It’s not every day you receive compliments about your cooking from Michelin star chef turned national treasure, Tom Kerridge, but that’s what happened to one Brighton-based food producer when she appeared on the BBC’s Top of the Shop last year.
“I went into the show with no expectations, just a desire to experience it,” says Liz Wakefield, who runs Sussex Gourmand from a converted workman’s store attached to the side of her home.
“He took me to one side and told me what a great palate I have, how wonderful our venison bresaola, beet ketchup and forest mushroom thins are, and how I really must keep going with it. I went home with a big smile on my face.”
Originally a private events co-ordinator at London’s Olympia, Liz now runs a marketing consultancy by day with Sussex Gourmand feeding her “creative, foodie passion” whenever time allows.
Founded in 2017, it combines Liz’s love of bresaola, the cured meat-style that originates from Italy, her appreciation for the Sussex landscape, and her penchant for grazing on good food and quaffing wine. As you might expect, the onus of Sussex Gourmand is on quality and provenance.
“I source beef from my local butcher, Barfields,” says Liz. “The meat comes from Saddlescombe Farm on the South Downs, which is owned by the National Trust and farmed by a wonderful couple who have high standards of animal welfare and environmental responsibility.
“I buy my Sussex wild venison from a registered game dealer who turned his hand to shooting after a career in farming. He’s as passionate about quality and ethics as I am. The fallow and roe deer in Sussex is a more subtle meat than the red deer found in Scotland.”
Having cooked meals for her family since she was a youngster, originally inspired by holidays in France, Liz now creates Sussex Gourmand’s bresaola in her home pantry and curing chambers, as well as handmaking canapé kits and curating gift boxes.
“Bresaola is a super high protein, low fat snack, which can be enjoyed on its own, but I love the flavour combos of the kits,” she says.
“I created them to reflect the countryside in which the animal grows up. When you look at the South Downs and see cows and sheep grazing, you think of milk, cheese and lush vegetation. The traditional serving of bresaola in Italy is on a bed of rocket with parmesan shavings on top, so my field canapé kit makes total sense.
“The forest canapé kit is all about where deer roam. Forest mushroom thins, roasted beetroot ketchup and the delicious venison bresaola. Earthy but elegant flavours.
A taste of Sussex
Liz’s hampers, meanwhile, are a true labour of love and a local foodie education in their own right.
“I taste tested pretty much all the fizz in Sussex before landing on Ridgeview as my favourite,” she says. “I’ve visited Sussex dairies to meet the owners and try their cheese; I’m a regular at Bolney events and include their sparkling red in my Sussex cheese box; and some boxes even feature a solid pewter ‘acorn’ condiment spoon, hand-crafted by Sussex pewtersmith, Fleur Grenier.”
That attention to detail has attracted national acclaim, with a number of Great Taste Awards already lining the mantelpiece – but inspiration always starts at home.
“We love being based in Sussex as you meet people who really value good food,” says Liz.
“Supermarket culture has undervalued the price of food and created expectations that are unrealistic, but the flip side is passionate artisans who pitch up to local events, whatever the weather, offering people wonderfully fresh, high quality produce. It’s inspiring to be part of. Every time I go for a walk in the Downs, I feel more connected to them.”
From field to fork, Sussex Gourmand captures the joy of rural life in the South Downs and packages it perfectly for the modern food and drink lover.