Most of you will have heard the story of how in 1999 I sold my car, bought my first van, and hit the roads as EJ Catering, “Stirring the soul”. Today you could say – the rest really is history!
EJ Catering has been a creative adventure full of friendship and of course amazing food for over 21 years. From a small granny flat kitchen with just two fridges and a few business contacts given to me by a family friend, the journey for me has been huge.
Cardiff’s food scene was ready for something new and exciting – fresh food, bright presentation, fun staff, and service with more personality. The timing and my ideas aligned!
I believed passionately in creating bespoke menus to suit individual clients. I also believed in uniqueness. In the early 2000’s we had cool dancers, actors, musicians, and the odd director of this or that helping me out at weekends for fun. Thanks to these guys and the company’s front of house, the early days are so memorable. I sometimes felt back then that if we were a little rough around the edges, we more than made up for it in energy, effort, and geniality.
In 2002 I brought and decked out my first proper kitchen. Real staff were employed, contracts came into play, repeat clients secured, regular venues organised, and in 2005 I employed a Head Chef. Though I am a good cook, a great cook even, I had made the whole thing too big for myself. Harry, the young, hungry Sous Chef from La Gallois was the perfect fit and he took the kitchen onto its next journey. Nathan, Beth and Pablo later followed in our footsteps. The head Chefs of EJ have all always pushed with passion and never ego. I have and always will appreciate and admire this.
In 2008 we sent a dish called “Welsh lamb with ratatouille” to the True Taste Awards tasting panel, and to our surprise we were shortlisted! The event was huge with great fanfare and buzz. That evening we won gold for our dish, but what we really wanted was to cater the event the following year. Could we claim it? The next year I tendered, got down to the last two, went to interview (as a chef I had never had a real interview. Chefs do trials, get in the kitchen, pull a shift, get the job, so this was a big deal, and I was far out of my comfort zone) and to my surprise and delight, I won the tender! The True Taste Awards 2009 Abergavenny was ours. We cooked 5 courses for 500 guests, which totalled 5,000 plates of EJ Catering food. Still to this day, that night, that event, was a triumph. We went on to cater for the next 3 years for the event.
As EJ Catering’s success continued, I come to realise the things about the business that I really loved and wanted to prioritise. I loved good quality, locally sourced, perfectly prepped, excellently presented food and the ethos we had created for the business. I also enjoyed the challenge and excitement of the large events. EJ Catering’s Iron Man Wales gigs stand out as biggies that really were cooking marathons. One plate of pasta, 1,200 people, 350 kilos of pasta, 6 buckets of pesto, 35 kilos of parmesan and 1,600 feet of banqueting roll with 30 catering students from Pembrokeshire College. We smashed them and would return on the Monday morning to make 800 bacon butties for the award ceremony!
EJ Catering was now catering some 60-80 weddings a year, catering celebrity weddings, looking after the Royal family, Mo Farah, and Sir Sebastian Coe! We had the ability, contacts and capacity to offer themed food and dressed the staff accordingly for events with themes such as Alice in Wonderland, Downton Abbey, Hawaiian Beach parties, Circus, Carnival, Medieval, Game of Thrones, plus many more. We even made the whole of the periodic table in white chocolate truffles as part of Techniquest’s launch!
Over the years, there have been countless fun events and a big thanks must go to Math, Clare, Gail, Neil, Joe, Kate, Del and Yvonne for running the office, managing my teams and working late as we grew and took on more. Thanks to all the waiting staff, many of whom have become like family. Two of my waiting staff last year are sons of family friends and I had made both these boys their first birthday cakes! Now strapping handsome waiters, it feels like I’ve had this company for a lifetime!
As well as cooking I also wrote the Saturday cookery column in the Echo from 2008-2011 and with the help of Superwoman’s Bethan Darwin, we wrote a small cookery book, raising money for Tenovus. In 2015 when we were awarded The Investors in People Award and in 2018 & 2020 we won at the Business Growth Awards in the food, drink and hospitality sector.
But, it is Brick Jam that holds my greatest affection through these later years. In 2015 I approached ITV’s Carole Green who is a trustee of the Brick School in Nepal. I offered to cater a charity event in aid of raising money for the school. Marrying my traveling days to current skill set as Chef made perfect sense. To date Brick Jam has gathered a truly fabulous following and raised over £32,000.
We were also extremely proud to work alongside many other great catering companies in April and May of this year, when we cooked for the NHS frontline, as part of the magnificent #FeedTheHeath project. The community spirit, initiative, hard work and experience of cooking to feed some of the heroes of this pandemic, is a memory that will stay with me forever.
When COVID-19 hit Britain in March 2020 EJ Catering was about to take on a fifth person in the kitchen and take on another busy and exciting summer. I had a brilliant and young new office manager Rhiannon and was just beginning to think about taking a step back from the business. With my children now in their early teens, I was beginning to consider a little more work life balance.
The pandemic has hit the catering industry particularly hard. All our corporate clients are now working from home, all our weddings have been once if not twice moved into the future, and private house catering is not allowed. This has had a devastating impact on many businesses in the industry and I cannot wait to see the day that the catering industry is thriving again.
The last 9 months have given me an opportunity to reflect and reassess the business and my life within it. I am a person who thrives on adventure, on creating something new, on energy and problem solving. I was becoming aware that I was perhaps ready for something new. So when, slightly out of the blue, an opportunity crossed my path and I took the brave and exciting decision to close the business at the end of this year, to end this chapter of my life.
I have sold the kitchen to a local welsh company and excited that the kitchen will cook on.
Thanks to all the friends and family that have helped me, and to all the clients that ate our food and with kind words helped build our reputation. Many clients have become friends. There are families that I have catered weddings, christenings, birthdays, anniversaries and sadly funerals for. Thank you for always trusting me and joining me in my passion for good food that ‘stirs the soul’.
And so what next? We will all have to wait and see, myself included. For now a rest, a break, a gap year!