Words Sarah Langton-Lockton Photographs Lisa Valder
One of the café’s most popular dishes is described on the menu as ‘Kale bubble and squeak, Stockbury bacon, Churchmans Farm poached egg and a side of Gallery-made ketchup’. Prepared with the best ingredients and produce, much of it local, elegantly executed and presented, this delicious plate of food is the work of a skilled chef.
So far, so familiar, but a note on the menu states that the dish is ‘GF/DF/Celery Free, contains egg & pork, ketchup contains soy…can be served vegetarian or vegan.’ ‘GF’ stands for gluten free and ‘DF’ for dairy free. Similar notes are included for each item on the menu, giving confidence and certainty to customers who have coeliac disease or a range of food intolerances.
The Gallery Kitchen Café was the deserving winner of a Gold award in 2017 in the FreeFrom Eating Out Awards. This is a category added in 2016 to the successful FreeFrom Awards, which are exerting a beneficial influence on the quality of free-from food products and ingredients. Lorraine King is the talented chef whose vision and flair have developed the café and its delicious and imaginative food that appeals to everyone.
Creek Creative, at 1 Abbey Street, is located in a handsome late Victorian building, originally the bottling plant for Rigden’s Brewery, and latterly the premises of the Frank and Whittome joinery business. When this longstanding Faversham firm went into receivership, the freehold was acquired by Swan Quay, a Limited Liability Partnership based in Faversham. Anne MacLaren and Simon Giles, themselves both practitioners in the arts, are the founding directors and partners in the Creek Creative CIC (Community Interest Company), registered in 2008. Their not-for-profit company took on a long lease of the building, and following some essential building works, opened Creek Creative in July 2009. Nearly 50 people – painters, sculptors, writers, printmakers, silversmiths, filmmakers and numerous others – now occupy the affordable studios and workspaces and can display and sell their work in the Upper Gallery and Artisan Shop.
Of her involvement in Creek Creative, Lorraine says: ‘Our relationship was because of my son. He came here for an art cartoon class six years ago. I could see the kitchen when I dropped my son off. It was only serving the occasional tea and coffee and there was no real food as such.’ Lorraine says she felt at home as soon as she came in: ‘I felt I could really cook here – there was a connection.’ She asked Anne MacLaren if she could send in some samples and some ideas about what she could do; Anne was enthused, took her on and gave her a free rein.
Lorraine trained as a chef at Thanet Technical College and worked at Eastwell Manor in Ashford. Working as a chef was very much a male preserve at that time. Also, Lorraine has coeliac disease, an autoimmune disease in which a reaction of the immune system to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, damages the lining of the small intestine, resulting in a wide range of symptoms and nutritional deficiencies. As a coeliac, although not diagnosed until she was 34, who is also lactose and dairy intolerant, she found it difficult working in a conventional kitchen. She also has a skin condition, dermatitis herpetiformis, which is linked to coeliac disease, and working in a regular kitchen resulted in respiratory difficulties. The solution says Lorraine: ‘I went down the stately home route. I was young, and using my skills as a chef I could go places.’
She worked on three- to six-month contracts all over Britain and Europe – ‘I was always wanting to try new dishes.’ Lorraine returned to Kent 22 years ago, married and had her son, now 17. She had been living in Eastling, but when her marriage ended, she decided it was better for her son’s independence to be in the town; they now live near Creek Creative in the heart of Faversham.
When she started the Gallery Kitchen Café, Lorraine had two priorities: ‘ I wanted to set up a safe environment for myself to work in, but what I did had to be appealing to the general mass of customers.’ Lorraine decided to proceed by stealth, and her Trojan horse was bubble and squeak – comfort food that everybody knows and likes, ‘so people can’t think, “it’s gluten free so I won’t like it.”’ ‘Many years ago,’ she says, ‘gluten-free products were quite disgusting.’ Lorraine’s challenge was to create a new cuisine that everybody would enjoy.
The menu changes daily. ‘I average five dishes – a couple of vegetarian and one or two vegan, plus one meat or fish.’ A typical summer menu might feature a soup – sweet chilli and ginger beetroot or Thai spiced zucchini – with a choice of scones or breads, some with and some without gluten. There might be a soft goat’s milk cheese, spinach and tomato tart with dressed salad potatoes and seasonal leaves, or a bowl of nachos with roasted summer vegetables and feta, drizzled tomato salsa and a spoon of guacamole. Puddings, all home made, include a wonderful treacle tart and a legendary brioche, Belgian chocolate and vanilla pod bread and butter pudding. Everything looks beautiful – ‘you eat with your eyes,’ says Lorraine. ‘Subliminally, I’m probably influenced by the exhibition each week.’ An exhibition of Indian paintings might bring curries onto the menu.
The Gallery and Kitchen Café are light, bright spaces, immaculately clean. ‘We strip and clean the kitchen out every Monday.’ Separation of gluten and gluten-free ingredients is vital to avoid cross-contamination. Lorraine, her main helper, Nhene, and the young women who also help, wear gloves and disposable aprons. ‘I’m really gowned up so there is no risk to my health,’ says Lorraine. ‘As a super-coeliac I throw up in 20 minutes following ingestion of gluten.’ The kitchen has clearly defined areas for gluten and gluten-free preparation and there is an additional room where everything is strictly gluten free and there is a separate mixer, blender for soup and food processor.
‘We are more than what we do,’ says Lorraine, ‘we are a caring community. I felt reborn when I was diagnosed, because I had struggled with it for so long. For most people, diagnosis is traumatic. To help people adjust to the changes in diet that diagnosis requires, Lorraine set up the Positively Free From and Coeliac Community support group. Coffee mornings are held in the Gallery Café on the last Thursday of every month from 10am-11.30am. They offer cookery demonstrations, recipe share, nutritional and culinary guidance as well as friendship and positive support. Such is the value of the support group that Newton Place Surgery now refers all newly diagnosed coeliac patients to the group.
‘I like to be busy, I like to be putting into the community,’ says Lorraine. She is currently on a week’s holiday, her first for six years. ‘My priority was getting the business going,’ she says.
The Gallery Kitchen Café is open from Tuesday to Sunday, 10am-4pm.
Gallery Kitchen Café
1 Abbey Street
Tel 01795 535515