A taste for success
(Smart cookie: Julie Grayston-Smith with some cookies she baked at Windy Bank Farm (Photograph by Aki)
About four years ago, Julie Grayston-Smith lost her sense of taste.
She had breast cancer, and the chemotherapy and radiation treatments left their mark.
As she cooked for a living, it made her job very difficult.
“You get this metallic taste in your mouth from the treatment,” said Mrs Grayston-Smith, who sells her soups, dips and baked goods out of her home at Windy Bank Farm every weekend.
“The taste of everything gets distorted. I really didn’t trust my own ability to tell if something tasted right.”
For a while, her husband Malcolm Smith, the world Sunfish champion, was her official “taster”.
When she was forced to travel to Boston for treatment she had to give it up, but today she is back at it.
“I can eat coffee and chocolate again,” Mrs Grayston-Smith said. “My taste buds are back.
“Three years to this day I had my last radiation treatment. I didn’t have any hair on my head back then.”
She has always loved cooking and studied culinary arts at Bermuda College in her early 20s.
“I left though, and went into retail at Trimingham’s,” she said. “I had a friend there who also liked to cook. She suggested we start catering.”
In 1996 she started a catering company, Bouquet Garni.
“I did that for 15 years,” she said. “In the middle of it I also had a restaurant in Flatts, Bouquet Garni Café.”
She had high hopes when she opened the restaurant in 2006 but it closed a year later.
“The restaurant business is tough,” she said. “And it was hard trying to run a catering business out of my home and a restaurant in a different location.
“When you’re running a restaurant you really need to be there all the time. I accumulated quite a debt from that and it took a lot of hard work to pay it off.”
She continued catering after that massive disappointment, but lost her passion for it.
“I had two young children,” she said. “When they were little I was working six to seven nights a week, and often wasn’t there to help with their homework. My husband was often off sailing.”
She decided it was time for a change. She started bottling pestos, soups and sauces and tested them out at the Farmers’ Market.
“Clients always loved these things,” she said. “I’d often sell it to them in plastic containers.
“I thought, ‘I really want to expand on that and turn it into a bottling business’; I always loved the savoury side of cooking. But we were hauling stuff back and forth to the Farmers’ Market in town and it was exhausting. I said to my husband, ‘Why are we doing this when we have our own farm?’”
The couple had to completely expand their product range in 2009 to make their Devonshire market sustainable.
“Now the bread and baked good side of things has completely taken over, although I am still doing the bottling,” Mrs Grayston-Smith said.
The market took a while to gain momentum. Today it is so popular it is run over two days to accommodate roughly 200 people.
She rises at 5.30am daily, to start cooking.
Devoted customers often arrive early on Saturdays to get the best selection when the market opens at 6.30am.
“So much for extra sleep,” Mrs Grayston-Smith said. “It gets pretty crowded around here on a Saturday.”
Her multi-grain breads and soups sell out fairly quickly. Her chorizo bread is also popular.
Not being able to accommodate everyone used to stress her out, but she is now more laid-back.
“Cancer changes your outlook on life,” she said. “Now I say to myself, you’re not doing brain surgery; you’re just making cookies.
“People often look surprised when I say I have Portuguese sausage bread. But it is popular.”
The market runs Fridays, from 3pm to 6pm, and Saturdays, from 6.30am to 12.30pm.
Look for Windy Bank Farm on Facebook or on Instagram: windybankfarmbda. Telephone: 292-1587.