Tania Dixon: A caterer with a recipe for success

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IT’S not every parent who would be thrilled at the prospect of their boomerang baby taking over the family kitchen to launch their own business

Every time you fancied a cup of tea, there they’d be, cluttering up the place with their fancy black pudding wanton parcels with rhubarb chutney. What does a person have to do to get a slice of toast around here?

Fortunately, Tania Dixon’s parents are no strangers to the catering business themselves, having supplied hotels and restaurants across Scotland as well as running their own farm and farm shop. So when their 23-year-old daughter returned to the Perthshire home, they welcomed her back with open arms. And mouths, presumably.

“My parents loved it,” she says. “When I was really little, my mum did jams and pies and I helped with that. I was always experimenting, hanging on the apron strings, never out of the kitchen.”

So it’s no surprise that this ambitious cook financed her studies (food marketing and management, naturally) at Newcastle University by catering for dinner parties and the hunting, shooting, fishing set during holidays back in Scotland.

But, with her course finished and work beckoning in London, she began to realise that she was doing for other businesses what she could just as easily – and profitably – do for herself. So she duly packed up her pots, pans and knives, headed back to Dunning and set up shop in Mum and Dad’s kitchen.

“They have a big farmhouse kitchen and I did everything on the Aga,” she says. “I actually did a wedding for 180 in the very early days. I wasn’t fazed by much. I just got on with it. I made in the first year what we now turn over in an average month in the summer, so it’s changed quite a lot in that respect.”

When she outgrew the family kitchen, she built a commercial operation in one of the barns. Now, eight years from Ginger Snap’s humble beginnings, she has outgrown the barn and just taken over a shiny new £40,000, 1,000 square foot premises in Edinburgh, employing two chefs in the process.

Her clients range from Aardvark Safaris to Louis Vuitton, via the Edinburgh Tattoo and Scone Palace. “For Louis Vuitton, we did their Christmas launch party,” says Dixon, “and they wanted biscuits in the brand logo – little clubs and spades and stuff. We had to do a virtual tasting, which meant making the food, taking photos and emailing them down to them. That was a first for me – it was all about how the food looked, rather than the taste.

“We also did a Chinese new year party for them and had to make fortune cookies. I thought it would have been rather nice if they’d given people presents inside them but they didn’t seem so keen on that.”

She also catered for the wedding of a Tatler magazine editor. “The reception was at Neidpath Castle, near Peebles, and each floor was themed. So on the bottom floor we had Asian food – takeaway boxes filled with noodles and sushi, spring rolls, duck pancakes, stuff like that. The second floor was Scottish, so we had haggis and beef and smoked salmon and scallops. The next floor had vintage cake stands and we did it up like a Victorian tea room with cocktails and cakes. And on the top floor there was an Italian theme with pastas and macaroons. It was really fun..”

And with weddings this year planned from Fort William to East Lothian; from the Borders to Fraserburgh, you’d think she’d have enough on her plate. But she’s also started doing monthly pop-up restaurant nights in her Leith kitchen. “It’s a fun thing for me to do,” she says. “Instead of being told what to cook, I get to choose the menu and I get to play around with it.”

She’s now planning on taking the concept to London as well. Not bad for a fledgling food business when all around restaurant competitors are closing their doors. “Our turnover has increased every year since we started,” she says, “but we’ve noticed that people’s budgets are tighter than they were before. They have got a lot more inventive though,” she adds. “They don’t just want chicken and chocolate cake or sticky toffee pudding anymore. People like a bit of a showcase.”

No tea and toast then?

Twitter: @Ruth_Lesley