Archives

From patients to pottery

Work experience students Evie Cowling, Sophie Smith and Kitty Foss spoke to Jane Bond about how a pottery hobby has escalated into selling her plates, bowls and more to friends and businesses

 

Retired theatre nurse Jane Bond never expected to make a second career of her hobby when she discovered a love for clay after a six-week pottery course.

Now, a year on from finding her creativity streak, she is supplying a top Norwich restaurant with plates, dishes and bowls as well taking on commissions.

“It wasn’t something I had thought of doing before,” she said. “Perhaps the creativity streak is something to do with the caring side as a nurse.”

Her hobby became a passion and, after posting photos of her pieces on Facebook, she instantly had requests from various friends asking her to make something for them.

But it was at Worstead Festival last year, where Jane’s talents suddenly had a larger audience. She said: “I help out each year behind the scenes in hospitality and washing up for the chefs in the kitchen theatre. I was a bit cheeky and asked if the chefs would use my plates to hand round the food they were cooking.”

They attracted the attention of Roger Hickman, the owner and head chef of his highly-commended, fine dining restaurant in Norwich and he asked her about providing tableware for him and to contact him after the festival.

“I didn’t didn’t have the confidence at the time to ask him about it,” she said, and time lapsed. Six months later, he posted a picture of Jane’s tableware online and got in touch to order more than 100 pieces, from serving dishes to amuse bouche bowls.

It was a big change from making single items for friends, so she decided it was time to invest in her own kiln. She’s now thinking of buying another to keep up with orders.

So far she has not had to advertise her wares, using social media and word of mouth to spread the word. She said: This keeps it close to home and more bespoke as she thinks it’s extremely important that “it doesn’t become a production line”.

Last Christmas, at a small fair in Worstead, Jane noticed the amount of artistic talent within the village and how there wasn’t really anything or anywhere local to showcase their talents.

So, at this year’s Worstead Festival, she has got together with like-minded artisans to launch Made in Worstead, which will be held on the Sunday, July 29 (Saturday, July 28, will be a produce show).

The idea isn’t just to sell their work, but also to attract more artists from the area to get involved and start to build a bigger community of local people who enjoy art. Jane made it clear that it’s important to her that it stays “handmade and original” to make the group different and unique.

She has various plans for the future, both personal and for the artisan crafts group, including her own studio so she has more space to build up her collection. She has many ideas for the group, such as a Christmas fair in the church and organising demonstrations and workshops in the village hall.

The overall aim is to get people involved so that they may even find something they love doing, just like she did with pottery a year and a half ago, which has become so much more than just a hobby.

PICTURES: SOPHIE SMITH

 

Chef brings a taste of homestyle Mexican dining to Norwich

A move to Norwich to bring a taste of homestyle Mexican dining to the city was a new start for chef-patron Jason Coolbaugh and his family.

Having been “charmed” by the city on an impromptu visit last year, they considered it the ideal place to relaunch their restaurant after a catastrophic series of events saw the closing of their London business.

And in opening Blue Agave, they have breathed new life into the Grade II listed former Overburys solicitors office in Tombland, where they opened at the end of May. Jason, his French-born wife Sophie and daughter Hana, nine, live off Waterworks road in the city.

Jason is originally from California and was brought up on Mexican food. His dreams of a Mexican restaurant first came to life in 2010, when he opened a 12-seater  hole-in-the-wall in London with his wife Sophie.

He said: “Picante Mexican Grill ranked in the Trip Advisor’s top 3 of London’s Mexican eateries and we attracted a cult following of North American expats in search of the real thing.”

But a catastrophic flood destroyed their business and finances and they had to close the restaurant and think about starting over outside the capital.

“We were charmed by Norwich,” said Jason. “The fine city ticked all our boxes – perfect to raise a family, buzzing foodie scene and access to good-quality local produce. We put our London house on the market and started to look for suitable premises.”

Having grown up in Orange County, California, Jason, 48, developed a love of Mexican cuisine from a very young age. He said: “My earliest memory of cooking was making quesadillas with my sister when I was just five.”

The venture is a real family affair with Hana working with the designer on the children’s menu and Sophie fitting in social media, design and marketing around her job with Norwich music streaming startup SupaPass.

As well as making its food in house from Mexican-sourced ingredients, the restaurant also serves beer from the Cerveceria Mexicano brewery, as well as no fewer than 49 brands of Tequila.

The venue also sells its ingredients to customers and will be hosting cooking classes later this year.

Jason said: “Blue Agave is all about authentic, homestyle Mexican food – prepared fresh in our kitchen using local produce and traditional Mexican spices. We call what we do ‘Hecho en Casa’: we take pride in making everything in-house, starting with the best ingredients and cooking them the traditional way. Our menu is a reflection of the foods we love from all over Mexico.”

His signature dish is carnitas (literally ‘little meats’), an aromatic pulled pork slow-cooked to a recipe originating from the state of Michoacán. Jason’s ranchera sauce is a closely guarded family secrets. All made from scratch in his kitchen.

The name of the restaurant has its origins firmly in Mexico, too. The native blue agave plant is used to distil tequila and mezcal and Jason is looking forward to sharing his knowledge and appreciation of the spirits in Blue Agave’s bar, which serves more than 50 varieties. Open late at the weekend, the bar will soon be the venue for tequila and mezcal masterclasses.

jason 2