What do you do when a great opportunity presents itself? The people who answer “Go for it”, are the people who get things done. So why not pack your job in, begin a start-up business and run a café. That’s what former chef at Monmouth School, Jake, and his partner Jess are up to and they have set up shop for their first enterprise together at Monmouthshire rural skills hub Humble by Nature.
Jake, who had already been in his catering career for several years at the flagship Monmouth Boys, felt gifted to be able to set up their own business in what was effectively a mothballed café ready to go. “Kate and her team have been so good with us”, says Jake. “They’ve just said use whatever you can. It’s been so helpful to us as a start-up”.
Jess, by an elegantly circuitous turn of fate, used to be an apprentice chef (and later also the Boys School) at Humble by Nature and so knew the sites potential. All it needed was a good clean up to clear the months absence of café hubbub, to throw open the entire opening side wall to the farm yard and kitchen garden and let the light and fresh air flood in. Next, sort out the logistics of your everyday electrical certificates and reinstate your food hygiene rating (a lot more time consuming than you might think) and hey presto – The Pig & Apple Café!!
Here’s a young couple (20 and 25) working hard and making it on their own. A sensibly simple menu that just the two of them can cook short order and serve on time even to a full house. Café food that’s good, easy to eat, warm (in a cwtching sort of way) comfort food that nails it. It doesn’t have to be complicated to be excellent. Far from it.
In our “celebrity”, “super food” world it sometimes feels like it’s ingredients that have the bragging rights. In food, good food at any rate, we have a rule. Don’t ask yourself what you are adding, ask yourself why.
So, for Jake and Jess the “Pig & Apple Burger” was a no brainer starting point for a signature plate. Great for lunch but also great to feed the party at their evening opening and entertaining shenanigans.
Our chosen religion is.. If you are going to put bacon on a burger it had better be well done, it had better be streaky and it had better be crisp. Otherwise what does it bring to a burger. If you have got a great burger nailed, and Jake has – home ground beef from Neil Powell butchers (doesn’t get much better on the supplier front), mixed, rolled and ready to rock. Add the secret seasoning, press and cook out on the hot plate to achieve flavoursome caramelised brown bits wrapped around fantastic quality local beef.
Our bacon argument goes like this; well done in lower heat with a bacon iron or topping pan keeps the bacon flat and it renders out the pork fat to a sweet and crumbly texture, streaky because you want that rendered pork fat to add a little flavour and additional saltiness to the stack and crisp to add a different texture to the whole thing. So, there you go. Bacon because it adds flavour, texture (crumbly and robust), salt and sweetness. Theory justified!
Wedge the aforementioned into a toasted sesame and seed bun, hit the bun base with a really, really good deliciously sweet apple relish, don’t fuss too much on the leaves – just something ultra-fresh, green and crispy, put it on the pass and call “service” on another Pig & Apple burger.
As anyone will know who has tried to find Humble by Nature, Kates rural skills and farm HQ, for the first time without the assistance or an orbiting satellite, there isn’t a stampede of footfall along this leafy lane. But build it and they will come. This location just gets busier and busier.
Already the Pig & Apple are making sausages from the farm pork produced by Tim and Sarah (agricultural heroes who run the 117-acre farm) as well as herbs from the kitchen garden and the intention is to source as much as possible from the farm itself.
It is one of the significant and founding principles of the slow food movement that is often all too conveniently forgotten – the food miles issue. Great, to be supporting local farmers to grow seasonal produce in order to support themselves and their families. But if the reason for doing that is to exploit market forces and the labour markets for profit before that food is then flown half way around the globe to the consumer, it kind of defeats the object.
“Where does it come from” is something we are all now more willing to ask, we do it all the time. But, it’s not that often that we are simply asked to look out of the window for the answer. This is about as close to “farm gate” as food gets.
Keep an eye on these guys, it’s down to earth, it’s no nonsense, it’s honest, it’s local and it’s tasty with a hint of fun. And the burgers are as good as any we’ve tasty, however many guys were involved in making them. Well worth meandering down the leafy lane.
Stuff you need to know
Upper Meend Farm, Monmouth NP25 4RP Wales
Jake & Jess +44 7868 138286