Award winning relishes by Derbyshire’s Quirky Cook

award-winning products

award-winning products - Credit: Archant

Claire Bore heads to Borrowash, near Derby, in search of the perfect post-Christmas sandwich pick-me-up at award-winning food producers The Quirky Cook

The Quirky Cook at work

The Quirky Cook at work - Credit: Archant

In the depths of winter there is something comforting about opening a cupboard to find an array of jars containing chutneys, pickles, relishes and salsas. Whether you’re a hoarder or simply love adding a little extra to your plate, these condiments offer a chance to brighten up any dish.

Enter the Quirky Cook aka Kay Hawkins – relish maker and director of the Derbyshire superpower brand that is attracting a whole host of culinary awards, from Guild of Fine Food Taste Awards to Golden Fork Winner for Ambient Product of the Year.

In a street of traditional Victorian houses in Borrowash lies the headquarters of The Quirky Cook. It combines the architecture of the 1901-built house with a modern all-singing-and-dancing 5* hygiene-rated kitchen and is the culinary workshop and haven of creator Kay.

Relish Photo: Claire Bore

Relish Photo: Claire Bore - Credit: Archant

Quirky by nature

Kay, who has lived in Derbyshire for most of her life, didn’t begin to turn her passion for cooking into the successful award-winning business it is now until October 2008. Mostly self-taught with a sprinkling of professional training, it has taken over a decade of hard work and determination for her to establish herself as a respected artisan food producer. Over the years influences have come and gone – from Graham Kerr to Delia Smith and Gary Rhodes – but one thing has been constant: the passion for simple wholesome food.

The Quirky Cook was born when a fellow staff member at a cookery school commented that Kay was ‘quirky’ and the name just stuck. It was a case of right time, right place. ‘It seemed a natural progression to take years of cooking and baking for friends and family to a professional level.’

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For Kay the decision to produce relish was an easy one. Primarily she favoured the less chunky and slightly more runny texture, then there was the punning strapline ‘take a moment to relish’.

Kay Hawkins

Kay Hawkins - Credit: Archant

Relish v Chutney

While admittedly there is some confusion surrounding the definition of relishes, Kay says it depends on who you speak to. ‘In terms of how relishes differ from salsa, pickles and chutneys, so many people have their own ideas and thoughts on the topic.’ The biggest difference between the two, she maintains, is where they originated, chutneys being based in Indian cuisine. Generally, though, Kay says, ‘Both relish and chutney are condiments made from small pieces of fruit or vegetables mixed with spices and other flavours. Relishes tend to have a more liquid consistency and chutneys include more sugar. Relishes contain far fewer spices and are generally either tangy or mildly sweet.’

Wholesome Art

From humble beginnings Kay puts her success down to a ‘life-long love of cooking,’ which sparked when she was a child. ‘My passion for cooking evolved from being surrounded by good wholesome home-cooking and baking. Looking back on my childhood, I remember sitting around the kitchen table enjoying meals cooked with ingredients that had been foraged, picked from our garden or sourced from the gardens and greenhouses of neighbours and relatives. I was the little girl who loved to cook… often watching and helping Mum in the kitchen or sitting for hours flicking through her cookery books,’ she reminisces.

It wasn’t, however, an easy start. ‘I literally started The Quirky Cook from my home kitchen in Borrowash. It was a case of using my own money and a few credit cards!’ Luckily the business quickly grew, and awards followed.

So, is she a chef or a cook? Rather than seeing herself in culinary terms, Kay would describe her work as that of an artist. ‘I see my own set of skills as being somewhat similar to a professional florist who has the instinct, flair and creativity to mix together individual items to produce a thing of great beauty. I transform natural ingredients into something very special and love to experiment with flavours and spices until I know I have achieved the wow factor.’

Black Garlic

It’s this sense of adventure that in 2015 led Kay to experiment and develop her signature flavour of black garlic. ‘I wanted to explore how the black version would change the dynamics of condiments. I created and developed a number of recipes using black garlic peeled cloves and sea salt.’ Four of her products were successfully showcased at the 2016 Harrogate Fine Food Show and one was awarded Editor’s Choice. This gave her the chance to present her Caramelised Onion with Black Garlic Relish to a culinary panel known as ‘Feed the Dragons’ which included buyers from places such as Fortnum & Mason, Selfridges and BBC Radio 2 chef Nigel Barden. ‘It was a great opportunity and privilege,’ says Kay. ‘Black garlic has stirred both my imagination and passion to create exciting new products that offer a unique sensory experience,’ she adds.

Vegan-friendly and gluten-free

Creativity aside, the focus was always on producing as pure a product as possible: in the case of The Quirky Cook, a gluten-free and vegan-friendly one. ‘I continue to hold the same ethos that I was taught in my early years; products should be made from scratch, using the purest ingredients. I pride myself on transforming natural ingredients into something very special, which can be enjoyed by individuals with intolerances or special dietary requirements,’ says Kay.

For the future, Kay is keen to increase her international presence and recently sent a shipment of black garlic relishes to La Pointe, Nigeria. However, she attributes her success to the fact that she is doing something she loves, maintaining, ‘The only way to do great work is to love what you do.’

For now, though, The Quirky Cook is going to follow Kay’s own mantra and keep things simple and healthy this January! u

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