Retiring? Maybe … !

Retiring? Maybe … !

Dave Cooper, our departing Head Chef, talks about past triumphs and future plans.

Since I’m 66 this year it’s time to hand over the reins, but that’s not to say I won’t miss it here! I’ve really enjoyed my 11 years at South Devon Chilli Farm so I expect I’ll be back from time to time to help out with cover and when it’s busy.

That said, the kitchen is always busy, regularly producing anything  up to 1000 jars per day to service our wholesale clients and online orders along with keeping our farm shop stocked, and then there’s extra needed for the markets, shows and events that we attend all year round.

The logistics of it all can be quite mind-boggling when you’re making in such large quantities. It’s not just about throwing everything in a very big pot! You have to make sure that you order up the right bottles or jars in the right quantity in time for the run along with all the additional ingredients that go into the recipe, so it can be quite a juggling act.

Autumn is always the peak time, though. It’s just as well that my 20 years as an army chef followed by long hours in the pub and restaurant trades gave me a strong work ethic because it really is all hands to the pump. You’re looking at  tonnes of chillies to harvest then mash down to freeze for ongoing production, and this usually coincides with the lead up to Christmas. Wholesalers often place bulk orders of 20 or 30 boxes of popular products at this time, and some retailers want large quantities of particular lines to make up their Christmas gift sets.

All of this puts a lot of additional pressure on the kitchen but there is one order we got a while back that really stands out in my mind – 15,000 jars of salsa (5,000 of each kind), and all ready to deliver in a fortnight! Well, we somehow managed it but we did end up playing catch-up with our regular production schedule for quite some time after that!

One of the most rewarding aspects of my role over the years has been the development of new product lines. It’s very much a collaborative effort, often taking three to four months from the initial idea, followed by the research and trial phases, before the product is finally on the shelf.

I’m especially proud of developing our range of BBQ sauces, ketchups and salsas which will be flying off the shelves from now on as it gets warmer. We’ve also just launched a Smoked Apple Chilli Jelly which we’re selling alongside our original Apple Chilli Jelly which was actually one of  the very first products made - a successful marriage of homegrown chillies with apples from our own orchards when in season.

We’ve also pickled the surplus chillies from last year’s Cherry Bomb crop; another first that has been well received. Amrit, one of our directors, comes from Trinidad and so we’re also looking at creating a line which captures the traditional flavour notes of that part of the Caribbean – watch this space!

Now that I’m retiring, what next? I’ve always been interested in keeping bees, so when we recently installed a beehive at the Farm it was a great opportunity to pick up some tips. They arrived just in time to make the most of the flowering apple trees in our orchard so we’re hoping they’ll stick around to make lots of honey! Any honey-infused recipes in the offing? Well, let’s see how the bees get on but I might come up with an idea or two before I finally buzz off!

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