ON THE RISE: TEN QUESTIONS WITH LOUISE NICHOLSON, CO-FOUNDER OF THE ARTISAN BAKEHOUSE
There is something quite magical about baking your own bread, it is a skill that is making a comeback, probably due to the popularity of The Great British Bake Off. The Artisan Bakehouse in Ashurst near Steyning offers a wealth of world class baking courses, whether it be artisan baked sourdough or French pastries, there is something for everyone. Owners Les and Louise Nicholson have transformed their home into a rural foodie haven, with the emphasis on using organic or local produce to excite, inspire and sharpen the taste buds. The courses look fun and informative and aim to leave you feeling like a confident baker
I met with Louise to find out more…
What was the inspiration behind The Artisan Bakehouse?
We are both passionate about food. I guess that comes from living in France for eight years, we loved it so much that we bought a house near La Rochelle. Whilst in France, Les trained in traditional artisan baking. When we decided that it was time to move back to Britain, we knew that we wanted to work for ourselves. We had previously fallen in love with rural Sussex and we wanted to do something that would celebrate Sussex food, encourage people to eat seasonally and showcase homemade baking. That is where the Artisan Bakehouse idea was born.
What was your background?
My Husband and I both had corporate jobs working in Banking and HR, it was soul destroying. One day we decided it was time for a change so decided to retrain as chefs and then spent three seasons running ski chalets in the French Alps and in Breckenridge, Colorado. From there we moved to a rural village in the Poitou Charentes region of France, renovated a derelict farmhouse and set up a holiday accommodation business & AGA cookery school. After 8 successful years we then decided on the move back to Sussex.
Have you faced any setbacks?
The main setback was finding a property where we were able to work and live that was rural, idyllic and had outbuildings. We looked everywhere. Luckily, we found the Ashurst property and knew that we could make the space work, in fact I would go as far as saying that we fell in love with the property at first sight - it was perfect! The challenges didn’t stop there, unfortunately after applying for planning permission we had to wait for eight months to get the green light. There were a lot of objections that needed to be dealt with. In that time, we renovated the two cottages to enable us to rent them out as holiday accommodation to help keep solvent!
How did you overcome them?
We just had to wait as we were at the mercy of Horsham District Council. For us that was exhausting, we did have a wobble and thought about selling. However, I am pleased to say that we hung on in there and now that has paid off. We love running the workshops and it would have been awful if we had been made to give up our dream and more importantly the pleasure and enjoyment we now see people have when they come to the Bakehouse.
What has attributed to your success?
For me, I think it must be the fact that Les, myself and our team are true to what we believe in. Our courses and the food we serve are all about buying local and using Sussex produce. There are no sides to us, we don’t cut corners, for us it is all about quality and sustainability. Our attention to detail and great service have gained us a substantial local following and we even won a Sussex Food & Drink Award for ‘Best Sussex Eating Experience 2018’ and we have just also been accredited by the prestigious Independent Cookery School Association, as well as 5 years of Certificates of Excellence with Trip Advisor.
If you could do it all again, would you do anything differently?
I think that the most important thing would have been to sort the planning out in a shorter timescale, in hindsight perhaps we should have hired someone to do it for us.
Describe the Artisan Bakehouse in one sentence?
A rural heaven to STAY, BAKE & EAT whilst celebrating the best of Sussex and truly artisan breads & food.
What is your best-selling course?
That’s easy - it would be our Introduction to Bread Making Workshop. It is a good all-rounder as you are taught different techniques and make a variety of breads, such as Spelt Rolls, Focaccia, Baguettes and Artisan Loaves.
Where do you get the inspiration for your courses?
It is mainly from feedback. We have had quite a few customers suggest some options and we have liked their ideas. Next year we are offering an Irish Bread making course for St Patrick’s day and Hot Cross Buns in line with Easter Celebrations.
Do you have any exciting plans for 2019?
We have quite a few plans, primarily to strengthen our baking school & accommodation offering, but also using our newly renovated glass house to host more supper clubs and private functions, which is going to be exciting. We are also converting an outbuilding to utilise as a Yoga studio, to then expand offering baking & wellness retreats. We are also working on a few collaborations with other Sussex brands. So, keep your eyes peeled.
Address: THE ARTISAN BAKEHOUSE, No.1-3 Horsebridge Cottages, Horsebridge Common, Ashurst,
West Sussex, BN44 3AL
Tel: 01903 810 410
To book a course Click Here
To book a stay at one of the cottages Click Here