Lockdown has been a huge challenge for the restaurant industry but has seen a boom in home dining. Nick Mosley talks to chef-entrepreneurs Maria Chilton and Jimmy Gray about their new business, Angelica Food.

Tell us about yourselves and how you got into the hospitality industry…

We’re Maria Chilton (26) and Jimmy Gray (33) of Angelica Food, a new private chef and premium catering service offering in-home dining and celebration event catering in Sussex.

Maria: I’ve always had a huge interest in food. As with so many others in our business, I started my career working in local pubs whilst studying professional cookery at college. My apprenticeship was completed at Jeremy’s Restaurant in Borde Hill where I worked up the ranks to be sous chef – and met Jimmy. We’ve worked side-by-side now for 10 years.

The Argus: Beef Wellington (credit Julia Claxton)

Jimmy: My parents ran a restaurant in West Sussex so cheffing was second nature to me. As a youngster, I had a few jobs locally before the realisation hit me that I really wanted to get properly under the skin of the craft so I headed to Westminster Kingsway College – regarded as one of the UK’s best cooking schools – where I completed my NVQ level one, two and three. I was then employed and mentored by Jeremy Ashpool at his restaurant and quickly rose to the head chef position.

What prompted you guys to start your own business?

Jimmy: Despite the personal and professional challenges of starting a new small business during the uncertainty of the pandemic, now just kind of seemed like the right time for us to follow our own aspirations and life goals. A lot of things fell into place at the same time.

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Where does the name Angelica Food come from?

Maria: Angelica is an underrated herb that we’ve always used and loved. It’s popularly known as Wild Celery, which is the taste derived from the stems. The root is also used in traditional medicine to aid digestion. Although its a herb that we’re familiar with in the UK, it also grows – and is used in dishes – around the world, which reflects our approach to including international fusion flavours and inspirations to our dishes.

How would you describe your style of cooking and what inspires you?

Jimmy: We travelled together around Asia and Australia for nearly 18 months, which really opened up our minds and palates to a whole new world of flavours and styles of cooking. I worked at a modern Asian fusion restaurant in Brisbane called Madame Wu. It was wild! With 200 seats and a rapid turnover of diners, we were serving up everything from Wagyu beef dumplings to Kingfish sashimi. The creativity and professionalism was incredible to be part of; since our return to the UK, it’s really influenced how we create new dishes with Asian – and other international – flavours whilst also respecting the European kitchen.

Maria: We were really lucky that during our time at Jeremy’s Restaurant, Jeremy was so accepting of our new ideas and happy for us to present new dishes on the menu to his incredibly loyal and long-standing customers. Now with Angelica Food, our menus and dishes continue to evolve and that excites us not only as chefs but also clearly delights the tastebuds of our diners.

Is local produce important to you?

Maria: Yes, absolutely. Locality, seasonality, provenance and good animal husbandry are all very much at the heart of all of our ingredient sourcing and dishes.

Jimmy: Most of our meat comes from Grange Farm in Crawley Down, our organic fruit and vegetables are from Cherry Gardens Farm in Groombridge, and we work with various fishers to ensure that our seafood is both fresh and sustainably caught. Great food starts with great ingredients – and we’re lucky to have those here on our doorstep.

What can people expect from an Angelica Food in-home dining experience?

Jimmy: Quality, seasonal food is always at the heart of our menus, whether fine dining tasting menus, sharing party platters or sophisticated canapés. We think our offering is a unique mix of British dining with exciting – and well-considered – international flavours.

Maria: We can also provide full service for events with a professional service team and all the details right down to tableware, glassware, linens and specialist kitchen equipment. Our aim is to ensure you and your guests enjoy a relaxing seamless dining experience from start to finish. By the time we leave your kitchen, you won’t even know we’ve been there!

What does 2022 look like for you?

Maria: I think it’s going to be really exciting. We’ve already a busy diary of in-home dining events booked plus lots of summer weddings. The lockdowns have shown people that there are lots of ways to enjoy and share a great experience with family and friends outside of the boundaries of traditional hospitality venues.

Jimmy: I’m keen to build on relationships with more local farmers and producers. There’s so much passion out there which translates to amazing food and drink. We’re also really looking forward to hosting a few pop-up dining events in Sussex and Kent this year – keep an eye out for dates.

Find our more at www.angelicafood.com