Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Jack Of All Trades

One of the fascinating things about running your own little business is that you pretty much have to do everything yourself, unless you have stacks of cash and can afford to hire people to do things you're no good at. So with Great British Food, I've had to design order forms, posters, flyers and packaging, as well as the website. Not a problem - I've been doing that kind of thing pretty much all my working life. I also make the products - again, not a problem, I'm a pretty good cook and I make really great pastry. I also keep track of income and expenditure for the accountant (yes, one essential outsider!), and at the moment, I'm the delivery boy too. My business partner takes care of sales, for which I am grateful - I can do that, but it doesn't exactly fill me with joy, even though I know very well that a business without sales is just a hobby.

Where is this leading? you ask. Well, one of the core concepts for market differentiation is that our pies are square. This means we have to find square moulds, square tins, square everything. Up till now, I've been using square stainless steel collars for the pork pies and the chicken & ham pies. This is less than ideal, because it's very difficult to get a good release, so you can end up with broken pies, or holes in the pastry. This is obviously not good when you try to inject the jelly and it all squirts out through a hole.

The solution? Silicone rubber moulds. Silicone rubber is fantastic for baking - absolutely nothing will stick to it! But it was impossible to find moulds of the right size and shape. I decided to make my own. I made a former out of modelling clay, and trawled the interwebz for a supplier of silicone rubber. It's quite easy if you live in the US, but the shipping costs are simply outrageous. Finally I asked a sculptor friend of mine if he knew any suppliers in Spain. He put me onto an outfit in Pontevedra, Galicia - Resinas Castro, who have a very good website and offer online sales. I received excellent service from them - I would email questions at 10 pm, and get answers (in English!) ten minutes later from the Technical & Commercial Director.

I placed my order last week, and received the material (Elastosil M4601, in case you're interested) this morning (it would have been yesterday, but I was out when the courier came). With a great deal of trepidation, I opened the big can and the small bottle. I had expected to be getting something like putty, but this is actually pourable, a bit like molasses. You mix it in the ratio of 9:1, and pour it into your mould or onto your former. It's as sticky as hell. I had no idea how much to mix up for my project, and the stuff is expensive, so you don't want to waste any of it. I now know that 100ml was about twice as much as I needed. And I also know that the poured product cures faster at higher temperatures. When I'm at home in our apartment in the summer, I tend to keep the shutters down to keep out the heat. Consequently the rubber was drifting away from the edges of the former before it began to set, leaving the coverage very thin. I salvaged it by scraping the material up and pouring it on again, and by blasting it with a hairdrier to get it curing before it all fell off. It's now basking in the sunshine on the window-sill and curing nicely. Next time, I think I'll do this on the roof, in full sun.

With a bit of luck, I should be able to make at least a dozen moulds with this batch of material.

And the title of this post? A crap Old Wive's Tale, ('Jack of all Trades, Master of None') that originated in the days when Guilds controlled everything, and they made you do a seven-year apprenticeship before you were considered qualified to bake a loaf, lay a few bricks or cut someone's hair. Other archaic pearls of wisdom include: 'The Camera Never Lies', 'A Bad Workman Blames his Tools', and 'Bloody Hell, This Silicone Rubber is Hard to Work With'.


nzm said...

Chief Cook and Bottle Washer also comes to mind. ;.)

Keefieboy said...

Goes without sayin'