Full name: Katherine Susan Frelon, (formally Houchin)
Role: Chef, Author and founder of La Ferme de la Lochere Cookery school in burgundy
Birthplace: Leigh on Sea
Twitter Handle: @katherinefrelon
Fun Fact: “I love to dance and have done ballet most of my life, I LOVE listening to music so I can often be seen breaking into a few moves as I’m out running in cities, in a muddy field or on towpaths. It must look really weird seeing a runner throw in a couple of pirouettes and a jeteé!”
OK, let’s try and start this thing at the beginning. How did you get to today? Where and when did you begin your culinary adventure? Did you always know you’d be in food? I know that you left London in your early 20s before eventually ending up in France…
Believe it or not I started my culinary adventure at school! Home Economics to be precise. I loved it and the teacher was great. First thing I ever cooked was a Quiche Lorraine and Victoria Sponge, I managed to stab myself through my little finger with a new knife during my exam. I got extra time and passed with flying colours if I remember rightly!
I then went to Roehampton to study Nutrition, but all I wanted to do was to get out there and earn some money so I left after a year and after various dabbling in office work, I ditched the London life and went to France at 22 in a Sherpa truck loaded with my worldly goods, no French and I’ve been cooking ever since.
I bought an old village house that had a big domed bread oven in the middle that used to serve as the village bakery. I used to sit and have coffee with my elderly neighbour and she would tell me stories of them drying fruit on the hot ledge at the front of it and the bread, cakes and small pig roaster they used to cook in the oven itself. I still have a bread oven in my house in Burgundy, just like an open fire, I would find it difficult to live in a house without either.
I cooked and renovated my house in the Loire for several years then I took up an offer to cook on a Luxury Hotel Barge owned by an American company on the Burgundy canal, an offer I couldn’t refuse. That was the start of the Burgundy and US connection.
La Ferme de la Lochere is my 400 year old farmhouse and it’s the perfect place to run gourmet food and wine experiences. Together with my expert Wine Guide, Brendan Moore – (you should meet him, he is seriously serious when it comes to talking about wine!) we introduce guests to the French markets, wine makers and local artisans.
I always thought I’d be a cookery teacher in a school, educating children about nutrition and how to make the perfect Quiche Lorraine! Now, I get to do it with the grownups in style and with wine!! Not bad at all.
What’s the deal with the ‘scatty chef’ thing? You certainly didn’t come across as scatty when I saw you.
One of my closest and dearest friends (who sadly now is not with us) started to call me Scatty years ago when introducing me to his small children, as I was always in an out of the country, in and out of London, going here there and everywhere, and I guess the name just stuck! I also used to be called Cookie by another good friend. When I registered for an email address Cookie was already gone so I decided on scatty chef!
You seem to have many irons in many fires and many fingers in many pies. What’s the life of a freelance chef actually entail? Where are you actually based? Alvescot? Burgundy?
I sure do, most of my clients think it’s all very glamorous, fun and jet set – a wonderful lifestyle!
If only it was all those things but the bottom line is, I literally live equally between two countries and then sometimes the States too. It takes meticulous planning, focus and dedication – It’s easier to be flexible if planning is meticulous.
What’s your greatest/most memorable professional moment been, so far?
Food wise there are so many!
The biggest challenge and the most memorable, was running a Pop Up Cafe at Manor in the Cotswolds for a month in a potting shed, which really was a potting shed, no electrics, an outside tap and what was previously shared with the gardens wildlife! But during that month I also had two Weddings in a French Chateau.
I commuted back and forth in my refrigerated van and cooked 23hrs a day, taking a nap as the quiches were cooking.
The greatest was writing my book and being asked to cook in the Demo Kitchen at Borough Market.
Where do you get your ideas?
Street food in any country I can get to, home cooked food with friends, markets in all countries and talking to locals who love to cook.
What’s your philosophy, summed up in a sentence?
Live, love, laugh, share, be kind, be true, be smart and savvy, and try to think of others before yourself. I believe that you can achieve all your dreams if you really want it enough.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had, how did you overcome it, and what did you learn from it?
The biggest challenge was definitely my experience at Manor in the Cotswolds (See memorable moments). It was one of those situations when I quoted for a handful of events never thinking I would get them all accepted. It was a logistical nightmare and without the support of my two phenomenal catering teams in France and the UK, it would have been impossible.
