H&E North catches up with Chef Dave Swade of Blue Pepper Catering to discuss the pandemic, childhood dreams, and favourite ingredients.
Hi Chef, had you always dreamed of being a chef, and how did you get here?
No, actually! When I was younger, I wanted to be a car mechanic! But my parents moved to Cornwall from Bolton when I was about 13 and they owned a
hotel down there, and I started doing a bit of cooking. And that was it, I focused on becoming a chef from then. I did my initial training down in Cornwall and then moved on to work at a stately home in Berkshire for four years. I worked my way up to being a Junior Sous-chef there, before working in the Lake District with Richardson Hotels. When I was 22, I got my first AA rosette at the Beech Hill Hotel in Windermere. I was with that group for a good few years and then I moved on to a hotel in Devon called
Lewtrenchard Manor where we again achieved our AA Rosette and our RAC Blue Ribbon.
I came back up to Leeds about 20 years ago and started work at what was then The Bay Horse at Fairburn and then I came from there into the city centre and
worked for Dine for two years, and then I went to work at The Loft, catering for events within there. Finally, after a couple of failed attempts – for want of a better
word – we eventually set ourselves up as Blue Pepper Catering, and we’re now in our eighth year.
What a year it’s been, how has the pandemic affected the business?
Like everyone else, we were hit hard. Our saving grace was that we managed to establish a contract with a banking group. Their caterer wasn’t able to serve them
anymore, and we switched over to basically doing packed lunches every day, Monday to Friday, for all of their staff. All with no contact delivery, and the same
drivers going to the same places, of course. That saw us through the pandemic; we didn’t do anything else other than that. We went from doing 15 to 16 hour
days to doing four or five hour days. That took us right the way through to January when the contract ended. After that, we were hit hard. At that point there was no
business whatsoever. Also, because we’re event caterers and not a restaurant or pub, we didn’t qualify for any support from the government or the council.
Hopefully now some better news and exciting plans for recovery?
We’ve got all sorts coming up. We have a lot of corporate events and weddings and had a lot of interest in our barbecues and hog roasts, as well as our fish and
chips. Working with some of the new venues we have booked will be great. We’re working with places like East Riddlesden Hall and Fountains Abbey for the first time
as a catering partner, so we’re really looking forward to getting stuck into that. Each new opportunity the recovery brings is exciting for us in its own way!