Grand Designs on Brighton: Northumberland Fine Food Opens
From the dormant shell of a building previously home to one of Brighton’s historic canneries, the most exciting retail development is preparing to open for business. Over the winter months, local Northumberland couple Jennifer Haslett and her husband Scott Horrobin have been transforming the last survivor of Brighton’s thirteen canning factories into Northumberland Fine Food. Simultaneously they are reviving a historic building and its connection to food. Vestigial traces of that ancestry are being uncovered and lovingly restored. Massive structural beams, at least one foot in cross section, have been sanded and waxed revealing the arc of the original saw cuts by which they were fashioned. The dimensions of those beams reflects the extent of the undertaking: a mere five thousand square feet.
At 39 Richardson Street, history is being brought to life on an epic scale, indeed words such as epic, monumental, or gigantic do an injustice to the scope of this enterprise. The interior will blend the historic and the contemporary in a kind of Rurban fusion: small town charm encounters urban sophistication obviating a trip to the big city in search of the exotic or exclusive.
Northumberland Fine Food has lofty ambitions to bring to the market place the highest quality of ethically sourced foods. Their range of international cheeses from at least twelve countries will offer unparalleled variety and the meat will be sourced from farmers following sustainable farming practices where animals receive ethical treatment. Seafood will have a similar ethical pedigree, hailing from the east coast, Scandinavia and Europe. La Cultura Salumi will supply traditional Italian cured meats and products from Seed to Sausage will be available. Eventually, the offerings will include items not typically found in your local grocery store, such as wild boar and even ostrich.
Vegans and vegetarians are in for a treat. Northumberland Fine Food will be seriously addressing the concerns of this growing market segment offering a particularly good selection of vegan cheese and meatless protein alternatives. “Our commitment to vegans is not just tokenism.”
For those of us in a rush, and let’s face it, who isn’t these days, Zak Copeland of Prep Food Co, has created a line of convenient prepared dishes just ready to pop in the oven. Par-baked breads that can be cooked through in just fifteen minutes will allow anyone to enjoy the taste of fresh baked Italian and French bread. Imagine fresh croissants from Paris, France dipped in your breakfast coffee or better still pain au chocolat.
Shoppers will be able to stock their pantries with exclusive pastas sourced from suppliers to Michelin star restaurants in Europe, as well as sauces, grilled vegetables for antipasti and all manner of artisanal jams, spreads and crackers. Preserved fruits for making tagines and specialized rice for risotto and paella will be in stock. Olives from all parts of Europe, including estate specific varieties of traceable provenance. Olive oils extending from the serviceable for everyday use to single estate oils for the best homemade salad dressing, can be complemented with balsamic vinegars aged to differing degrees for fuller flavour profiles. Jennifer enthuses about one particular jam originating from Spain, “It’s an absolutely unique pear jam made from trees that are all over a hundred years old and is exquisite with a pork tenderloin or a brie.” As a prelude for dinner parties, there are exotic chips in esoteric flavours such as Iberian Ham, Himalayan Sea Salt and Truffle.
Is Northumberland Fine Food beginning to sound like foodie heaven? Well the list of goodies goes on. Let’s explore teas and coffees. There’s a single estate tea sourced from just one family in Sri Lanka who grow, harvest and process the tea and ship it speedily to maintain freshness. Coffee from Aves in Oshawa is a bird and environment friendly shade tolerant product grown under the rain forest canopy. Caffe Monte of Calgary roasts their coffee beans above four thousand feet, which allows them to caramelize at lower temperatures producing a sweeter coffee. More locally, coffee is also sourced from Cold Creek Coffee Roasters of Castleton.
This foodie paradise is divided into two levels with the lower level, catering to many and various food products: residing upstairs will be all the accoutrements necessary for their preparation and presentation. So if you are in need of a tagine or serving platter or any kind of cooking implement, you will probably find it here. All kinds of glassware and dinner party requisites will be on display with a focus on unique items not easily found elsewhere. Carefully selected ranges of home decor items such as lamps, vases, blankets and throws, accent pieces, as well as more personal products such as soaps and fragrances will be on display. Steiff teddy bears will keep the children engaged and pets have not been overlooked; pet beds and gourmet treats are coming soon. Local artworks will decorate the walls.
The ‘Tasting Lounge’ provides a daily opportunity to embrace with some of the many delicious foods that Northumberland Fine Food has to offer. In time, with the granting of a liquor licence, the experience will evolve with opportunity to try niche spirits, craft beers and small batch wines. While it will never be a bar or a pub, it is envisaged that a couple of nights a week private ticketed events will be hosted where local artists would perform original music, comedians would take the stage, and visiting speakers would address issues of the day. A partnership with Side Door will facilitate artists’ bookings. At other times music will be piped through the building via a sound system installed by Whitby Audio and on special occasions Scott will spin a disk or two on his restored vintage Yamaha turntable for a retro vibe.
Running your own business remains the dream of many but harsh statistics indicate the reality of the challenge. Twenty percent of new businesses fail in their first year and four years later, that number rises to fifty percent. There are many reasons to set up your own business: the desire to be your own boss and thereby control your own future, the desire for fame and fortune by turning a passion into a profit or having faith in an idea and the confidence to bring it to market. In the case of Northumberland Fine Food, it would appear that Jennifer and Scott have taken a leaf out of the late Steve Job’s guide to personal development.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other peoples’ thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”
Within six months of discovering she had ovarian cancer, Jennifer’s sister died at just thirty nine leaving behind three young children. She died regretting not having prioritized the most important things in life and admonished Jennifer “not to wait to live.”
This experience though obviously very sad, set Jennifer on a path of working to live, not living to work which would in time lead her to abandon her position in an anonymous cubicle. She became increasingly resilient and adventurous and would sign up for anything she thought might bring joy or contentment. That’s how she discovered the sport of triathlon of which she has now completed three. (The triathlon involves cycling, running and swimming.) “How hard can it be” became her motto as she booked herself and Scott on a trek to the base camp of Mount Everest for a significant wedding anniversary. ‘My sister’s death gave me the courage to do anything without the fear of failure.”
The family’s commitment to seeking out of the ordinary culinary experiences originated during holidays especially to Europe, where they enthusiastically explored the local food scene. Once back home their interest in food led to dinners that could last for two or more hours…just as in France.
“Now our goal is to bring to the people of Northumberland and beyond beautiful foods from local and international sources and share our passion for eating well. We have learned a lot about food over the years, and the most important lesson we learned is that the best food is often the simplest: fresh ingredients, carefully prepared and shared with friends and family.”
If you are looking to try something different, Northumberland Fine Food is probably a very good place to start. Find them at 39 Richardson Street, off Prince Edward Street, just by Uncle Joe’s Attic. Check out northumberlandfinefood.ca and sign up for the newsletter to keep in touch with all that’s new.