As I said before, the secret is all in the planning, but I didn’t realise just how much of an impact the lack of sleep would play. I had just taken a nap at a service station on my way to Dover heading back to France and on awaking I was still so tired and disorientated that I ended up driving back to the M40 from the A3, I missed the last night’s ferry and ended up arriving at the chateau 7 hrs late and the wedding was the next day!
We made it but only thanks to my team and my planning!
What did I learn? I’m never doing that again – until the next time!
Who’s the person who’s most inspired you in your work – food industry or otherwise? Is there anyone that you draw inspiration or strength from? Do you have any specific culinary influences?
My Grandmother cooked for me all my life, she used everything and wasted nothing. It’s the way I like to cook. It was frugal and totally delicious. I admire and am inspired by the frugal, zero waste Silo Brighton founder and Chef, Douglas McMaster. His approach to food is how we should all think.
The unity of the Trustees of Borough Market and all the traders who have dedicated their lives to providing produce from ethical farming are also up there.
My biggest inspiration at the moment though is from all the amazing young Chefs, passionate and buzzing, taking a chance, popping up and dazzling their diners, it’s a definite high and can’t fail to inspire.
What do you enjoy most and least about what you do?
I love everything about my job, it’s so diverse and my clients are all incredibly interesting people. Even the travelling isn’t too bad but the downside is I still have to do paperwork and sit down in front of a computer doing accounts.
The very worst part is having to leave my kids behind sometimes for up to 2 weeks and as their Mum that is really difficult to do.
What advice would you give to aspiring professional chefs who’d want the kind of results that you’ve had?
You have to be so focused and dedicated. It takes a lot of time and effort. If you’re not prepared to give it 150% then think again about your career choice.
Don’t take shortcuts with the quality of your ingredients, cook from the heart, travel, listen, taste, be inspired by others and you’ll surely get there!
If you weren’t doing what you do now, what would you be doing instead?
I’d have been a ballet dancer travelling the world until I had to retire then either design gardens and houses but if I had more money than I needed I’d definitely set up a charity to help others in need
If you could get anyone to try your food (fictional or real, living or dead) who would you pick and which of the dishes would you like them to try? Assume that they go on to be your brand ambassador…
I’m not going to go for the obvious, I know it’s a shame as Winston Churchill and Stephen Fry would make excellent dinner guests, so whoooooo should I choose?
Tick, tick, tick, it’s so hard! I just want to ask all my good friends for dinner because they offer high value entertainment, they all love good food and good wine. We always have a total riot.
Otherwise, perhaps someone from the music industry who can bring an instrument, I love a bit of hard rock, jazz, hip hop!
I’d cook a feast of all my favourite dishes, the mother of all curries, a crazy cheese board and a deliciously fresh rose scented turkish delight pavlova with lemon cream and verbena coulis.
But who?? Ray Charles I think!
What’s your ultimate aim and goal for your career? If you could achieve anything with it, what would you pick? Money and reality are no obstacle, so shoot for the moon…
Stay creative and true to myself. Ultimately, my career goal is to be in a position where I can fill the bellies of those who go to bed and wake up hungry, to cook for others and provide for those who have less than myself through no fault of their own. I will achieve this one day!
Where next for you?
Keep trucking, get the kids grown up and on their chosen paths for richer or poorer! Travel to feed my curious mind, open up a really cool, funky restaurant somewhere in the world were people can hang out, listen to music and eat good food!
Cooking is not a job it’s a passion so why not make it fun!
Anything I missed that you’d like to include here? (include as much or as little as you’d like)
Yes! Wine! We haven’t talked about wine. Good food and good wine go hand in hand. Never one without the other apart from breakfast of course!
And we always ask three customary ridiculous questions…
If you could swap lives for the day with any fictional character (and you’d be guaranteed to return to your life after 24 hours), who would you choose, and why?
Doctor Dolittle – how cool would it be to be able to talk to the animals!
If you had to become some kind of vegetable related superhero, which would you become, and what would you superpower be?
Super Butternut Squash because it’s a great colour and really good for you!
My Superpower would be to fly at the speed of sound then I’d never get stuck in traffic and would get to cook more often in the US where I have so many clients that I rarely get to see!
If you had to eat one food for the rest of your life (assume that your metabolism becomes specially adapted and this is literally the only thing you could eat) – what food would you pick and why?
Curry because it’s amazingly versatile so I’ll never get bored!
Failing that sourdough bread and salty butter!