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Interviews with artisan bakers Chirnells and Zen Bakers

For many small-scale food producers, festivals and markets are the mainstay of how they do business.

Bread, baking, bakers
Bread, baking, bakers

SCONES piled high and tempting artisan breads and cakes on display, it’s small wonder Heather Foggon was doing roaring trade when I caught up with her at her impressive-looking food stall.

The stall in question, laden with fresh bakery produce, was housed undercover in a marquee at the paper’s Taste of the County food and drink festival at the Northumberland County Show in Corbridge.

And Heather had been working the nightshift, making sure she was well stocked for the many thousands of foodies who descended on the tent that day.

“I’ve brought about 700 scones and 200 loaves of bread. In scones alone I used 51 kilos of flour and 27 pints of milk and about 15 dozen eggs.”

Farmer’s daughter Heather, 51, is the powerhouse behind her one-woman business The Chirnells Farmhouse Kitchen, which she runs from home in Thropton, Northumberland.

Her giant scones, priced at 50p each, were hugely in demand, especially the cheese, cheese and onion, and fruit flavours. Her full range includes 18 different varieties.

And her delicious sourdoughs were bestsellers in the bread department. Although it has to be said, the hand-made coffee and walnut cake, carrot cake and treacle scones were also going down extremely well.

It’s undeniably hard work for one-man-band producers like Heather, who rely on food festivals and markets to sell their produce.

Heather is a well-known face on the market circuit, but she finds it an extremely rewarding way of doing business and likes catching up with old friends.

“I sell through the markets and food festivals. I get two weeks off a year.

“I was at Bamburgh yesterday at a country fair and I sold out of scones, it’s Seahouses tomorrow at the market, next week it’s a mini market at the Metrocentre. I work a lot in Edinburgh as well.”

She is at Hexham farmers’ market on June 9 and 23 and back at Seahouses market on June 17. “People can email me too and I leave the produce in the porch.”

She adds: “It’s not all about baking. It’s meeting people, seeing old friends. It’s been great here today. It’s the first time I’ve had a stall in the Taste marquee, but things are selling and the atmosphere has been great.

“I operate out of my own farmhouse kitchen. I’ve got six ovens in the kitchen.”

Heather used to run a coffee shop with her mother in Rothbury, but sold the business 12 years ago. “I had a year off and then I got bored and people kept asking me to bake cakes and telling me I should do the farmers’ markets.”

So that’s how she started out again – and has never looked back.

More info on www.thechirnellsfarmhousekitchen.co.uk

Zen Bakers

FROM IT consultancy to a new career as bakers, life is bliss for the couple behind Zen Baker.

Adam and Vicki Cargill were certainly living up to their business name when it came to handling the stampede of customers at their food stall.

All was calm and serene – and it was, in fact, service with a smile as they bagged up sourdoughs, seeded cobs, brioche, and focaccias, while also spreading sweetness and joy as they doled out individual cake slices.

They certainly live up to their motto, ‘baked with love’, as each and every item is made in a warm kitchen with a warm heart!

They, too, were doing brisk trade at the Taste of the County food fair at the county Show.

Theirs may be a fledgling business, set up at the end of last year, but so successful has it been, there are plans afoot to move into a unit in Birtley next month.

The pair are self-confessed foodies but the bakery business marks a complete career change for them.

Vicki, 34, who lives with Adam, 36, and their daughter Maya, two, in Kibblesworth, Gateshead, says: “We ran an IT consultancy, 79 Brinkburn Ltd, for the last decade.

“But we have always been foodies and love baking. We did a college course in professional patisserie, incorporating bread, cakes, pastries and confectionery.

"We decided to jump ship, and having our daughter we didn’t want to be travelling much. We wanted to do something more community based. We have followed our heart.”

Adam originally hails from Boston in USA. Vicki says she brought him across here. “We got chatting online. Then I was going over there and he was coming here. He emigrated and we have been together 10 years.”

For the time being the couple are busy on the circuit doing farmers’ markets and shows.

“We do Gibside and we have the Festival of Alnwick next week for the Olympic torch relay.

“This is the first big show we’ve done – we’ve been as customers before – but it’s gone really well.”

Vicki and Adam brought 270 different pieces of bread and 300 cakes from fresh cream gateaux and tray bakes like iced lemon drizzle and chocolate Guinness flavours to flapjacks and brownies, as well as cake pops on sticks. There is no stinting on quality as individual cakes are made with all butter.

Vicki says: “Our products change with the seasons, but our mainstay is sourdough fool, using a wild yeast from April Fool’s Day.”

It’s a lovingly made artisan product, that is not rushed in any way. “From start to finish a sourdough takes 24 hours.”

Vicki adds: “We don't use additives, preservatives or improvers in our bread.”

The pair like to support local too. “We use local producers where we can. Our eggs are from Matfen, flour is from Gilchesters and milk from Lanchester Dairies.”

The business is doing extremely well. “It’s more scary how well we have done. We’re working from the kitchen at home, but we’re going into premises as we speak.

“I want to get my kitchen back!”



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