Resting Chef, the name by which Danielle Coombs goes by on social media, is quite the misnomer. Self employed and often working from her home kitchen, she rarely seems to have a day off. Running Bishopston Supper Club; supplying cakes to various cafes across Bristol; making preserves, pickles and sauces and, doing relief chef work, she is a very busy woman.
I've been to a few of Danielle's supper clubs now, but the cosy gloam of tea lights and festoon lighting have meant that my photographs have never done her food any justice. Her cooking is some of the best that I have eaten, and her menus varied, centring around quality seasonal ingredients, some of which are grown in her own back garden. With cider or beer pairings, nose to tail eating, afternoon tea or Sunday roast, there are plenty of supper club events to choose from.
In between making a glorious smelling batch of hoisin sauce, ladling jars from a maslin full of plum jam and preparing for a vegetarian banquet; Danielle kindly answered some of my questions.
WM: What is your earliest memory of being in the kitchen?
DC: As early as I can remember, I'd be hanging around the kitchen watching my mum cook dinner, bake cakes and make jam. I was fascinated and I'd help out as much as possible. I was particularly interested when she prepared food for dinner parties and knew I wanted to host parties like that when I was older; it looked a lot of fun.
WM: What made you become a chef and how did you start out?
DC: Although I always enjoyed food, cooking and being in the kitchen, I hadn't anticipated it becoming my career, so it was all a bit of a happy accident really. I started working in a pub while at college and university, enjoyed it and felt comfortable and secure in that environment. My job came to feel like my second home and family, and I loved the buzz of a busy service and the camaraderie of working in a team. I worked in a few pubs and small family run restaurants, then got a job at a hotel. By this point, I knew for sure this was the career for me, worked hard to learn as much as I could and quickly rose through the ranks to management.
WM: Why did you decide to throw a supper club?
DC: After all the years of intense services, full-on hours, managing kitchens, staff and paperwork, I decided I wanted to get back to basics and cook for people directly again. Going back to the root of what made me interested in food and cooking in the first place; hosting dinner parties. Starting a supper club made me more connected to my guests and suppliers, as everything is sourced (some grown), prepped, cooked and served by me, in my home. The guests know they're getting a truly personal service; there is love going into all stages of the process, which hopefully shows through at the end result. I also wanted a change of pace and a more flexible way of working, to have balance in the next phase of my life.
WM: How do you go about drawing up your menu?
DC: I just start with what is in season, available and at its best at the time. It's also what I fancy cooking and eating; the menus seem to flow naturally from there.
WM: How long does it take for you to prepare for a supper club evening?
DC: It can take a few days, from contacting the suppliers, sourcing produce and cycling around Bristol to pick the ingredients up. I start some prep a day or two before, my rum truffles for example, stocks, some desserts or slow-cooked braised dishes. If I'm curing meat or fish, or using pickles or preserves, that would usually have been done a week, a month or more in advance. My partner and I move the furniture out of our lounge the day before and set it up as a dining room. Then the rest of the preparation needs to be done on the day, so it's as fresh as possible -starting with the bread.
WM: Is it daunting inviting people into your home?
DC: I was a little apprehensive at first but soon got over it. My guests tend to be kindred spirits; interested in food and up for meeting new people, so a pleasure to feed and, my life has definitely been enriched by doing so. The events aren't just about eating food, they are an alternative dining and social experience and no event is ever the same. I've met lots of new people and learnt so much more about food in the last few years from immersing myself in the culture and food scene.
WM: Alongside the supper club, you cater, make pickles and preserves, supply cakes, do relief chef work -what do you enjoy the most?
DC: The supper club is the main focus of the business but the reason it stays so fresh and varied for me (and hopefully my guests) is to keep the events spaced a month or so apart, so that I can work on other aspects in between. Cakes and preserves have always been a passion of mine so I continue to enjoy producing those in between events. Relief work keeps me in touch with the industry and I'm still learning from other chefs all the time, which is invaluable, so I'd never want to give that up completely.
WM: It's taken 126 years for the Savoy Grill to appoint a female chef. Do you think there are barriers for women working in the kitchen?
DC: Hopefully not as many as there were. In most areas of the industry, women are, I hope considered equal. I've certainly had barriers to overcome in my time but in my experience, this just made me work harder. I suppose ultimately I wanted to do things 'my way' to get away from some of those barriers, but to me it was liberation and empowerment, not failure. At a higher level, I suspect it's still extremely difficult at times.
WM: If you could eat anywhere, where would it be and why?
DC: Anywhere that is interesting! I have such a long list. I enjoy simple, flavourful, everyday food and eating out to support local independents. Fine dining isn't really my thing.
WM: Do you ever have a day off?
DC: Sundays usually, unless there is an event on. Due to my flexible working week, I'm usually able to enjoy pockets of down-time at random points in the week -so there is balance.
Find supper club dates and enquire about events here
Labels: Bristol, Dinner, Starter for Ten, Supper club, Tea and Cake