If there’s one thing that this year has taught us, it’s that no matter where we live we have a whole host of talented, passionate people producing wonderful food and drink that we didn’t even realise were there.
It’s these people who really have pulled out all the stops to keep going during the debacle that 2020 has turned out to be, constantly innovating, grafting and doing everything in their power essentially to survive.
In Coventry and Warwickshire we’ve got a whole plethora of those people, as you’ll see from my lockdown guide if you check it out. One of those is Sophie Hyam. How I hadn’t tried Sophie’s food before lockdown I don’t know, but it’s safe to say I’ve made up for it this year.
Originally from Stratford but now based in Coventry, Sophie left school at 16 to train as a chef, starting her career at The Opposition in Stratford. She gave up briefly and worked in sales but her love of food never stopped so she carried on catering for private dining events and holding pop-ups in her spare time.
In April 2019 she took the plunge and went full-time as a self-employed chef, doing everything from food demos to cookery lessons, private dining and events. She’s got a pretty impressive CV, including cooking live at the Good Food Show NEC for John Torode and Greg Wallace during Masterchef Live, appearing on Masterchef and Jamie and Jimmy’s Friday Night Feast and conducting live cookery demonstrations with Rosemary Schrager.
Like everyone else, less than a year after going it alone 2020 has seen Sophie in the same plight as so many other people in the hospitality industry, with events cancelled, tight restrictions meaning she couldn’t offer private dining, and the uncertainty of not knowing how long that would last for.
But it didn’t take her long to adapt. Within days, Sophie started offering a whole range of takeaways. Themed menus, bespoke menus, treats. You name it, she has done it.
Our first experience was a Thai feast (check out the pictures above). Ribs, chicken satay, Thai green curry, Massaman curry and jasmine rice, along with a pineapple dessert. All portioned up with easy-to-follow instructions to prepare, heat and serve. The flavours were great, the portions generous and the price more than reasonable. We were hooked.
It didn’t stop there. Another offering alongside things like burger nights were an Eat, Street, Repeat menu that mum and I snaffled one Friday night.
A real mix of cuisines, we feasted on a pastrami homemade burger piled high with mozzarella and a creamy mushroom and truffle sauce as well as slow-cooked beef short ribs and our favourite – creole-style shrimp and grits.
Sophie’s food is food with heart. She clearly has a real passion for exploring cuisine from around the world and experimenting with flavours. It’s always hearty and packed with flavour, often with her own twist on classics but always trying to stay true to the authentic elements of a dish.
After trying Sophie’s takeaway offerings, I was desperate to try food that she hadn’t just cooked, but had served up and plated herself. The perfect opportunity came during the hiatus between lockdown one and lockdown two, when I decided to throw Jamie a very small birthday dinner party for us and our friends.
From the first message seeing if she could do it, it was the easiest process to organise. Sophie sent me a whole load of choices for our menu, and I left her to have free rein over some canapes too.
The idea of having a chef in your own home might be a bit strange to some people, but for us it’s the perfect solution. No need for dog-sitters, great food right there in your own home and someone else to take care of the clearing up. Sophie was brilliant, making herself at home in my kitchen and just getting on with things while we all enjoyed some pre-dinner drinks.
We started with some pretty substantial canapes. Rare roast beef and horseradish in possibly the nicest mini Yorkshire puddings I’ve ever had. Mozzarella and cherry tomatoes in pesto, a Mediterranean platter and spicy crab balls.
For starter we had a trio of homemade pates – chicken liver parfait, salmon pate and mushroom pate – with pickles and melba toast. Another generous dish but simple, well-executed flavours.
Main course was the perfect example of Sophie’s cooking. Hearty and simple but full of flavour. Beef short ribs slow cooked in a red wine and horseradish reduction with goose fat roast potatoes, cauliflower puree and glazed carrots.
The ribs fell apart, the sauce was rich, the potatoes possibly the best I’ve ever tasted, and the whole meal fell into the bracket of a classic done well.
Dessert was something I knew would appeal to Jamie’s sweet tooth and his own love of keeping things simple without too much fuss. Salted caramel brownie pudding with clotted cream. Yes, it was delicious. Yes, there was a lot of it. Yes, it may have been responsible for me putting on several pounds that week.
Having a chef in your house is always about more than the food, in my humble opinion. It’s about having a stranger in your house who can learn their way around your kitchen in five minutes, can fade into the background yet simultaneously still be a presence and integrate into your group, and who can make sure it’s just as comfortable as if you had cooked yourself yet just as special as if you were in a restaurant.
Sophie does all this. And on top of it all, she turns out good food. I’m so glad we have talented people like her right on our doorstep serving up lovely food just when we need it most. Whether it’s a takeaway, one of her grazing boards, or booking a special occasion meal when we’re allowed to, support her. And all those who do great stuff with food like she does.
I paid in full when I ordered from Sophie.