Set just off Cheltenham Road, Gemma’s flat has a location that any food-loving Bristolian would kill for, surrounded by the many and varied indie shops of Stokes Croft and Gloucester Road. She’s been here for a year, having moved from Easton – and while she may miss her East Bristol ’hood, there’s more than enough surrounding her new digs to keep her content.
When we turn up early one mid-week morning, Gemma is lugging an old flour mill up the stairs to her first floor flat, explaining how she’s just come back from a Shambala team outing (she’s involved with several festivals all over the country, as well as Food Connections) where they were milling their own flour to make sourdough starters.
“We’re setting up a bread bar there this year,” she explains. “It’ll be a bar, with beer on tap, and people can come along, sit down, and get given some sourdough starter, so they can learn to how make their own bread. You know, a sort of bread therapy. Then they’ll put their initials on their loaf, and pay it forward into a feast.”
Setting the mill down in her kitchen, Gemma grabs a Kilner jar of her sourdough starter from the fridge, and gives it a mix. “So, all the team have some of this,” she says. “Now I’m just trying to keep it alive!”
Bringing out a set of scales she weighs out Dove’s Farm flour and water, before feeding the culture with it.
“These scales were my nanna’s – Nanna Potts! – and I use them every day. I was actually given some digital scales for Christmas, and I was like, no way.”
Taking a look around Gemma’s kitchen, we notice more vintage bits and pieces, including a selection of old pots (turns out she’s a bit of a collector). All of her favouite things in this room have been passed down from family, given by friends, or were stumbled upon in unlikely places. The dining table, for instance, Gemma picked up from the side of the road; the pasta maker comes from a charity shop; a patterned garlic pot was brought home from a beach in Sri Lanka; and a colourful geometric print by David David hangs on the wall, given to her boyfriend by his mate, who’s behind the brand.
As she zips around the kitchen making coffee (we notice her beans come from the locally based Girls who Grind Coffee) and putting ingredients away, Gemma certainly gives the impression of being a properly busy bee at the minute. And, as we’re here during the final days of the lead up to Food Connections, it’s unsurprising.
This year’s event is particularly exciting for Gemma, as it’s “come from the city”, as she puts it – meaning that her role, this time around, has been encouraging locals to put on events, and offering support for development and execution.
“We’ve had some amazing ideas this year, and what feels really great is that it genuinely has come from the city,” she says. “It’s all people’s own ideas. There’s been a really good reaction – there are 118 events up online right now, with more to come.”
But this festival is not just about the one week of events in mid-June – the whole aim is to help develop the city’s food landscape, and residents’ connection to it, year round. So what does Gemma want to see happen, once her job is done this year?
“I hope we’ll have springboarded more food activity around the city, and helped start ongoing activities that wouldn’t have been able to begin otherwise. It’s all about connecting people to food projects and other people that they just didn’t know were there.”
Photos by Nicci Peet