We spoke to the owner and founder of Stokes sauces, Rick Sheepshanks. You’ll know that Stokes sauces have been a success story both in the Food Hall and around the Country. We delved into their story and asked what’s next for Stokes.
What’s the Stokes story?
I used to do lots of running, I lived alone – it was my thing to keep me motivated. I would often run round the local woods near Butley, Staverton forest – it contains some of the oldest oak trees in England. Initially the brand was going to be called ‘Staverton and Oaks’ which sounded to me established, but in development the Marketing guys used to abbreviate this with St’ oaks – it became ‘Stokes’ from then on.
What makes Stokes a cool place to work?
From the team itself ‘Stokes is completely unique, there’s pigs and cattle on the drive, wallabies and deer at the back, the team are like family – you’ll bump into all sorts of people, always friendly – even the odd peacock!’
What’s next for Stokes?
There is no ending in sight, there is no final destination, the journey is an infinite game – to grow people, to continue to make the best products, we can keep refining, there is no end.
What makes Stokes unique?
It goes with everything; it can be used as an ingredient or go on the side of your plate. We began making sauces in the 1980s, and Stokes came into being in 2004. The culmination of a mass of experience and a desire to make the best tasting sauces you can buy in a jar, there is no compromising or skimping in what we do.
What’s your favourite Stokes product?
Tomato Ketchup – I use it as an ingredient and on the side of my plate – there’s a story behind the development of this also.
How do you use it?
It goes on many things, there are many great uses for it; If your dog rolls in fox poo and still smells after a wash – tomato ketchup takes the smell out of it. If you have blonde hair and go in a swimming pool and it turns green – ketchup will bring it back to blonde again.
What’s your signature dish?
My personal favourite –Ciabatta bread with olive oil in the oven – bake beans with a dollop of ketchup and Stokes brown sauce drizzled on the top – it’s my bachelor dish when no one else is around.
My official favourite is my own spaghetti Bolognese – Save the pasta till last add a drizzle of olive oil & salt to stop it sticking together and don’t overcook it,
Start with a big pan searing some finely chopped red onions in some butter, if you’re not a vegetarian, add the meat and at least a glass of red wine, 3 cans of chopped tomatoes, a dollop of red onion marmalade, another dollop of chilli jam and a dollop of ketchup. I love lots of different fungi (dried or fresh) so mushrooms galore, whatever you like. Add more red wind and lots of Italian mixed herbs. Slow cook and simmer until the flavours meet your expectations (and it freezes well too).
What is your inspiration?
I don’t get out of bed in the morning for money, it’s to make something good – not cheap – good. It’s a never-ending spiral, every day is different, it’s not finite – it’s infinite. it will always be evolving and there will always be room to improve or make something better– it’s not about doing what everyone else is doing at Stokes it’s about blazing trails and leaving paths for others to follow.
Favourite song and why?
It’s hard to just pick one, the beach boys must be up there with the best harmonizing bands, as are the eagles. But if I had to pick just one song it would be Etta James ‘at last’ – my wife and I – it’s our song. Or cheating possibly, Roger Millers ‘gently on my mind’.
Thank you to Rick for taking the time to answer our questions, and be sure to check out the range of Stokes sauces and condiments available at Suffolk Food Hall.