VICKY’S NATURAL KITCHEN – A local success story

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Food is both emotionally and physically nourishing; it is the fundamental essence to our being. It’s primal. Eating nutritious balanced food replaces the guilt and self-loathing from the aftermath of a meal and makes way for the feeling of fulfillment and satisfaction that ensues meal times. This is very powerful for healing and wellbeing.

My new outlet, Vicky’s Natural Kitchen is an expression of my passion for nutritious, health supportive food; years of catering for diverse requirements, research and courses. Over the last 5 years I have qualified as a Health Supportive Chef at New York’s Natural Gourmet Institute and Vegan Fusion tutor under Mark Reinfeld in Paris and London. 18 years ago I trained and taught yoga at the Integral Yoga centre. Health and wellbeing have been at the core of my personal life for all this time. The fact that food trends are now opening to this holistic approach to living enables me to work much more in line with what I believe in. The healing possibilities of food and a balanced, nutritionally dense diet. More than a concept, it’s a way of life; an ethos I feel very strongly about, and is the main reason for embarking on tutoring courses in Catering for Health Needs at the University of Gibraltar a year ago.

At my new kitchen, the food I am cooking is more in line with the food I prepared on my TV programs, hence the name. Whilst still featuring my fine dining catering for events, it incorporates a healthier, nutritional, feel-good aspect to dining and food preparation. I also feature vegan fine dining into my menus. It’s a very exciting new concept.

Upstairs in my unit I have a demo kitchen where I will offer workshops as well as my very own Chef Table for private entertaining. This space can be hired out for personal events, working bespoke seasonal menus for all types of occasions, both corporate and private. No expense has been spared in my kitchen and it boasts the very best and latest equipment, a dream come true after catering from a domestic kitchen for, at times, very large numbers for some very prestigious events. Cottage industry catering has been very rewarding but simultaneously quite pressuring at times. I am really enjoying working in a professional environment again after so many years.

Taking the leap from being a self employed sole trader working with casual labour when required to a larger catering company has had its challenges but I would recommend anyone to take that step and go for it. The most rewarding aspect is being able to employ a team, taking off the pressure of working alone and being able to provide employment and some security to those who have supported me casually over many years. It is a responsibility I don’t take lightly and that sometimes keeps me awake at night, but I have no regrets.

Although this new catering outlet providing a sell-out deli of gourmet, nutritious meals and corporate and event catering from my new commercial kitchen is a new project, my catering business is anything but a start-up.

21 years ago, 7 months pregnant with my daughter, I left my job as Sous Chef at a local hotel to work as a freelance chef and caterer. I was approached by a local law firm to cater boardroom lunches a couple of times a week, providing office catering for client entertaining. I loved it from the onset.  Having the freedom to create my own dishes on a weekly basis and preparing dishes in the comfort of my own kitchen was very rewarding. It enabled me to give my full attention to preparing food for a table of 6 to 12 people as opposed to 80 in one service, experimenting, creating, learning as I went along. I worked right up until giving birth; not working was not an option. When my daughter was 2 months old I resumed my business and by the time she was 2 I had more work than I could take on. I had a set client base and I was lucky enough for them to work around my availability and busy diary. There was no one else here offering office catering and boardroom lunches at the time and this had me working sometimes more than I could cope with. Whilst my children were growing up I was just about able to juggle the responsibilities of mothering with catering, my passion. But I have to say when I look back I would have liked to have had more downtime with them. I kept my work in the corporate arena which meant I could be free for my family at weekends, but by the time my second daughter was 2 years old I had started to embark on weddings, larger corporate events and a yoga teacher training course. Bonkers, I know but I have always liked to keep active and above all to feel like I’m learning and achieving new goals in life.

Working from a small apartment began to get a bit chaotic. I moved out of Gibraltar and to a bigger home with a large kitchen and garage conversion where I could store all of the catering equipment and work more comfortably. The idea was to tone it down a bit, spend more time with my family and commute into work a couple of times a week. That wasn’t to be the case. I started to cater for some local clients in Spain and within 6 months was contracted by the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, and later that year, the British Royal Family. My business began to take off in nearby Spain and up the coast. I had to make a decision whether to stay working in Gibraltar or Spain; I chose to move back into Gibraltar and work in the corporate circle I knew and really enjoyed. Catering in Spain has added a lot of diversity to my catering skills and services so I am grateful for that.  From catering for spas and retreats, to cooking for weddings in open fields and on camping stoves on the beach. But I missed organising and catering events here in Gibraltar.

3 years ago after some big changes in my personal life I embarked on a mission to find, fund, and set up a commercial kitchen unit. This proved to be much harder than I could ever have imagined, but finally after 2 years I found my place. It was an empty shell and together with a team of solid professionals it has all come together.

The hardest part has been funding. I studied Hotel Catering and Institutional Management as well as chef training, but managing a catering business did not assist me in putting together figures for bank loan applications and business plans for a project I was 100% self funding. I hired help where needed but went to bed at night with the fear of failure or not being able to fund the project to completion.  A year down the line I can say it has all been worth it and we are ready to open our doors shortly.

The last two years have been a time of rapid growth for my business both locally and internationally. 18 months ago, by chance was taken on as a chef team member of International Chef Exchange and have been traveling to Guernsey, the UK and The Hague to represent Gibraltar and the Iberian Peninsula’s cuisine. Catering dinners in restaurants in these countries has been an amazing experience. I have learned so much from some of the great chefs I have had the privilege to work with and I feel very honoured to have had the opportunity.

The scheme is part of the International Food Festival UK’s program to develop relations between restaurants and suppliers internationally. Working with local and international sponsors on inter-cultural food events in reciprocal countries. This has opened a lot of doors for my international work and I will be hosting teaching events and cooking demonstrations abroad in the coming year as well as participating in the Swedish Passion for Food Festival in March. I could never have imagined the diversity of catering possibilities this has opened for my business, I feel very blessed.

If I had any advice to give someone looking to start up a new business it would be think big, dream, but start small. Know your product, access your market… the obvious, but also have the passion for it and the will to work hard for it. With that, I believe you can achieve anything. People might take your ideas, bring you down but you have to believe in yourself to achieve your goals.

words | Vicky Garcia Bishop