From the kitchen table to the shop counter
What happens when 28 amateur food makers attempt to build a viable business from their delicacies? Gemma Dunn learns more
There’s no denying that the artisanal food market is booming. From home brewing and smoking meat to handmade cheeses, chutneys and preserves, Britain is teeming with tasty gourmet fare, but just who are the people behind the goods? New BBC Two show Top Of The Shop With Tom Kerridge aims to find out, as it unmasks a host of kitchen table producers keen to showcase their delicacies.
Proving it’s not just hipsters, farmers and retiring townies taking part in the foodie revolution, the eight-part series offers 28 amateur food makers — from all walks of life — the opportunity to promote and sell their wares in a real shop in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales.
But there’s more to it than simply appealing to the tastebuds and wallets of the local community.
For while acclaimed chef and presenter Kerridge will be cheering from the sidelines (no pressure!), experts Nisha Katona and Alison Swan Parente will be judging whether the creations have what it takes to sustain a profitable business.
The aim is to convince everyone involved that their product deserves a permanent space on the shelves. It’s a concept Kerridge (44) could immediately get on board with.
“To me, people with a massive passion for food or anyone who’s involved in the food industry that has baked produce in a place with history and heritage have the same understanding of it. It’s about where it comes from and how it’s looked after,” says the celebrity cook, who is the chef patron at the two-Michelin-starred The Hand & Flowers pub in Marlow.
“These guys have given up their day jobs to join that industry, so I thought this would be a great thing to be a part of, to meet people who are like-minded and to hang out with these two girls.”
“There is a real kind of resurgence about artisan products,” agrees Swan Parente (69), who is the trustee of the School of Artisan Food.
“I think people have a memory about what food used to be like before industrial food. They have an idea of what their grandma was making, and they certainly have an idea that their family has some sort of heritage in food that may be lost.
“The other thing is that people really do like to learn skills — and it really is about learning skills.”
In the final episode, the shop will be filled with the seven winning products from seven different categories. The judges will then ask the locals to help them one last time to decide which producer and product should take the coveted top of the shop title.
For food writer and restaurateur Katona, the coveted title should go to those who can take a brilliant product and turn it into a viable business.
“It’s one thing to have an amazing product made in an amazing way that tastes fantastic, but if you can’t sell it, then you’re depriving the public of the ability to taste it,” says the 46-year-old.
“Do you know what?. It’s a very British thing to be embarrassed about selling, to be embarrassed about ambition, about speaking that language, and we have to get away from that.
“But you don’t want to go out there in a brazen way — if someone oversells, that can be repulsive as well.”
With the stakes high, does the shop floor make for a competitive playing field?
“It does get quite competitive,” admits Kerridge, whose own career spans the best part of three decades.
“At the start they don’t know each other and it’s the first time they’ve been to the shop, so they’re quite nervous.
“But by the end of day one they all become quite good friends.
“Then, halfway through day two, they all get a little nervy about sales and who’s done what, so then it starts getting a little bit like, ‘Ooh, I do want to win this’ and, ‘I do want my product to be the best’.
“It’s not competitive in terms of a nasty win at all costs, but these are people who want to succeed.”
While the judges were there to referee and offer advice, Kerridge is keen to make it known that his role was not to scrutinise the contestants.
“I was there to encourage and help, to try and make them feel comfortable about cameras being there. The winners aren’t going to be the people who make the best TV, the winners are going to be the ones with the best product,” he reiterates, having been a successful regular competitor on shows such as the Great British Menu himself.
Top Of The Shop With Tom Kerridge will air on BBC Two from Tuesday,8pm
EXCITED: show presenter and renowned chef Tom Kerridge