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Welcome back to Suffolk at its best

By Nicola Miller

Nicola Miller. (3540078)
Nicola Miller. (3540078)

Our town’s image has taken a bit of a battering lately, what with teenagers allegedly attacking a woman in the street and the homophobic ranting of a local retired politician.

I know we see our town as a food lovers’ hotspot, but I’m sure that egging and flouring a vulnerable person is not what that Guardian newspaper article about the town’s culinary desirability had in mind. It has not been pleasant to witness the effects of this incident and threats of vigilantism show there’s not a huge difference between those demanding “justice” and the alleged perpetrators themselves. It’s an unedifying spectacle. The devil is doing a lot of advertising.

And yet. And yet.

There’s still a lot of good. There’s comfort where we overlap as people; think of it as a Venn diagram of community and love and support.

Not everyone is fiddling while the world burns. In one week I was able to attend two worthwhile events and they really helped me reframe my worldview during yet another week of Grim News.

The first was held at Oakes Barn on a sunny Sunday afternoon, where money was raised for cancer charities in the name of a dear friend who recently endured treatment for cancer, and on behalf of owner Heather Warren and her daughters who will take part in Girls Night Out; and the next evening, a gathering at Hintlesham Hall celebrated the launch of “Suffolk Feast: One County, Twenty Chefs”, by food writer Tessa Allingham, in the company of the 20 chefs and the local food producers who contributed recipes and stories.

The Oakes Barn charity afternoon was the culmination of a process which originally saw the locals and staff join Heather at Nethergate Brewery near Sudbury, to create a new ale whose sale would raise funds for two charities, Girls Night Out and Cancer Research UK.

Named after Liz, one of the dearest and most vibrant women you could ever wish to meet, Mawson’s Blonde Ale, with a pump clip designed by Cameron Brown of Allegro Creative Agency (Cam also works at Oakes Barn) proved so popular customers have asked if it can be made again.

Everyone gave up their time and expertise to ensure the event went without a hitch and together we raised nearly £500. The hospitality trade is comprised not only of great hosts but generous and giving guests, too. The fact that cancer touches all of us in one way or another was a big part of it but to be honest, we all love Liz so much that even if she’d only had an ingrowing toenail, we’d probably have wanted to help with that, too. Ultimately though, focus of the event was to support people with cancer and their families and friends.

We’re all defined in some way by the communities we belong to and my people are definitely those who work in the food production and hospitality field, whether they be artisans like Will Wooster, head baker at Wooster’s Bakery whose bread and patisserie is second to none; the chefs James Carn (formerly of The Angel), Pascal Canevet of Maison Bleue and Lee Bye, chef/patron of Tuddenham Mill – all of whom write for this newspaper and whose recipes and advice regarding the best in Suffolk eating and drinking are featured in Suffolk Feast.

These are the people who nourish us, yet how aware are we about what this entails? In 2018 extreme weather patterns have drawn attention to the challenges faced by farmers, and hence the entire food chain. Come late autumn, it will become apparent what the effects of the heatwave will be on the supply and price of crops and this, coupled with the possibility of crashing out of the EU with no deal, or an extremely poor one, means the coming years will be even more challenging.

I’ve often thought of the financial wizardry of the many chefs I know who manage to turn out creative menus despite the ever-increasing cost of ingredients, difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff and rising utility bills, and wondered if we’d be in such a mess if they were in charge of the nation’s Budget.

It was fantastic to see the close friendships among the chefs and food producers. Working in a kitchen will always be a challenge, especially during a heatwave, but it is clear that our Suffolk chefs have found a way to work in a collaborative and supportive manner. In turn, we must support them by being good guests.

-- Suffolk Feast: One County, Twenty Chefs by Tessa Allingham, is on sale at £24.50 at the restaurants mentioned, or from Feast Publishing (@Feastpublishing on Twitter).

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