We spoke to Holly Sutton and Christophe Vigié, who run Cradle, a vegan restuarant based in Sudbury, Suffolk.
Can you tell us a little bit about your own vegan journey?
Holly : I’ve been a vegetarian for most of my life, starting when I first saw the meat van outside the butchers in my hometown at around six years old. But my vegan journey began during our last year living in France. We owned a small organic bakery in the Loire Valley region. It’s an extremely rural area, full of natural wild beauty… and farms. These farmers were not only our suppliers, but our neighbours and friends too, and when you regularly see their practices face to face, you start to question what the point is in being a vegetarian? These were the kind of small picturesque farms you see on milk bottle labels, but their practices are still the same when it comes down to it.
We were getting through around 150 eggs a week and up to 25kg of butter! And even on small organic rural farms, animals are still enslaved and killed for us to keep running our business. Organic, free-range or not, it’s the same thing, just easier on the conscience for those who feel un-easy about industrial scale farming – which included us at that time.
Then I made friends with one of our customers at the market we used to sell at every Friday. She and her two sons were the first vegans I’d ever really met to be honest, and she became somewhat of a role model for me. She was the inspiration I needed to begin my vegan journey. A huge weight was lifted from my shoulders, and I experienced a kind of spiritual awakening, as cheesy as it sounds. Christophe was so supportive, and it wasn’t long before he followed suit. It united us, and together we began to learn about the devastating effects that animal agriculture was having on our planet, and how necessary it was for us to change.
Once we knew the truth, we couldn’t ignore it.
Were you a good cook before you became vegan? Did you find it easy to transfer your skills into vegan cooking?
Christophe: I’ve been a chef for almost 25 years and have been lucky enough to work around the world with some incredible people who have inspired me. When I started cooking vegan food a couple of years ago, I used the same skills and the same senses, but I needed to think further than that, more scientifically. The first time I made aquafaba it blew my mind – all those wasted egg-whites I’d used over the years and all that chickpea water just poured down the drain. The real challenge was the butter we use for the croissant. I’ve made, I don’t know, 100,000’s of croissant over the years so I know how I needed it to behave. But a little research and trial and error and we’d nailed it.
How did you learn to cook great vegan food?
Christophe: As a classically trained French chef, this whole new way of cooking and all these new flavours just blew my mind and got me really excited. I love a challenge, and when Holly decided to be vegan, it was an exciting opportunity for me to learn a whole new way of cooking. And when we decided that our next business was going to be totally plant-based, we got to work developing new recipes. But we’re always learning, always pushing forward and always trying to be better. We never really discussed the kind of food we would serve at Cradle, it’s just happened totally naturally and organically. Cradle is an extension of Holly and I as people. She’s a baker and she makes the bread she likes to eat, and likewise. This is what we eat and the way we have chosen to live our lives. It’s just like inviting people into our home to share it with us.
Can you tell me a bit about your professional cooking journey?
Christophe: Well as I said before, I’ve been a chef for almost 25 years. I trained from age 16-18 in Macon, Burgundy where I’m from, and since then I’ve travelled and worked all over; France, Germany, Switzerland, The UK, Australia, USA. I’ve been lucky enough to work under some great chefs in some Michelin star restaurants and 5* hotels. I worked as sous pastry chef on a cruise ship under Michel Roux, and I worked for a while in London as Jean-Christophe Novelli’s pastry chef at Maison Novelli. As I had so much pastry experience under my belt, when I moved to Brighton in 2008, I got a job in a bakery, which is where Holly and I met. Holly was a natural bread baker, where-as my skills lie in Pastry, so when an opportunity came up for us to buy our own place in France, we jumped for it. We were the perfect team. We spent seven years in France together at the bakery before we sold it and began work on Cradle. And here we are…
What is it like running a vegan-friendly business? What risks have you encountered?
Holly: We’ve only been open 12 weeks so far, but the response we have had has been amazing! We could never have imagined it to take off like it has, we can barely keep up, which is in our opinion, a testimony for the positive changes that are happening in the minds and hearts of people. I believe that we all have something to give to help lead us on a more positive path. This is what WE do, so this is our part to play. As far as risks go, it’s probably too early to say. We have great plans for Cradle, so I can only hope people will continue to support us so we can continue to grow.
How did you create the menu at CRADLE?
Holly: Our menu is small, containing three or four dishes and a couple of desserts, but it changes frequently. When we run out of one dish, we replace it with another. I suppose you could say we’re quite particular about the ingredients we use. We make everything from scratch and use only organic produce and we are quite strict with ourselves to work with the British seasons when it comes to fresh produce.
We considered becoming certified organic, but as we learnt in France, this means we can’t use the figs from our neighbours tree, despite no pesticides being used. It hands over the control to a big corporation, and there’s too much of that going on already. Even organic apples you buy in the supermarket can be grown in Kent but, shipped off to South Africa to be waxed before coming back to the UK and go on the shelves, thanks to trade deals. Plus it’s pretty exciting when you eat with the seasons as I discovered in France. You don’t eat tomatoes until tomato season, it’s just not done. Instead, you get excited waiting for the first to arrive, gorge yourself on them for a couple of months and enjoying them at their best, then you’re fed up of them and something else is in season. As a society, we’ve gotten used to having everything we want, whenever we want it, but we’re no richer for it, and neither is the planet.
It’s all too easy for vegans to fill their diets with fresh exotic ingredients, and I love an avocado sandwich as much as the next person, but I think we, especially as a business, need to try to look at the bigger picture.
How would you describe your own signature style?
Christophe: That’s a tough question! It’s a direct result of the food we like to eat as I mentioned earlier. I’m not big on recreating classic meat or fish dishes for example, and I create a dish based on what Phil (our veg grower) delivers us that week. And I don’t usually know what that is until it turns up at the door. Recently we’ve had a lot of wild garlic, nettles, sorrel, spinach, spring cabbage, parsley and spring onions. I like to keep the portions small, so they remain affordable as we pay good money for our ingredients and a lot of work goes into creating each dish. We do like to use a lot of fermentation. It’s a good way to preserve the seasons and retain vital nutrients in the food. Our dehydrator is also an essential tool – we try not to waste a thing. If the stems from the parsley don’t go into a pesto or raw green Parmesan, they go into the juicer for our Juice of the Day. Even the leftover oat milk from the coffee machine is kept and used in our pastry dough.
What is your signature dish?
Christophe: Well, we’re half bakery, half restaurant, so again that’s a tough one. We have our fingers in many pies so it’s hard to say, and we are constantly evolving. Holly’s bread has become the talk of the town for example. We mill local, organic wheat’s on our own flour mill here at Cradle and use only Maldon Sea Salt, so our bread is a true East Anglian loaf – flour, water, salt. But then the pastries are equally a hit, along with the lunches and the drinks menu – most of which we also make in-house. But if I had to pick a dish I’d probably say the tartine is a winner. A tartine is basically an open sandwich; a piece of our toasted sourdough topped with good stuff, and it changes weekly. Last week we had broccoli stems in a walnut and hempseed cream, with a fennel, and sorrel salad, the previous week was mushrooms a la Grecque with a fermented vegan chive ‘cream cheese’.
What are your future food plans?
Holly: We have so many. We want to make a difference and have a positive impact on the local community. It’s easy to say I know, but we made a big commitment in this regard. We are a registered Community Interest Company which means Cradle’s assets will always be used for the good of the community. We want to be part of the positive movement that is happening right now, helping people make better and more informed choices about the food they are buying, eating and throwing away. Its early days for us, but if business continues the way it is, watch this space! People can read about our Social and Environmental Objectives on our website cradlefoods.co.uk