-Op mission statement, and there is nothing there about the team that puts it together! It's all in the third person, not a 'we' to be seen. And according to their statement, the Organic Co-Op doesn't have stakeholders, guests or a community. They have, no joke, "CONSUMERS". 

And he wonders why 'his employees' don't support it. 

 

And all respect to Danny Myer (author of Setting the Table, and one of the more renowned food entrepreneurs still in the black), but I only half agree. Obviously, hiring people who can inherently, naturally, propogate your culture/values is important. But I'd also argue that even these people cannot do it wihtout consistant aid and passion on your part. Maybe the ability to do the right thing well can't be taught, but the desire definitely can. I think you teach it by showing the benefits of your values, not just listing them on a pretty poster...

Check out my next post for my mission statement in fieri, and trust me when I say it will most definitely refer to the team effort

 

 

*PS. One of the other reasons the managing director didn't want to follow through on my project was 'it could be seen as another perk. These employees don't appreciate the perks we already give them. I don't want to give them another they can just take for granted too". 


"My crown is called content:

A crown it is that seldom kings enjoy" - King Henry VI, William Shakespeare. 

 

As previously discussed - reading along with Ari Weinzweig - here are my answers to the Content questions  of the 'Contrast, Composition, Content' proposition.

Quick Recap: Ari's suggestion when building a business is to begin by deciding on your content (what, why, who), and only then deciding on composition (how, where, when), and contrast (the brand and marketing). Most designers and entrepreneurs do it in reverse and have shakier foundations and less success...

So...

1. What are you trying to do?

    Create some really amazing cured meats, ones that in their execution and ingredients will reflect English tastes, opinions and agriculture. Create proprietary, new recipes, ones that showcase these.  Create the best cured meats in London, create better cured meats than anyone else in England, create cured meats as good as anything being made elsewhere in Europe. Offer a buying experience that is fun and flavoursome and transparent. 

2. Why are you doing it?

    To give something delicious to the world. To prove that England has an amazing food culture and to continue pushing the world to recognize it as a culinary authority in its own right! To put to use the skills I've enjoyed learning over 13 years in the food service industry - the years spent as a Chef, the years spent learning butchery/salume with Carleton Gaul, the years spent managing other people's projects. To keep the passion for working with whole animals and unprocessed ingredients alive in the world. Hopefully to inspire others to learn more about what they eat, and how it comes to be on their table. 

3. Who are you doing it for?

    For myself. For people who like cured meat. For people who want to eat meat ethically (and want to understand who it was, what happened to it, and why it tastes that way). For people who want to lower the carbon footprint of the foods they eat. For people who are proud of the myriad of foods England has to offer. For people who want to celebrate and publicize that! For people who are tired of England's bad food rep. 

4. Why are you excited about it?

 Side note: Well duh! haha. 

        Because working with meat is fun. Because I really believe I can create something truly delicious and financially viable. Because no one has ever done this before. Because I'll finally get to be my own boss - and put to work all of the opinions I have on how businesses can run better should be run. 

5. Why is it special?

    Of the very incredibly few people who are making cured meats in England, no one is creating new recipes. Who cares if it was made in London, if it's Portuguese/Spanish/French? Because I firmly believe that a customer's happiness is more important than any profit. Because I'm utterly committed to only creating (and thereby only selling) the very best quality I can. Because of the unique experiences, dedication and passions I bring. Because, of all those making cured meats in London (at last count, one), I'm the only one with a relationship with several FAMED speciality food businesses already. 

 

So what do y'all think? Did I miss anything out? Do I stand a chance?


"The Test Of a Vocation...

Is the Love of the Drudgery it Involves" - Logan Pearsall Smith. 

Some people might wonder at the time I am taking to create my vision and mission statement. I recognise that it's easy to believe that these can be thown together in an evening, that I should be on to something else already. I get it. But I suppose I am looking at this like building a house. I've already pointed out that the vision and mission are the foundations. A house, even one built of stone like the one that kept that final piggy safe from the wolf, will blow away unless it is adequately and firmly shored. 

