Let's begin with an awesome Mum, an inspiring Dad, a naked man in wellies and a hard-ass Spaniard.
Oh, and the power of friendship.
By Tony Quick, Managing Director, Forest Produce.
I'll be honest, when I walk around the warehouse at Forest Produce I don’t get excited any more. After all, I cruise those shelves every day! It’s when I show customers around that I'm reminded just how special and unique it all is. I tell them the stories about where the various ingredients came from, the interesting characters involved and the little known product secrets. That's where my excitement really bubbles!
So, let's go back to the beginning...
At school, all I wanted to be was a Chef.
My mum was a chef.
I was a sick kid, diagnosed with type one diabetes on my 12th birthday and consequently spending a lot of time off school.
As mum had to work I was made to go with her... and that's where I'd watch her command a kitchen full of men. I was inspired and became absolutely hooked.
I took control of my condition and decided nothing was going to stop me following in my mum's footsteps. On the afternoon that I finished school, aged 15, I walked into the best pub in my area, The Otter Inn, and asked for a job in the kitchen. By the following day, I was making sandwiches and washing dishes. Five years later I was Head Chef and studying at catering collage on my days off.
Where did my drive come from at this young age? Well, whilst Mum had inspired me into the kitchen, Dad deserves credit for instilling my strong work ethic. "If you want it, you earn it" was his approach and I fully respected that. Indeed everything I have achieved so far can be linked to the values Dad taught me, and they're still central to Forest Produce today.
But, back to girls...
The best thing to come out of my years at the Otter Inn was a young lady called Caroline. She'd got a job washing up and I liked her - a lot! We’ve now been married for 21 years, together for 31, have two amazing children and run Forest Produce together.
Having children changed everything for me.
The hours a chef worked suddenly didn’t suit.
Having progressed to Head Chef in a country house hotel (and having enjoyed a spell working for Keith Floyd), I began buying specialist food from a company called Western Food Brokers. I later asked the owner for a job as, although I still wanted to work in the food industry, I craved more time with my new family. So, at Western Food Brokers, I went back to the ground floor, driving a delivery van and collecting products from the London markets.
Skip on five years and I was managing their south-west depot. Life was good until they sold the company and we were all moved 50 miles away from home to a new depot. The new company felt terrible but for a year I tried everything to make it work. Yet sooo many chefs continued to miss WFB’s way of doing things and they'd often say that there was an amazing opportunity for someone if they were able to bring it all back. Voila, my moment!
Forest Produce began in January 2003 with myself, Caroline, Roger the farmer who put up the money needed, another man and one van.
Our initial list of products was just a copy of the Western Food Brokers list. I knew where to find it all and, more importantly, I knew how to control it so that no chef was let down. That experience, combined with my personal values, was key - and clearly wanted.
It quickly became apparent that I had the advantage of a genuine appreciation for the high pressure nature of the industry. Plus, I could offer exceptional industry understanding and a supportive service like no other.
Today, with a strong family vibe (my daughter, Isla, works here too!), #teamforest are united in their commitment to supporting professional chefs with dependable advice and exceptional produce. Truly.
[ Hence #teamforest's early commitment to 'reliability' and 'quality'].
During that time, we were sending the van to London two nights a week to buy fresh produce from New Covent Garden Market, and meat and poultry from Smithfield. The few traders I used were all good friends with the guys from WFB and they’d made calls to letting them know I was an honest bloke and could be trusted. I still use those same traders today and I consider them close friends.
[ The #teamforest commitment to 'integrity' was a must-have from the start].
Tim Garret from Covent Garden took me to Rungis Market in Paris for the first time in 2005 and I’ve been getting weekly deliveries from Rungis ever since.
Ray from Smithfield knows everyone in the market and will find me anything I need.
But... we still need to talk about the naked guy, right?
Well, Ralph from Smithfield was working in only white wellington boots and his birthday suit when I first turned up - what an introduction! Asking why he was in the buff, he told me it was because the market health and safety team were doing an audit and, quite simply, he didn’t like them. I so love the quirky characters of our industry!
Talking of which...
A few years ago I travelled to Spain with my good friend Raul to visit a charcuterie company. Raul is a hard-ass Spaniard who is never wrong - something that almost got us arrested in Barcelona airport.
We became separated at security. My hand luggage gave a positive reading for explosives and so I was pulled to one side and made to stand on a pair of yellow footprints while they re-tested my luggage. While the machine was rebooting the armed guard asked me if I was travelling alone; I said no and turned to find Raul. To my horror, there was Raul - screaming in the face of another armed guard. He was trying to confiscate Raul's mouthwash because the bottle was 5 times bigger than you were allowed! We were marched to a holding room, Raul was given official warning and I was given the all clear. No explosives, but no party-bottle of mouthwash from thereon either.
On the same crazy trip, we were in a bar with the charcuterie guy when another man introduced himself as David, a spice trader, and explained he'd been listening in on our conversation. I’ve been buying saffron from David ever since (and Persian Saffron from a friend of Luca at Pavoni); trusted relationships mean so much in this business!
The supplier industry is very much like the Chefs. We all talk on social media and I get introduced to new people all the time. #Teamforest now work with over 130 different suppliers; some far-flung and some local, some big names and some tiny gems, but all united by their passion for premium ingredients and outstanding menus.
[ Alongside the #teamforest commitment to 'quality' produce, an appreciation for 'innovation' and the true meaning of 'value' is paramount to our success too].
Find out more here about how we decide what to stock, and our bespoke order service;
Or to jump straight into shopping, even if just for inspiration, open our app.
Most importantly though, please know how much I appreciate your business. All of us at #teamforest would not be here without you and your recommendation of us to others continues to mean a lot.
ps. I'd love to welcome you into our conversations too!
Just search 'Forest Produce' on Facebook, Instagram and Linked-In.
To contact us, call: 01884 849273 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org