Showing some bottle
Former musician Laurance Traverso has picked childhood memories and created a local gin business, Distinctly Gin. KATE WILLIAMS finds out how
“The romance of the story was taking memories from our childhood and throwing them in a bottle - picking apples at my grandmother’s and helping her make elderflower champagne!”once a successful signed musician with two albums under his belt, Laurance Traverso has had a career U-turn, launching a locally sourced and made artisan gin company.
Living in South Devon, Laurance first came up with the idea at a gin-tasting evening.
‘This is the closest I’ve ever come to real work and it is hard, but I really love doing it’
He explains: “As with all of the best ideas, this one came over a drink. I was at a gin tasting - when it was a rarity - with my wife and we’d gone through two or three sample gins and I turned to my wife and said, ‘I am going to do this’.
“She wasn’t impressed! I think she thought I’d had too many. I spoke to the organisers, got the number of a master distiller and started the journey the very next day.
“The week after I spoke to my friend, Kes Osborne, about getting involved and he jumped at it.
“He is Dartmouth born and bred, and it seemed to be the right place to set up the business. At the time there was very little competition.”
Laurance, who has lived all over the world but grew up in South Devon, started thinking about local ingredients and what was accessible in the area. Apples and elderflower were the two ingredients that he and Kes were drawn to and eventually they achieved a botanical mix they were proud of for Distinctly Gin.
After creating a bottle design based on Dartmouth’s strengths, the pair bravely shared it on social media.
Laurance says: “The response was overwhelming. Then we had to launch.
“There was a fantastic buzz about what we were doing and people were asking for the product before we had our first 100 litres bottled.”
Family obligations have meant Kes is now a shareholder but Laurance runs the company.
Laurance says: “Since I left university I’ve always been self-employed - not always successfully! My wife and friends tell me I’d be unemployable. This is the closest I’ve ever come to real work and it is hard, but I really love doing it.
“I think I survived on a level of hyper-adrenaline for about six months pre-launch. All of my available time is spent running Distinctly Gin. If I had any spare time at all, I might consider a little sleep!
“We’re not sure how long this gin thing will go on for but we are expanding into new places all the time. We’re now talking to wholesalers in Switzerland, Spain and as far as Bermuda! Time will tell where this story will take us but we’re happy to be along for the ride.” distinctlygin.com
Brixham fish market at 6am and the strong aroma of the latest catch isn’t my idea of an ideal morning. But it’s actually the prelude to a fascinating day learning how easy it is to cook fish.
I’m with James Mooney from Kingfisher and chef Simon Hulstone. James is a regular visitor to the market and says we’re in luck today as there’s plenty to see. The market is piled high with box after box of seafood, everything from turbot and red gurnard to megrim and crabs. Canny buyers bid on the boxes, which are then whisked off to restaurants and fishmongers.
In one area are stacks of cuttlefish – the floor is black with their ink. James says they’re sent on to France and Italy; we Brits won’t eat cuttlefish although to all intents and purposes it’s just like squid. As a nation we tend to be slightly ‘safe’ with our fish, though with the rise of the celebrity chef culture this trend is steadily changing.
I’m invited into the kitchen of
Simon doesn’t mess around with fish, it’s the star of the show. “I like ‘hero-ing’ the product,” he says.
Cod is next - the fish we all associate with fish ‘n chips. It’s a fine looking specimen with a skin of racing green. This one swam in the crystal-clear water of the fiords which Simon believes offers the cleanest meat. “It’s just beautiful, a mother of pearl fish with chunky flakes.” He preps a signature dish of the Elephant; the cod is placed on parsnip puree
‘We happily pick off a carcass of chicken so why not a carcass of fish?’
and a verjus sauce with spring onions, cucumber and golden sultanas, topped with iberico lardo and crispy onions.
Simon holds up a halibut, which has a very slimy skin. “That’s actually a good sign; halibut don’t have scales and the slime provides waterproofing.” Raised on an inland fish farm in deep pools using water pumped from the fjords, our halibut presents good fat and pure white meat. It’s served on a bed of salsa verde featuring tomatoes from Simon’s 96 acre farm where he grows produce for the restaurant, part of his drive to be as sustainable as possible. Homegrown ingredients that make his dishes extra special include heritage carrots, white strawberries and micro herbs. Micro basil features in the halibut dish and Simon remarks how important it is to be sparing with these powerful herbs.
I ask why there’s still a reluctance to cook fish at home; while many of us are more than happy to eat fish in a restaurant we’re not confident enough to cook it ourselves. He thinks for a moment. “Perhaps people aren’t sure what to do with a whole fish – though most happily pick off a carcass of chicken so why not a carcass of fish?” It’s even trickier to get the ‘fishfinger’ generation onside with eating fish. Simon introduces us to James, one of the restaurant’s young apprentices, who just does not want to eat fish. Apparently, he ‘doesn’t like the way it’s made’.
But we all know that fish can be simple and quick to cook, low fat and full of protein – an ideal combination for people with busy lives who want to eat well - so what’s the best way to tempt a wary teenager to start being more adventurous with their diet?
“Start with halibut or cod,” Simon suggests, “and simply grill it. Or to make it more tempting, put a crust on it, a cheese crumb with lemon and garlic.” A convert, I make a mental note to visit my local fishmonger and try to get my family more familiar with fish.