To that end, I am re-reading Ari Weinzweig's book on building a great business. The Lapsed Anarchist's Approach to Building a Great Business, to be more specific. I'm going to draw a line in the sand here and admit that: I don't love Zingerman's approach without reservations. Sorry, don't get me wrong. I do LOVE them...I think they make amazing food, have amaze-balls service, really created something breathtaking with open-book management*, and can without question teach me a thing or two. What I'm coming out of the closet to say is that I'm not actually a fan of the bubble-writing, the down-homey 'zingy-ness' they embody. It's mostly just the vocabulary, because all of the ideas are more than sound, (maybe it's also because I'm more of a hipster than I thought 2014-02-06 14.16.03, I've never managed to shake my waspy ick-reaction to even the slightest hint of hokeyness). But whatever it is, it is. On the other hand, every time I read anything that the Zingerman's founder and owner, Ari, writes, I get goose-pimply with passion and excitement.**

Right now, I'm finishing the chapter on Contrast, Composition and Content.  The basic idea is, in order to build a successful business, you have to start at the bottom (with Content) and work your way back. The suggestion here is that people who begin by figuring out how to make their business stand out, instead of figuring out what their business will do, are going at it wrong.

First, Ari recommends, you come up with your content -  i.e. what are you trying to do, what makes it special and why and for whom are you doing it -  next, you come up with composition - i.e how will you organize yourself to sell your products/services and encourage returns  -  then, and only then, do you start coming up with the brand, marketing and what elements will draw people to experience your content and composition. 

I know you're bursting to hear my answers! *laughs. So I went ahead and decided to keept them for a different post (Hey! Some of them were really hard and deserve a little explanation!) so stay tuned  for the answers next time in... "A Red Letter Day or Drop Us A Lion"...

 

 

*If these items are sailing over your head (or the name Zingerman's is, for that matter), they are well and truly worth a look-up. This deli is probably the single most famous deli that's never had a franchise. At least in my industry! Everyone I know who's anyone in the food service industry knows of Ari and his partner Paul, and most of these are employing some or more the practices these two have pioneered. 

**Note: Ari even writes about how you ought to take his model with a grain of salt. He recognizes that the tongue-in-cheek, punny, high-sprited Zingerman style isn't for everyone, but asserts that his advice is. And I agree. 


"When Furious...

Get Curious." - Paul Saginaw from Zingerman's Deli. 

When you're obessed, it is easy to consistantly find real world examples that feed into your one-track.

I spend a lot of my time thinking about this business and how to go about creating it, and anytime I run into someone doing it right (or doing it wrong!), I try to sock it away in my brain. Recently, it came time for me to renew my car insurance, or as I like to think of it, time to confront the dogs of hell and demand one more year's worth of sanctuary. You can probably imagine the situation was rife with business model examples. 

This particular renewing I knew was going to be tough (and don't worry, I'll get to the point of this story very shortly) because I had a fender-bender on Christmas Eve and my insurance had to pay for the repairs. So I online-shopped around a little to make sure I was still getting a good deal. As my insurance still hadn't come forward and let me know what my new premium was going to be, I also hit up my current insurance company's website to secure a quote, thinking: "well, hey! It's bound to be something similar, though probably more expensive because I'll get a discount for my loyalty". Imagine my shock when I discovered that as a quote-unquote 'new' customer, I qualified, even with my accident, for a premium lower than I was currently paying, AND, that they expected me to pay almost twice that just to renew without changing anything. 

How ridiculous is that?! To add insult to injury, when I called the company directly to demand the better price for my renewal, the girl I spoke to couldn't help me. She had no recourse for changing the cost or price. Instead, she offered to cancel my current policy so I could reapply, thereby securing the lower premium (for twice the coverage that I had now, mind you). 

I'm sure you can see how this anecdote greased my mental cogs. What kind of business makes the securing of new customers so important, that they will actually throw away anyone who tries to stick with them? How big and invincible must a company think it is, how much must they believe in an infinity of new customers, to choose to make joining them for the first time so much more appealing that staying with them for the long haul?!

