Nicola Hordern is helping SouthGen to create The Canteen @ The Old Hospital
Nicola Is the Former Head Chef of Darsham Nurseries Cafe
After the popular Darsham Nurseries Cafe closed in April 2020, SouthGen reached out to Nicola to see if she might be interested in helping with our venture to create Southwold’s first real Farm to Fork cafe. As we walked her through the shell of the space, we explained our vision: inclusive, approachable, no elitism. A café that is about good food for everyone.
Nicola was hooked. ‘I could see that so much care had gone into the project. We need less about the individual and more about all of us. I’d love to see people popping in for the best cup of coffee and eating beautiful pastries made from grains grown and milled nearby. Using butter produced at Fen Farm Dairy and sustainable energy from solar panels.’
Being a chef is hard work, long hours, and not much pay. However, as Nicola explained, for some chefs, their job isn’t just about the money. It is a vocation. Nicola was a forty-something highflying chartered accountant, when she heard her calling. It was during a period of intense soul searching. Watching her cook for a party of friends, her husband observed, ‘You are only truly happy when cooking.’
Trained at the multi-award winning Ballymaloe Cookery School
Nicola trained at Ballymaloe which has close links with Alice Waters, creator of Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley California. Alice Waters pioneered the farm to fork movement and Nicola did a stage at Chez Panisse. When it came time for Nicola to find her first job, she had eyes only for Jeremy Lee’s Quo Vadis restaurant. So, she began at the bottom, learning to prepare every dish under the master’s exacting eye.
Nicola’s next fork-in-the road decision was moving to Suffolk where her husband’s family has farmed for generations. They found their dream house, a dilapidated 17th century farmhouse near Framlingham. It has three acres of garden with thousands of daffodils and blue bells blooming beneath the trees.
Rated by the Sunday Observer OFM 50 as one of the 50 best people in British food
Just as Quo Vadis had been her first choice, Darsham Nurseries Cafe was the only Suffolk restaurant that caught Nicola’s imagination. They were advertising for a chef. So, uninvited, she knocked on their door and was asked in for a chat. She cooked the owners a meal.
In two short years, Nicola was designated by the Sunday Observer as one of the 50 best people in British food.
What makes Nicola special is not just the quality of her cooking. It is her spiritual understanding of food and the land.
‘So many natural resources, our environment, employment, the natural wildlife are impacted by what we eat. I don’t have problems with slugs and snails in my vegetable garden. This is because it is surrounded with trees full of the birds that eat them. If you eradicate trees and hedgerows and use pesticides, you lose so much wildlife. If you create huge fields to accommodate huge equipment, the soil is compacted. This means you need more fertiliser, more pesticides and ever larger machinery. The yields may not increase, yet the amount of energy and resources required are ever greater. The cycle goes on and on until the soil is depleted.’
‘There are many farmers who believe industrial farming is still the way to go. However others are realising that change is needed. That they need to do something and they need to do it quickly. They know that going back to some of the old ways makes good stuff happen. Plus there are many new and wonderful innovations where farmers and food producers are working in harmony with the natural world around them.’
Nicola’s vision for Southwold’s Farm to Fork Cafe
Nicola vision of good food resonates completely with SouthGen’s vision for Southwold’s Farm to Fork cafe. ‘There is a quiet revolution happening in farming in Suffolk and the Old Hospital community café can be a small part of it. By using the best ingredients when you start, you need to do very little to them to make the most incredible meal.’