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The art of good cooking

PUBLISHED: 11:42 18 November 2013 | UPDATED: 11:42 18 November 2013

Phil and the Cool River Cafe team

Phil and the Cool River Cafe team

as submitted

A familiar face on the county’s arts scene for many years as a gallery owner, Phil Tregoning has emerged from ‘retirement’ to return to his other abiding passion... food

Shutting my gallery and saying a goodbye to the contemporary art scene was always going to be a wrench. Those ‘it’s just like Christmas’ moments when a new body of work arrived were something I’d indulged in for a good chunk of my working life and, although I felt an overwhelming desire to retire from any formal working routine (brought about partly by age related exhaustion and partly the arrival of a senior citizen rail card!), I felt unsure how it would all pan out. I did know that I wanted to follow my own creative drive rather than facilitate other people’s. The idea of change had become increasingly attractive idea after 25 years of the same routine. I love the art business but, as the saying goes, most people ‘have a book in them’ and I wanted to find mine. It turned out to be cooking food rather than writing, which I discovered during my 18-month ‘retirement’ – spent renovating our cottage at Matlock Bath. Practical jobs around the house and zero pressure to organize art shows, visit studios, or source work for clients fostered the inevitable thinking about what I really wanted to do with my time. Having got ‘high’ on not getting up for work each day, the inevitable ‘low’ of what is my life about, followed.

Walking the dog up over Starkholmes, around Matlock Green, over the footbridge from Hall Leys Park and home via Dale Road had become a cherished morning routine. As I walked I would recall holidays in France. Similar terrain, rambling rivers, tree-lined paths, little local patisseries with great coffee and gorgeous pastries – and that’s the bit that was missing. Gorgeous pastries! As much as I like the odd Panini or jacket potato with cheese and beans (honest!), where were the cafés with fresh sweet and savoury pastries, made on the premises, using fresh produce, as they do in France – even in the most remote villages?

Anyway, to cut a long story short, after one of those morning walks my mission was set! Do it yourself, do it here in Derbyshire, and do it now! I trained as a pastry chef when I was young and ran my own restaurants for many years before jumping ship into the art business, so it isn’t as if this was some retiree’s flight of fancy. I knew exactly what to do, it was just taking the plunge and finding a good team to help me build it.

Through a friend, I was introduced to Becky Chaplin, an exceptionally bright and bubbly young lady with all the ingredients needed to make our new café run smoothly. Becky located crockery, cutlery, bar equipment, programmed tills, helped paint walls, and set up contracts with everyone from greengrocers to sanitary services.

Confident in the choice of manager, location and a lot of market research later, Cool River Café & Patisserie was launched. A light and airy environment with contemporary colours and comfortable tables and chairs were key requirements. Large floor to ceiling windows flood the place with sunshine and provide a lovely sense of well-being and its position next to the river and Hall Leys Park were definitely a plus. Now you can eat, drink, then walk off the calories in our beautiful Matlock landscape, perfect!

A vital factor was always going to be the quality of our products and the need to make sure every customer leaves feeling impressed and keen to return. Confident that if we stuck to making things ourselves using artisan craft bakery skills and fresh ingredients we would come to the notice of local and visiting public – and well, it worked! Five months in and things are buzzing!

Our cakes, gateaux and sliced treats are skilfully made on the premises by Stacey Harris, a pastry chef whose mission is to make your every day just that little bit extraordinary. Stacey’s team also cooks breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and weekend brunch. The emphasis is on flavour but the presentation is nothing short of exquisite. Aware that a growing number of people choose a low gluten/gluten free diet for health reasons we use a range of non gluten-containing ingredients to make some of our cakes and pastries. Where possible we use naturally low or near zero gluten ingredients such as ground almonds, rice flour and corn. As for coffee, quality is key and a Latin espresso from Caféology won out on flavour every time we tested their products on friends, family and the general public. Caféology carry Fairtrade, Soil Association and Rainforest Alliance marks ensuring the coffee you enjoy at Cool River makes a difference to the farmers. You can buy a glass of wine to go with your croque-monsieur, or a continental lager for your savoury flan, but we only serve alcohol with food and have no intention of becoming a bar. For us it’s all about enhancing the food experience – a glass of Prosseco with afternoon tea will always turn it into a special event!

So there you have it. The story so far... n

PS We are about to extend our premises and create a new kitchen allowing us to produce goodies to take away, order wholesale and... tell you more later.


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