Why royalty and celebs love the bread at Lovingly Artisan in Oxenholme
PUBLISHED: 00:00 09 March 2015
With royalty and Hollywood actresses on his fan list, Aidan Monks is rising to the top of the bakery world faster than the sourdough breads he makes in Oxenholme. Emma Mayoh reports
There are few people who would willingly part with a piece of Grasmere Gingerbread. But talented baker Aidan Monks had no trouble in persuading Hollywood starlet Keira Knightley to hand over a batch in exchange for some of his sourdough bread.
He explained: ‘I hadn’t looked at the couple’s faces. I just saw they had a Grasmere Gingerbread bag – I love it. I immediately shouted to them that I’d swap them some bread for it.
‘It was only when I handed her the bag and looked up that I realised who it was. I got a bit of a shock but they were really pleased to have some bread.’
The Pirates of the Caribbean and Pride and Prejudice actress is not the only well known face to have fallen for the breads at Lovingly Artisan, the bakery run by Aiden at Oxenholme Station. Prince Charles, while on a private visit to the Lake District, visited his shop. The future king enjoyed the white sourdough loaf so much that when he returned to the area on an official visit he asked for a stop at Lovingly Artisan.
The 53-year-old, whose enthusiasm for baking was first sparked by his grandfather Frank O’Neill who used to bake bread for Ambleside Sports and Grasmere Sports, said: ‘Prince Charles got off the train in a very normal way and came over for a chat. He talked to me for 15 minutes about food and bread. It was easy to talk to him because he was so lovely and so knowledgeable about bread.
‘He wrote to me afterwards and complimented the bread and told me it was amazing. When he came back he specifically asked security if he could have some more bread. Again, he chatted for quite a long time. He was very very nice.’
Prince Charles is one of many people willing to travel to taste Aidan’s sourdough breads. He has regular customers who visit his tiny unit from Carlisle and Liverpool specifically to get some bread. He also sells to a lot of London commuters. All of Aidan’s recipes are for sourdough breads and they are made in a special 24 hour fermentation process using natural levane.
Aidan’s method allows proteins to be broken down so the body can digest the wheat properly – this method is said to prevent people suffering with wheat intolerance.
He gets up at 3am every morning to make the bread at his dedicated bakery at Plumgarths Food Park in Kendal before taking it to the shop of Oxenholme Station. He supplies many places in the Lake District including top hotels and Michelin star restaurants.
His talents are making an impression in the food industry. If tongues weren’t wagging at the start of the ceremony at the World Bread Awards, held last year, they certainly were by the end. Aidan, originally from Poulton-le-Fylde but now living in Endmoor with partner Catherine Connor who also helps him run the business, received three top accolades at the prestigious event as well as numerous commendations and medals.
He was the first baker to ever win a trio of awards and was up against almost 1,000 other entrants.
Aidan, who set up Lovingly Artisan five years ago, said: ‘We were up against some big, well established bakeries and little old us won. When we won the first one, you could see people around the room questioning who we were.
‘By the time we got to the third win everyone was very keen to find out who we were. They were looking at us and thinking “who the heck are these people”. It was an incredible moment to have such success there.’
But it has not all been plain sailing for the baker, who has two children Niall, 20 and Ailish, 22. He used to run another hugely successful bakery, Le Pain de Paris. He first started it in 1988 in Westmorland Shopping Centre in Kendal before building his own bakery at Staveley Mill Yard.
But in 2007 it burned down. It was the start of an intense period of worry until eventually, a year later, he went bankrupt. He lost everything, including the business and his house.
He said: ‘It was really hard and it was incredibly difficult to cope with. The fire happened when the credit crunch hit. That terrible timing meant that I just couldn’t sustain the business. I had invested all of that money into the new bakery and then I had to watch it close.
‘After that I had to start again from scratch. I started baking again from home, starting supplying some of our best customers from Le Pain de Paris. I built up the home business and when I spotted the unit at Oxenholme, bakers I knew let me borrow equipment until I got sorted. It was an absolute lifeline. And because we kept things small it worked from the start.’
Aidan’s dedication and positivity won through and, with the help of family, friends and Catherine, he is now back on the road to success. In fact, never one to miss an opportunity, he is about the take over the derelict Victorian toilets on Oxenholme Station platform and will turn them into his new bakery.
While that doesn’t exactly sounds like the most obvious place for a bakery, Aidan has ambitious plans. Some items will be removed but the building will be refurbished to keep the character.
The original tiles will be cleaned up and the old cubicles will be used to house a new wood fired oven. He also intends to branch out into other food than bread.
Over the next few months he will also start supplying Virgin Trains with his bread on the London to Glasgow line that runs through Oxenholme. He hopes his efforts will turn the small village into a food destination.
He said: ‘Usually people come here and ask where thy can eat. Well, at the minute, that answer is nowhere.
‘I want to create a bakery that people will look forward to eating at, food that can be enjoyed at any time of day and will make them look forward to food they can get here at the station.
‘I want people to come here and think they have arrived at a real foodie destination, not just another railway station with mediocre food choices. I want people to love the food we produce but also get a taste of what other fantastic food you can get in the Lake District.
‘I also want to be known as the producer of the best sourdough bread in the north west. It’s not about showing off, it’s about knowing in my heart I am doing my best. It’s a very exciting time.’