Head chef returns to her Suffolk roots to launch top-flight meal kits
- Credit: Enrich and Endure
Before the pandemic struck Alice Norman was a head chef working in a swanky Mayfair restaurant.
Today, she has taken up residence in a kitchen on an organic farm in Suffolk. From there, the 28-year-old makes top-flight meals for customers who are much more home-bound than they might have imagined they would be just 18 months ago.
Her start-up business, Pinch, is based at Maple Farm, Kelsale, which lies just a few miles from her parents’ home in Aldeburgh. She came home to Suffolk after losing her job because of the pandemic.
“I sadly lost my chef job in Mayfair during Covid — along with every other chef in the world,” she explains.
“I’m now back here in Suffolk — where I grew up — and I’ve started a business that creates restaurant-calibre meal kits in a box that celebrates the produce of this wonderful county."
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Alice doesn’t have to go far to source top-class ingredients as the farm grows a range of crops.
Already it’s going well — and she’s even had a visit from top film actor Keira Knightley.
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The main focus for her kits is English pasta made using Maple farm flour and eggs.
“It’s a very exciting project for me as I’ve worked with pasta for years but always used Italian flour. Now I get to use grain that’s grown and milled on the doorstep of the kitchen. I couldn’t be happier,” she says.
She has worked at restaurants including Kricket, Clipstone, Levan, and latterly, Emilia — a fine dining restaurant in Mayfair where she was head chef. “We sadly had to permanently close due to Covid — it was heartbreaking,” she says.
She has also used lockdown to start studying for an MA in food anthropology at SOAS University of London — something she says she has wanted to do for years.
“I initially wanted to set up a pop-up take-away restaurant in Aldeburgh that celebrates Suffolk ingredients but it was impossible. I then thought of the idea of selling meal-kits in a similar fashion to those in London,” she explains.
“I wanted to continue to cook in a way that could survive if there was another lockdown which is where the idea of a take away finish-at-home meal kit came from. I doubt there’ll be another lockdown, but you never know. Now, I can cook to a similar standard of the fine dining restaurant I worked at in Mayfair, with all the creativity that drives a chef, without all the negative aspects of working in a restaurant.
“I was born and raised in Suffolk and I’ve always wanted to find a way of using our amazing produce that we have here, from both land and sea. It’s totally spoiling.
“I want people to understand and appreciate the wonderful produce we have in this county. It’s totally diverse. From oysters to bean-to-bar chocolate and — in my opinion — some of the best cheese in the world.
“As my business is located on a farm I’ll be able to learn more about farming which has been a dream for years but for obvious reasons it’s not possible to have hands-on experience as a chef located in London. It’s very important for me to expand this side of my knowledge. I already know how to cook and now I really need to learn more about the production.”
The experience of running her own business has been “liberating”, she says.
“I’ve never met anyone who regrets setting up a business. A fair few of my friends have set up a business in the last few years. We’re all approaching our 30s. They all have a warm sense of freedom and an incredible sense of drive. When you work for yourself, you have to make it work — it’s all down to you.
“I want it to become a treat for holiday makers — to make their life easier when they visit the area as well as showing them what we produce here in Suffolk. There aren’t a huge amount of good restaurants in the area although it is getting much better and I have high hopes for the scene over the next 10 years.
“It’s going to be the busiest summer the county has ever seen and restaurants will be fully booked. I want my meal kit will help solve this issue.
“I also want local customers to return on a regular basis, the menu will change once a month — with a few weekly tweaks depending on what Maple Farm has to offer. I want people to say - ‘Shall we get a Pinch box this week?’ Just like they might say: ‘Shall we book a table at L’Escargot this weekend?’.
“William and Miranda Kendall, who own the farm, are incredibly wise and supportive — so I can always go to them for advice too. It is all thanks to them that I am able to do this. They have let me be the first person to use the new farm shop kitchen. The timing is incredibly serendipitous.”
People seem to be very excited about her new venture, she says. “Even Keira Knightley popped her head in.”
The plan now is to focus on marketing and getting to know all the producers, she says.