I'm not saying that sourcing new markets is foolish or greedy. I don't believe it is... but at the detriment of those already purchasing from you?! Illogical bordering on the moronic. 


"If you can organize your kitchen, you can...

Organize your life." - Louis Parrish, M.D. 

 

Getting my thoughts together in a 'visionary' sense appears to be easy only in concept.*laughs. 

Here's the thing... I've worked for a lot of restaurants* before. Good, bad, mediocre. Well... no. They were all good in the food department. I'm talking about their cultures. I've worked for a lot of restaurants that succeeding in creating a pervasive attitude of helpfulness, passion, and drive. And I've worked for a lot of restos** that, while still turning out delicious and/or stunning concoctions, managed to infect all their employees with hatred, anger and violence. The point is, I have a lot of ideas floating around in the ol' noggin about what I like and what I don't like, but little to no organization of it, and, which is worse, hardly any ideas how to go about create one of the good 'uns while avoiding the pratfalls of the bad 'uns. 

So I decided to make a list. As I typically do in the midst of a crisis. Like cups of tea to my English hubby, a list is to me. They make my insides all warm and my breathing deeply even.  Okay. I know it's weird! We've all got stuff. You probably like to be spanked or something.  Mine's list-making. Get over it. 

Question the one. What attitudes do I like? (If I can get it all down at least,  I can try to make sense of it later). 

I like: 

ø Caring about quality - This means personally investing in keeping things tasting good, fixing things that are wrong without being told explicitly, investing in the belief that our offering is the best/better. 

ø Caring about the customer - Genuinely wanting the customer to have a good time/have good purchases. Going out of your way to make sure that customers feel valued and 'heard'. 

ø Caring about integrity - Offering things in good faith, promoting what is best, not 'what needs to go', recognizing fair worth and value. 

ø Caring about openness - Nobody ever walked through a closed door! Frankness, transparency and the sharing of information, not just with employees, but with any customer who cares to know. 

ø Caring about the team - People choose to work for you and they don't have to. Treating your team graciously, feeling like a family, mutual investment in one another. 

ø Caring about improvement - Stagnant things get run over and go moldy. I think constantly feeling as though you must get better (or, depending on how full your glass is, constantly feeling as though you aren't good enough) is the only way, underlined for emphasis, to be successful. Always, always, looking for the ways you can be nicer, have better quality, know and teach more. This is the central tenet behind which all my other 'cares' stand. I could always have done it better. 

 

Tune in tomorrow for the exciting conclusion in... "The Cliff Hangar or Taken for Granite"...

 

*short-hand for any type of food service establishment. I'm including all the different types I've worked for... but seriously! Food Service establishm... God! Way too long. At least with restaurant, I'm only typing 10 letters, and, if I get really lazy, I can cut it down to 5 with 'resto'. Hah! Take that keyboard!

**See what I mean?


"There is no time for cut-and-dried monotony...

There is time for work, there is time for love. That leaves no other time!" -Coco Chanel 

Alright. A lot of things have changed since I last posted here. But I've kept this blog up... I think because some part of me always planned to come back to it. 

Part of the plaguing problems of my blogging life have been

1 - starting one for the wrong reasons

2 - writing one for someone else

I definitely had trouble writing on a regular basis; I rebelled against a forced recording of my thoughts and feelings. But I've finally found a good reason to write and I realize I'm dying to do so. (And yeah, despite the 'literalness' of this blog, not literally).

 So here it is: I'm trying to start my own business. It is still in mostly daydream land and I need to keep myself on track. I figure, if I consistantly track my progress, detailing each step as I accomplish them, I will be able to motivate myself in periods that appear stagnant or endless. Like surprisingly noticeable weightloss in progress photos... I know I'll need that slightly trimmed shading to remind myself to keep going. 

I don't expect anyone to read this - but if you do, be positive and motivating and kind. I don't doubt you have difficult projects of your own you wished more-fulfilled-and-less-lingering. We all do.