Lisa Bridge swapped working in operations and projects for large companies like Sainsbury’s, Egg and Lloyds Registrars for her love of feeding people and founded Wirksworth’s The Rhubarb Kitchen. As well as running two other businesses with husband, Carl, Lisa has taken her foodie business from Rhubarb Sweet and Savouries, a ready meal business in 2008, to a catering company specialising in, amongst other things, large parties and gatherings for celebrations either at home, DIY venues or holiday cottages; corporate lunches with a difference and retreats where Lisa and her team cook for between 30-100 guests at a time. Here Lisa shares her food loves.

Tells us about The Rhubarb Kitchen

It started life as Rhubarb Sweet & Savouries as a ready meal business in 2008. I was ready to go - and then had a nasty fall and broke my ankle in several places, resulting in surgery. I needed something to do so I started to help out with admin for my husband’s business, which turned into a full time Operations Director role, so Rhubarb was mothballed for a while.

When Covid hit, we had to close all of our businesses. We lived in a tiny village, with residents unable to get out and about. I started to make home-made soups, scones and treats, and deliver them to people. I made anniversary dinners, takeaways that could be picked up from my window hatch on a Friday evening, and afternoon teas for those able to get together in small numbers outside.

My little business then grew sufficiently that I needed more space. So, I opened a little place on North End in Wirksworth. I stumbled across it and loved the feel and the light. I’ve been there for four years now.

There are around 10 ‘Rhubarbettes’ who all work to deliver food and service to the highest standards. I love them all dearly. No one is a trained chef, but we all have heritage and recipes dating back to our younger years and lots of experience, and we also spend a lot of time researching up and coming trends, using seasonal and local produce. We focus on being great hosts, bringing the smiles and fun, and the enthusiasm that our clients expect.

First dish you learned to cook?

A swiss roll with my Nan. She taught me to bake. I was five. She complained that mine was better than anything she had made herself. I have very very fond memories of baking with both my Nan and my Great Grandmother. Also my step-mum, Sue. All great bakers!

Most vivid childhood food memory?

Hot toast, warm butter, marmalade and tea. In bed first thing in the morning, when spending the weekend with my Great Grandmother. She had a proper pantry that I was obsessed with that was FULL of ingredients to play with. I also had my first Victoria sponge at her house. I loved spending time with her. That's where I learnt all about nurture.

Most memorable meal out?

The Olive Branch, Clipsham, in Rutland. The food was outstanding, but the dessert board, another level. It was a board of mini desserts all based around a fairground theme. The colours, flavours and textures were out of this world. Candy floss, toffee apples, popping candy.

I love food that ignites interest in the visual rather than just the flavours. They also have an amazing breakfast menu that lists where you can buy the produce from on your way home. It was a bit like a food trail, I loved that.

Favourite ingredient?

Chocolate. There's nothing else to say on the matter.

Your go-to snack?

A home-made chocolate hobnob. I make them all the time. Everyone is a bit underwhelmed at the thought of one until they try one. And then, well they can't keep away.

If you weren't running The Rhubarb Kitchen, what would you be doing?

The next part of my journey is to set up a business focusing on the broken hospitality industry. I am passionate about fixing what I believe is a cycle of not great management or leadership mixed with an unrepresented career path that a lot of young people think is just a ‘filler’ job to make some money. If we don't get better all round, then we will become known for all the wrong reasons in the UK when it comes to hospitality.

There are some great examples of fabulous businesses doing amazing things, but I still hear horror stories about young teens not being given a break or food whilst at work, and kitchen teams shouting at front of house team members. This is not acceptable. And this is what I'll be focusing on next as part of my journey. That, and our soon to be released conceptual team building business. It will really showcase what we have to offer, and at the same time, lose a lot of the cliche around raft building, kayaking and abseiling activities. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but we also have a lot more to offer within the Peaks as an alternative experience, and some amazing small businesses that just want to be seen and heard.

Your dream dinner guest?

David Beckham. Firstly, I had a bit of a crush on him during his Manchester United days (who didn't?) and also because I want to find out what he's really like as a person and a businessman. I think he'd be great fun at a party. But he wouldn't be allowed to bring Victoria.

What's your guilty food pleasure?

How long have we got? I love macarons but only the ones from Perfect Peaks Patisserie. Anastasia is a macaron pro. They are without doubt the best in the world. Is it wrong to order extra ones for me when I order some for my clients?

Who are your Derbyshire food and drink heroes?

Gem and Ross from The Old Dog, Thorpe. They work so, so hard and are really trying to work with a strong sustainability plan and take the time to recruit an awesome team. They are also very passionate about keeping a local pub for the locals, as well as appealing to tourism, which is quite a difficult thing to do.

Another is Rob Hattersley, owner of Longbow Bars & Restaurants. I love how he has kept original features of each bar/pub but has spent a lot of time and expense on enticing diners in. He also invests in great photography, using Mark Averill, who also looks after our imagery. The professionalism shows. I'm sure it's not been an easy ride for him, but I greatly admire what he is doing.

Pingle Produce – Gus and Fash who run this are two of the nicest people you could meet. They work tirelessly on a market garden and sell their wares through a number of different channels, including fruit and veg boxes from our local pub, The Feather Star.

White Peak Distillery - Max and Claire have worked tirelessly to bring some amazing products to market, including their award-winning whisky. Although a considerably larger business than ours, they both work extremely hard at using sustainable production methods, working with other local businesses to utilise anything and everything that might otherwise be discarded. And they still label their own bottles, not a job for the faint hearted. If you go for a distillery tour, the passion of everyone working within the business is evident.

A place you love to eat?

The Hanging Gate, Shottle, Belper. I used to work there when I was 18-20 and it was the best two years of my life. I loved it, the open fires, the buzz, the customers. I still go back to eat there to this day and there are team members who have worked there for more than 20 years. It's like comfort to me.

A career highlight?

Successfully working with Hotel Chocolat to bring them to Derbyshire and host a chocolate night. They had never done it before, never been asked, nor did they advertise it. My view is if you don't ask you don't get. So, I asked.

We had canapes to start, with full on chocolate tasting and desserts, paired with dessert wines, and a talk about how the end products are made and how they source their chocolate ethically. I still remember this vividly.

What's next for you and The Rhubarb Kitchen?

Doing more and more of what we love. Cooking for people, bringing smiles to faces, making experiences that much better, working within the industry to promote what we do as a proper career, instead of just a ‘fill in’ and seeing our businesses grow and thrive.

Developing our new brand working with up and coming businesses, looking to form bonds and create better relationships with each other, whilst connecting with our local area and tasting great food of course, the kind that feeds the mind and soul. It will always include a home-made chocolate hobnob though.

Lisa’s favourite dish

A beautifully cooked Sunday roast. There is nothing better in my opinion.