Oh hey guys. It’s Tom’s slightly better sibling Ben here. I know Tom has kept you all sufficiently informed and entertained but, I thought it about time I drop by to the Le Chef de Sheff blog here to give you my two cents (or pence). There are always two sides of the story, and if you’re twins, then there are four, right? So buckle up for a big one people.
You know what they say, never go into business with family or friends. Well gosh darn it, I’m now guilty of both. My first soiree into the world of mobile catering was with fellow fellas and all-round good mates Pilch, Spud and Ee. (Not officially their names I don’t think, although I can’t be certain). Fresh out of Uni and raring to fill bellies and clog arteries, we started the SKA-BQ, a ska/reggae themed food stall selling burgers and chicken wings. Times were good, then great, then not so good, then quite good again, and finally, pretty darn awful. The mobile food business can be an absolute beast, and not the kind you can fry up and serve. Working with my buddies on our own business provided me with some of the funnest times I’ve ever had, mixed in with a fair dash of head-scratching and a large slice of humble pie. We had so much love/help/financial aid from our nearest and dearest, it was sickening. Ultimately though it finished as many first-time food businesses do – with some pretty integral lessons being learnt and the owners trying to pinpoint where it all went awry whilst tucking into a slap-up meal from their own pocket.
So, you’re probably asking yourselves, why in sodding hell’s name am I getting involved in another food business? Well, they say that hindsight is a wonderful thing, and I want to use that, but reverse it. I’m going to coin it – ‘foresight’. And what is life about if it’s not about adjusting your aim and having another crack at the coconut shy. I like coconuts just as much as the next guy, hence The Gravy Train.
Don’t smile Lynne, you’ve broken your neck. We are bouncing back like our boi – AP.
That’s not to say that everything will always be rosy in the garden for brother Thomas and I – this journey has had it’s fair share of blaspheme-inducing moments already, but the lessons I learned from last time have given us more fuel to get this train chugging down the tracks at a healthy speed and in the right direction.
Funnily enough, it was during my SKABQ years that Tom went ‘travelling’ around Canada to ‘find himself’. Find himself he did, but not on the snow-capped, evergreen-laden peaks of Whistler, nor the cobbled seventeenth century streets of Montreal, but at the bottom of a delicious receptacle of poutine. That’s how good it is people. Why travel to experience culture when you can sit in your pants and vest and shovel culture straight down you pie-hole?
That leads me onto a culture of our own we can now tick off too. Owning a white van is a right of passage that any British male has to take at some point to truely arrive at manhood. Kind of like a bird hopping from its nest for the first time, only this doesn’t involve the potential splatter and demise of the subject. (Although we’ll have to see how well Tom drives first. Too dark? Probably). Thanks to the patience and belief of my forever young, now retired Jamaican driving instructor Patrick, I passed my driving test back in October, but still haven’t been able to actually drive yet owing to the fact that a) I have no money to buy a vehicle, and b) no rental company in the land is so unwise as to allow me a go on one of their four-wheeled thingys. Shame really, but it’s safe to say that I am looking forward to legally sitting behind the wheel of a vehicle I legally own, legally turning it on, legally checking my mirrors, legally finding the biting point – you get the jist. We’re now the proud owners of a Vauxhall Combo and suddenly found our voices deeper and chests hairier overnight. Men. Men with ven. The ven men.
So what of this journey so far? I say this touching every piece of wood within my immediate vicinity and praying to the lord of the trees that everything seems to be coming together quite nicely thank you very much. The logo looks great, the stall is as impressive-looking as it is sturdy and the poutine itself is tasty as you like. Yep, I’m a happy chap. Hats off to the hard work of Thomas and Dad, who really are absolute logistical/practical champions. Despite not being involved in the SKABQ from almost the word go, Tom developed a reputation as a troubleshooter/fixer. When shit went wrong, Tom seemed to have an instantaneous, cost-effective and sometimes hilariously innovative solution when we were elbow deep in raw mince and with less free time on our hands than junior doctors (political). Safe to say he gets it from his father, who, in his cool, calm and collected way, is able to whip his ideas into shape and inject this mother with a bit of deliverability. No pie-in-the-sky ideas for Steve Miller, it’s just about getting it done good and proper like. Having these two geezers in my corner makes me all the more confident that we have the nous between us to punt poutine to its rightful place on the British street food scene. Top work chaps, top work..
Anyway, that’s enough of a love-in, let’s talk about the food. Last week I packed my bag, gave my girlfriend Amy a peck on the cheek and set course for Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England, to rendezvous with Tom and Dad for a food tasting session of rather large proportions. The screaming children on the National Express’ 564 service to Halifax, via Sheffield, were not enough to deter me from my mission and when I arrived I was full of beans to get to work. Tom met me at the station and we went to the Moor Market to pick up the goods, from beef to bay leaves and everything in between. We rolled up our sleeves and, discounting wrestling with trees in Tom’s back garden to put up a storage shed, cooked solidly for two days. We made beef bourguignon, a darn good goulash, creamed leeks and crispy bacon, a three cheese and red onion concoction with a rich mushroom gravy and our signature ‘Toast to the Roast’ – a mini roast dinner of chips, gravy, red cabbage and creamed leeks topped off with a sexy succulent chicken breast.
We spruced up the house as Dad gathered a tasting panel of close friends and family just in time for the first batch of treats. Tom spent all day trying to get the fryer working, but the bastard wouldn’t play ball, so we had to put a big pan of oil onto his hob and pilfer a thermometer from The Mogul Room, the Indian restaurant around the corner. (Thanks again. We’ll be in for a post-launch Bhuna big-style).
Chips fried and gravy bubbling, we made our human tastees eat till they could eat no more. We had a questionnaire and everything, that’s just science and you can’t argue with science. It was really constructive and we got some great feedback. Surprisingly, we found that it was the more refined dishes that were most popular as opposed to the grander ones. I think Tom and I love to go balls out of the bathwater when it comes to our food, but it was refreshing to hear that the classic poutine on its own was in the top three and the three cheese and red onion romped away out front. Props to Shel, Dad, John, Karl, Flash and Phil for your honest assessments. We’ve taken it all on board and have what we hope is a fine-ass menu ready and raring.
That brings me to the business end of things – the launch. As I write this, I’m back on the 564 to Halifax, via Sheffield, sat next to a man with an explosive snore and penchant for my feminine shoulders. Tom and Jade are picking me up from the station and we’ll be darting around collecting all the final bits and pieces for our first outing tomorrow evening. No rush then.
All food will be FREE. I repeat all food WILL BE FREE. One night only. Fill your boots Sheffield. With gravy. It would probably be helpful if I let you know where we were going to be though, right? Well hear this:
The Forum Bar (on the patio out back),
127-129 Devonshire Street,
Saturday 23rd April.
8pm till late.
There will be beer pong, free-poutine-for-life Golden tickets to be won, dressing up, and balloons and shit, as well as a portion of the finest poutine available – on us. If you’re reading this on Saturday night and you’re in the area, why are you still conversing with your loved ones? You know what to do. Bring a friend. Bring six. You’ll all get fed. See you on the flipside.
Peace and Love,