The Wild Oven: The psychology of real food catering
PUBLISHED: 12:57 04 July 2016 | UPDATED: 12:57 04 July 2016
Danni Kerby's love for real food cooked well is powering The Wild Oven
There’s farming in Danni Kerby’s blood. For her, summers always meant carting corn in trailers, while autumns were spent helping with the harvest up on the family farm in Warwickshire. She understands the work that goes into putting food onto the table. “Milk is a prime example,” she says. “When you’re in a supermarket, you don’t think about the person who was up at 4am to get milk for your cereal.”
It’s only natural, then, that when she started her own business, the British farmer would be at the forefront of her thoughts.
The Wild Oven is unique. This is event-catering with a difference, specialising in food cooked in mobile wood-fired ovens, fantastic pizzas, of course; but so much more besides: huge bowls of crispy belly pork, lamb koftas, grilled aubergines and peppers, asparagus wrapped in Parma ham… “My Dad would kill me for not mentioning the joy in being able to use his asparagus at events, picked by my brother George in the morning, for us to wood-fire and serve later in the day.”
Whether it’s canapés, sharing feasts or full-on desserts, the ethos is the same: good ingredients, grown by people who care.
“We don’t just use local, we pick the best producers up and down the country,” Danni says. Such as Severn Spots, near Worcester, who make chorizo from free-range pigs. Or Todenham Manor Farm, with their South Devon cattle, a slow-developing meat valued for its tasty tenderness.
“And Shipton Mill flour [near Tetbury], which gives our pizzas a really silky texture.”
So that must be a big ‘sell’, being caterers who go out of their way to support farmers?
“It’s funny,” Danni admits, “because we don’t actually shout about where we get our food from. The only reason people might guess we use Shipton Mill, for instance, is by tasting the difference.”
An Oxford graduate in psychology, Danni started her working life in market research and business development. But even though the salaries were attractive, her heart wasn’t in it: “And then I had a bit of an epiphany. I realised I wanted to live by my values; after all, your work takes up so much of your life.”
It was during a trip to Northern Italy in 2012 with her business partner, James Goodfellow, that she had her real light-bulb moment. The two of them came across a larger-than-life Italian, selling pizza out of his wood-fired oven. The romance and enchantment of cooking with fire, coupled with great British food, seemed an unbeatable combination.
Once back at the farm, the Wild Oven came into being: Danni set about the marketing, while James took on the mechanics. To make things even more fun, he began converting vehicles, building two of the ovens into the side of heritage Land Rover Defenders, one in a Classic VW LT35 Van and one in a bespoke wagon; if all vehicles are in use, they can cater for up to 500 people an hour.
Tragically, James died at the end of 2015. “He instilled so much ethos into the Wild Oven,” Danni says, “He helped to build it up into what it is now; we simply wouldn’t be where we are without him.”
And it is a business to be proud of; one that manages success without sacrificing principles.
“Last weekend, we were serving hot wraps, festival-style, for 40 guests at a housewarming for a converted barn near Cirencester with one Land Rover, whilst the other was providing a wood-fired sharing-feast for 140 guests in tipis in a paddock near Chippenham,” Danni says.
“One of the key things for me is making people happy. I love seeing things through from that first enquiry – ‘I’m getting married!’ – to being there, watching that person and their guests having a completely unique experience. Feeling the hum as you walk through a room, where everyone is eating, is incomparable.”