I really enjoyed meeting chef, baker, potter, manic mother, recipe experimenter, Chef at Sow and Arrow and proud creator of ‘Conservatory Diner Foods’ catering for private dinner parties, birthdays, weddings who also does cake commissions. Oops nearly forgot rowing! She’s a rowing fanatic!
I normally devise a long list of questions before I interview someone for ‘Humans of Clevedon’ but because so many people from such diverse backgrounds had suggested that I interview Nic, I had just one question: ‘Why are you so well known in Clevedon?’
I discovered that despite being well known, Nic is not originally from Clevedon, she moved here when her lovely boys were just 6 months old so she knows people from toddler groups, the boys’ schools, the Clevedon Pilot Gig Club where she is a dedicated member and, she has had the pleasure of working at two of Clevedon’s much loved eateries, Five the Beach and Murrays of Clevedon. She is currently the Head Chef and Recipe Developer at the very popular Sow and Arrow.
Nic was born in Lincolnshire and her Dad was in the Royal Air Force which meant that moving from place to place, notably between different regions of England and Germany was a feature of her childhood which is probably why she hasn’t found moving around as an adult particularly daunting. Nic did a degree at Camberwell School of Arts in London, but after five years decided on a fresh start, applied for a new job and packed up and moved to Brighton for eighteen months. She then went to work on a Summer Camp in America where she was Head of Fine Art, and also starting working in clay. On her return from America she trained in City and Guilds Ceramics in Notting Hill, then applied for a Princes Trust Grant to start up a pottery business.
Amidst all that she does, Nic still produces her own ceramics work including her popular commissions for hand and body casting.
Nic moved to the Somerset area with her ex husband and continued doing her pottery. She also worked part time at Five the Beach as a waitress while her three boys were small, and quickly moved to begin cooking in their kitchen, where she spent six interesting years and learnt a great deal. Nic was also very positive about her three years that she spent at the family business Murrays on Hill Road, where the focus is on gourmet Italian food, and once again, she relished everything she learnt.
One of Nic’s jobs in London had been that of peripatetic ceramics teacher, she also has a Teaching Assistant qualification and she left Murrays to return to her first passion of art. She secured a job at Bertie’s Nursey which is part of the Wraxall based independent preparatory, The Downs School to teach art and pottery to the children under 5. However, she decided the work was not for her as she missed the fast paced environment of a kitchen. As luck would have it a Chef she used to work with, Julian Biggs, told her about the opening of Sow and Arrow and this is where she remains today.
Sow and Arrow is a paleo and ketogenic eatery opened by Pauline Cox and her business partner in July 2018. The restaurant promotes health conscious eating, based on foods eaten by our hunter-gatherer ancestors from the Palaeolithic age, and foods that follow the ketogenic lifestyle. As such it is brimming over with the most tempting, tantalising, gluten free, low carbohydrate, high protein fresh foods probably prepared by Nic and her kitchen team. She has enjoyed researching the paleo and ketogenic diets, adapting traditional recipes, creating new ones, producing gluten and carb free savouries and meals. Pauline of course is a constant source of nutritional and dietary advice as she has championed this way of eating for many years. Find out more about Sow and Arrow here:
It was while working at Five the Beach that Nic started her pop up restaurant business with a work colleague ‘The Conservatory Diner’ so called quite simply because she began with the first event set up in her conservatory which she cleared and set up like a restaurant. She contacted friends, former collegues and Gig Club members and invited them to choose from a set menu of two starters, two mains and two deserts. Her sons Archie, Charlie and Kipp acted as waiters and people were asked to make a donation of what they thought the meal deserved. The evening was a great success and sounded like a lot of fun. Nic did this three times before approaching what was then Annette’s Cosy Kitchen in Clevedon about using their premises for a night as a pop up restaurant event. Nic and her team hosted four of these events before Annetts sadly closed.
Nic continues to do numerous outside catering events, including private dinner parties, birthday celebrations, weddings and her speciality cake commissions. Her most recent commission was the celebration cake for the tenth anniversary of the Clevedon Pilot Gig Club, three lemon and vanilla cakes decorated in Club colours. Here it along with a few other of her creations.
Another recent event that was catered for was a large wedding at The Castle in Clevedon where the Bulgarian bride wanted to combine her countries’ home cooked foods within the three course menu. After some research and recipe developing, a wedding menu was created incorporating British and Bulgarian foods to please all the guests. Nic also designed and created the wedding cake with summer fruit and flowers, her sons and their peers happily join Nic on such occasions working as the waiters, the three boys are also trusty hard working members of the Sow and Arrow team of staff.
Although Nic is passionate about food, cooking and catering, I wondered how she managed to switch off, which bought us to her other passion which is rowing with Clevedon Pilot Gig Club, where she and her two older boys are members. (Her younger son Kipp is a rugby fanatic and is at present training with the Bristol Bears Development Programme) Originally, when the club was in its early stages, friends suggested she went along to have a rowing trial session- the first three were cancelled due to the docks being frozen over and a crash on the M5!
When eventually she did manage to complete the taster sessions she was hooked, and seven years on she is still as passionate about it. Rowing in the Ladies’ B crew she is also the cox for the Clevedon Men’s B, which means keeping 6 men in line(including one of her sons) sometimes no easy feat! The men row on a Monday night, the ladies on a Tuesday in Bristol on the docks, and where possible they row from Clevedon seafront on a Saturday morning depending on the tide times.
In the summer the club attends regattas in and around Devon and Cornwall. In May, the club are going to the Isles of Scilly for the annual ‘World Pilot Gig Championships’. This year is the 30th anniversary of the event, there will be in excess of a hundred and fifty boats on the start line all rowing back to the harbour at St Mary’s. It sounds crazy and she assured me it is!
Prior to the rowing Nic was running and cycling, which she still does but finds the rowing takes precedence. Rowing with a crew, having trained for months in the boat and on erg rowing machines then being on the start line of a large race establishes a tremendous bond that motivates and pushes you through some tough races, and choppy seas! Nic loves the fact that it is an all-inclusive family club which reminds me of the time the Gig Club joined up with Clevedon School Amnesty International Group for a 24 hour rowing event on Clevedon Pier. A stunning number of families took part, some at the most unsociable times in the 24 hour period. And guess who won the prize for rowing the furthest in the time slot? Archie and Charlie Comrie and their two other team mates – well done boys. Find out more about Clevedon Pilot Gig Club here.
I spent a lovely couple of hours talking to Nic, she is exactly as she describes herself on instagram@conservatory_diner_foods All the best to you, Archie, Charlie and Kipp.