A Day In The Life Of…

12 Mar 2014
4 min read
On the two-year anniversary of African Volcano, his premium range of Mozambique-style peri peri sauces and marinades, Grant Hawthorne tells us about his day.

Two years ago Grant Hawthorne was invited to trade at London’s Maltby Street market every Saturday using a variety of street food to showcase the versatility of his marinades and sauces.

Preparation for trading at Maltby Street market usually starts a week in advance. I tend to watch the long-range weather forecast, then marry that with historical data and seasonal holidays etc. to give an approximation of what the trading conditions will be like. More often than not, the weather is kind enough for some trade to occur (we’ve only missed one weekend due to snowy conditions here in London).

Bearing in mind these factors I then shop and prepare accordingly: From the production of the sauces, marinades and seasoning rubs to the slicing of tomatoes and onion or the cooking of the slow-roast shoulders of pork. I also supply about 35 independent shops around the UK, who stock the range of sauces, marinades and seasoning rubs. A few independent restaurants also use the catering packs (1kg tubs), along with a national restaurant group.

Saturday is market day. My wife, Julie, and I wake up around 5:30am and have a coffee. I’ll do a final check on what the weather will actually be like for the day so we can dress appropriately. Coming from a fine dining background, where kitchens often exceed 35-45°C, working in the open air can pose a few challenges: The correct footwear, along with thermals, polonecks, beanies etc. all play a part in the overall look. Comfort takes precedence though I still wear my chef whites.

We aim to be at the market by 8:15am, so we can set up the stall and be ready to trade by 9am. Between 9-9:30am, I cook breakfast for 10-12 fellow traders, using some of their produce too. Normally this is the only meal we will eat until dinner, so it sets us up for the day.

Service runs to a hectic pace, often with a long queue of people, for several hours. Regulars will often banter with us, whilst new visitors have the odd giggle at the names of the food on offer: #DirtyPorker (pulled pork on peri peri bap); #DirtyLittleSecret (minced beef burger, melted Emmenthaler cheese, pulled pork on peri peri bap), etc.

Whilst it is a serious business, I do not believe in taking life too seriously and use humour to convey this. We have a great bunch of regulars who make the journey from all over London, often just to say hello and indulge in a pulled pork or a beef burger. Seeing their faces is always a pleasure and over the past two years they have seen the business grow exponentially. Whether it is sunny or pouring with rain, they are there to support the local producers and bring their friends and family when they visit, too.

We’ll often do a “three stage taste test” for customers to discover the flavours and nuances of Mozambique-style peri peri, using a simple chicken wing which has been marinated in the marinade, then char-grilled on the gas Weber BBQ and then served hot.

First bite is “as is”. Second bite is with a squeeze of fresh lemon and gives the base flavours a lift. The third bite sees the addition of the peri peri sauce, which gives the whole tasting the real boost.

It is always a pleasure to see the penny drop and a knowing smile spread on the customers’ faces. They understand why the sauce and marinade have been developed to complement each other.

By 4pm it is time to pack up and go home to unpack, clean and replenish the stocks for Sunday’s trade. We’ll debrief on the day and discuss ways in which we can improve: What sold the most / what isn’t moving / what we need to buy. During the first 12 months we’d make copious notes each week and it continues to be a learning process. If we see other traders doing things a certain way, we might adopt and adapt a few ideas to suit our operation.

The whole idea is to refine and improve and is a gradual process. As we are self-funded, it has not been without trials and tribulations. Some wonderful highs have included headlining the Young British Foodies tent at Camp Bestival; winning Gold in both the 2012 and 2013 Great Taste Awards (the “Michelin stars” for food producers) and having a huge following on Saturdays at the market. Some of the lows have included being let down by a major courier company who managed to trash 120kg of sauce and marinade on my first major shipment to a national restaurant group. I’d have pulled my hair out if I wasn’t already almost bald!

It is a long, physically demanding day. However, nothing beats working for oneself and transferring 26 years of being in the catering and hospitality trade to “working the streets”, showcasing my product to locals and tourists who visit London. There is a lot to be said for adrenaline. It is hugely addictive and something that we thrive on. I am the chef-producer of an addictive product that gives and endorphin rush, however I am an addict of being busy and living for that adrenaline rush.

Maltby Street market, LondonSaturdays 9am-4pm; Sundays 11am – 4pm

African Volcano range can be purchased from the following stockists: http://www.africanvolcano.com/stockists
Or from the online shop: http://www.africanvolcano.com/shop
Twitter: www.twitter.com/africanvolcano
Facebook: www.facebook.com/africanvolcano
Web: www.africanvolcano.com