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22 July, 2015 - 15:09 By Jamie Quested

Restaurant-on-the-road offers Cambridge businesses food for thought

Provenance Kitchen founders Mark Hughes Richard Stokes and Greg Proud

Cambridge business brains may be a match for Silicon Valley, but the food on offer is still playing catch-up, according to the head of a new food venture.

Entrepreneurs at The Three Horseshoes in Madingley aim to redress the balance by taking restaurant-standard fare to the desks and doorsteps of companies in and around the city with its spin-out, Provenance Kitchen, which aims to turn up the heat on the culinary choices currently on offer.

The fledgling venture is already winning fans in the upper echelons of the business community, including at Horizon Discovery – a personalised medicines pioneer based at Cambridge Research Park.

Horizon CEO, Dr Darrin Disley, said: “The guys from Provenance were great and the food awesome. We are now having the truck coming once per month with food subsidised for the employees and if there is continued demand they will come more frequently.”

Provenance co-founder, Mark Hughes, is surprised by the general lack of great food options for groundbreaking UK businesses. “Although they may work in amazing new spaces, designed to enhance their working experience, far too often the nutrition requirements of UK workers are an afterthought,” he said. 

“In Mountain View, Silicon Valley, Google has around 30 good quality eateries on its campus.” 

The founders of Provenance Kitchen believe that lunch hour time constraints should not mean having to put up with uninspired, substandard food. Provenance’s objective is to inject fresh energy into the food scene by combining good restaurant-standard food with the convenience of fast service from its retro Airstream trailer wood-fired kitchen.

Hughes added: “In our book, fast and convenient doesn’t have to mean unhealthy. We thought that there was a gap in the market for restaurant quality food in a fast and affordable format. Our aim is to get great food out onto the streets; not everyone has the time or money for fine dining. 

“With Provenance you will be eating the same quality ingredients, prepared by the same chefs as a top restaurant, but at a fraction of the price. The lower overheads of a mobile restaurant and the informal service mean that we can keep our costs very competitive.

“Our home kitchen is the Three Horseshoes in Madingley so the food is always innovative and exciting. We always offer choice; there are vegan and fish options as well as more street food options such as burgers and buns.

“The majority of the preparation is done at the Three Horseshoes so we can sous vide some dishes or cook our pork shoulders or beef briskets for 24 hours. We prep the food as you would in any restaurant, ready to finish at service. The wood fired oven in the airstream gives a beautiful finish to our dishes.

The venture has been privately funded by the founders: Lee Hughes, Mark Hughes, Richard Stokes (owner of the Three Horseshoes in Madingley) and Greg Proud (head chef at the Three Horseshoes). 

Hughes continued: “All funding is in place at the moment. One of the appeals of this kind of venture is that the investment is about a quarter of the average funding needed for a traditional restaurant or bar. That’s why so many new entrepreneurs are setting up more informal operations such as food trucks.

“The food is prepared by Greg Proud. One of the exciting aspects of Provenance is that all our food is prepared by, and under the supervision of, the head chef at one of the most highly regarded restaurants in Cambridgeshire. If you buy from our airstream you are eating the same quality food as a top restaurant without paying through the nose.” 

The name Provenance reflects the traceability of the food that the company sources. Hughes said: “The ‘Farm to Table’ movement in the States has really encouraged communities to value their local produce, but we feel that we are still some way behind in the UK. At the moment gooseberries are in season and are delicious, so we use them.”

“The notion of eating seasonally is not just a fad. It makes sense in every way,” said Hughes. “If you eat what is available at the time not only will it be at its best, but also it will be cheaper. 

“During the summer and Autumn months we take advantage of the abundance of local produce. We build up our food stores for the colder months – pickling, preserving and making compotes, as they do in Scandinavia.

“However that doesn’t mean we only want to use British Produce, if we want Jamon Iberico from Spain, for example, then we go to our local supplier Dani from Pata Negra. Our preference is to support local suppliers, no matter what their speciality is.

“We spend a lot of time sourcing our ingredients. We make the effort to design our menus according to the produce available and try to find good value so we can keep our prices down.

“We use the skill of our chefs to take more humble ingredients and turn them into something special. For example, we will often cook cheaper cuts of meat for 24 hours to turn them into something amazing.

“One of the main reasons that we name the produce is that many competitors spend a lot less than we do on their ingredients and charge the same. We care about the quality and integrity of our business and we think that they are very good building blocks for a profitable and successful enterprise.”

Fare on the menu includes ‘Wood-fired Chatteris artichokes with white beans and salsa verde, served on flatbread’ (£6.50); ‘hay smoked sea trout with local new potatoes, cucumber, spring onions, nasturtium leaves, lemon mayo’ (£7.50),  and ‘Free range Suffolk brick chicken with thyme, beetroot & chickpea salad and a lemon, parsley & cumin dressing’ (£6.90).

The Provenance Kitchen is also producing its own selection of homemade sodas such as ‘elderflower mint lemonade’ or ‘strawberry cream soda’. At special corporate events these sodas will be made into alcoholic cocktails such as the Provenance Kitchen ‘strawberry, rhubarb cream gin fizz’.

To contact Provenance, email ask [at] provenancekitchen.com

• Photograph shows founders Mark Hughes (left), Richard Stokes (2nd right) and Greg Proud (right) at the launch of Provenance Kitchen in the garden of The Three Horseshoes restaurant, Madingley. Photograph by Orsi Marton – orsym.co.uk

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