Just over one year old, Nomadic offers ‘feast over the fire’ experiences with world class chefs in a magical woodland clearing.
With his vision for a hidden hotel in the wild rejected by planners, Noah Ellis turned his attention to a food offering from his Buckinghamshire woodlands. He now offers ‘feast over the fire’ cooking experiences with foraged ingredients prepared by some of the country’s greatest chefs. These alfresco events are a hit with the general public, private parties and corporate clients alike. We talk to Noah.
When did you start your venue business and what is its history?
We began back last May. The original vision was for a hidden hotel in the woods but we were refused planning and the food offering we had planned took precedent in the short term. We spoke to a local chef who visited our woodland. He had a background in foraging and immediately fell in love with the abundant wild ingredients we had growing around us – things like sorrel, blackberries, wild garlic, rosehip, and Scots pine that he could incorporate into the menu. He could see the potential straight away so he cooked out in the middle of the woods using a small barbeque fuelled by some fallen branches from nearby trees for friends and family. Everyone loved it so we did it again and it grew from there.
We now provide foraged woodland feasts prepared by outstanding chefs cooked over an open flame once a month in a magical clearing of our woodland. We have been fortunate to attract an exceptional calibre of chefs including last year’s Professional Masterchef champion, private chefs to members of the Royal Family and executive chefs from some of London’s best restaurants.
In addition to the events we run for the general public we also offer our feasts for private celebrations and corporate events where clients can select from our little black book of chefs and co-create the menu.
We have identified team building for business clients as a key part of our market. Clients come to us to enjoy the serenity of the woods, the foraging and the food. They get a digital detox and can exercise mindfulness framed around different activities, a skill they can take back to the working environment.
Tell us about your location and site
Our woodland is in a classified area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) in the middle of the Chilterns. It is home to a plethora of wildlife and a variety of ancient forestry. The estate the site is part of was previously owned by Bridget Dame D’Oyly Carte, heiress to The Savoy Hotel Group. It was used as her summer home and hosted raucous parties during the swinging sixties for the good and the great. It is a hugely versatile venue with a large paddock and two expansive woodland areas.
What facilities for outdoor functions do you offer?
We have a Stratus event tipi with a clear front and a huge handcrafted dining table along with a sunken fire pit and rustic seating.
There is also a woodfired hot tub on site and a fabulous sauna in an organic shaped pod with spruce shingles which sits perfectly within the woodland.
Although still in the early stages, we are looking into providing unique accommodation where diners will be able to stay overnight after each event. This was always our plan but the structures originally envisioned (transparent ‘bubbles’) didn’t go down well with the planners. Instead we are looking to partner with an architectural studio to create bespoke rooms offering something completely different.
We sourced our Stratus tipi from Tentipi, who were recommended by word of mouth as market leaders, and our woodfired sauna from Iglucraft who we saw at a show in Birmingham. Funny story about that, we ended up taking a taxi in Birmingham as no-one (including the taxi driver) told us the venue was attached to the station!
How do you work with your customers to make their event unique?
Our ethos is all about using food and nature as a catalyst to create human connections. Sustainability is at the heart of this and permeates every aspect of our business, from the infrastructure (our meticulously hand carved wooden table and place mats) to the ingredients (hand-picked by our guests during a guided owner’s tour of the estate) as well as the cooking techniques we use to create each dish using foraged wood from our forest.
How do you publicise yourself?
Through our website and various third party platforms. We have generated our corporate bookings – iZettle, Leading Hotels of The World and Optimove, through word of mouth from our customers. Our customers are our biggest advocate of the brand.
We haven’t done a wedding yet although having listed just over a month ago, Festival Brides has bought us two bookings in a very sort time. Our first wedding is in June 2020.
What challenges have you faced?
Being completely off-grid with no running water or electricity has its challenges! When we began we didn’t have any infrastructure so everyone just pulled together and got things done. Today we are more structured; we have a small shed where we store things, the large events tipi in case it rains and a beautiful sunken firepit, but there is still an element of ‘improvisation’. Challenges aren’t always bad, they are a great test of resilience and enable you to test new ideas and improve.
Have you worked with any consultants?
No, although I have a friend who runs a successful restaurant chain and I often get advice from him. I am also fortunate to have mentors in the form of uncles who are successful in business and offered me their advice.
What are your plans for next season?
To break even!
Describe your average day mid-season
There is no such thing as an average day. One day I can be sitting behind a desk replying to emails and filling out admin and the next day wading through a field from 8am to midnight!
What do you enjoy about the business and why?
I have been fortunate to do what I love and meet exciting, warm and exceptionally talented people. Hospitality is an incredibly collaborative industry. The biggest reward from my job is that it is a customer facing role, and often people come away from an event with a huge smile on their face and thank us for giving them a new memory.
What other outdoor hospitality sectors do you operate in?
Dry hire, private hire for weddings, corporate bookings, hen/stag dos and birthdays.
What are you most proud of?
When a customer told me that his wife bought our experience as a surprise for his birthday and it was the best birthday he ever had.
What advice could you give to someone coming into the industry?
You have to love what you do. Be prepared to work hard during unsociable hours for a period of time with little to no financial reward when starting out.
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