How a former BT worker and Masterchef contestant shrugged off redundancy to found a gourmet catering company in Sunderland

Former Masterchef contestant Greg Butler launches his new corporate catering company, Piquant Cuisine, at Pallion Action Group, Midmoor Road, Pallion, Sunderland, on Thursday.
Former Masterchef contestant Greg Butler launches his new corporate catering company, Piquant Cuisine, at Pallion Action Group, Midmoor Road, Pallion, Sunderland, on Thursday.
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SUCCULENT beef encased in flaky pastry, rich homemade pâté and decadent chocolate brownies – this doesn’t sound like the food whipped up in a community centre kitchen.

But for self-taught cook Greg Butler, it is exactly where the idea of his corporate catering company began.

Some of the food made by former Masterchef contestant Greg Butler at the launch of his new  corporate caterring compnay, Piquant Cuisine, at Pallion Actioin Group, Midmmor Road, Pallion, Sunderland, on Thursday.

Some of the food made by former Masterchef contestant Greg Butler at the launch of his new corporate caterring compnay, Piquant Cuisine, at Pallion Actioin Group, Midmmor Road, Pallion, Sunderland, on Thursday.

The 2010 Masterchef quarter-finalist lost his job with phone business BT earlier this year, and decided he wanted to put his cooking skills to use and start his own business.

But the dad-of-three didn’t know where to start, and didn’t have the money needed to get it off the ground.

However, after turning to some of Sunderland’s community champions, his sumptuous food is ready to be served.

About seven months ago Greg visited Sustainable Enterprise Strategies, in Hendon, which provides support for new businesses. It was there he met Chris Walker.

The business consultant helped Greg to formulate his idea into a feasible plan, and apply for the funding he needed to make it work.

“I had a bit of an idea of what I wanted to do,” said Greg, 30, of Roker. “I just knew I wanted to cook.

“Chris and I talked and talked, and came up with a niche in the market. That niche is corporate catering.

“It is the idea that when you get catering it is always the same thing – sausage rolls, boring sandwiches, and sometimes one of the dishes you pay for is a bowl of crisps.

“So I thought with the talent I’ve got, I could fill that niche with homemade, high-quality food.”

But the talented cook also needed help with the legal side of things.

“I had to get safety and hygiene certificates so I would be allowed to cook for people,” he said.

“Someone put me in touch with Karen Wood at Pallion Action Group (PAG) community centre because they said she would be able to help.

“From the first conversation we had we hit it off and she said she could help me.

“She put me in touch with Gordon Rose, who owns Rose Health and Safety, and he enrolled me on courses to get me the papers I needed.

“Karen does so much for the community, she has been brilliant helping me to get what I need.”

Once the logistics of Greg’s business were in place, the tastier side of things could begin start.

“Karen said I could use the kitchen at PAG for free,” said Greg, whose family also helped him by acting as “guinea pigs” to test his recipes.

“We worked together and I developed my menus. It’s the idea of getting that high standard of food, and all the flavours, into small dishes.”

The name of the business, Piquant Cuisine, captures the essence of Greg’s idea – piquant means to have an appetising flavour.

“They’re my own recipes and my own ideas,” he said. “The beef Wellington is my favourite.

“It’s a classic dish, but the way it is put together and the way it is made up is entirely my own – it’s my signature dish.”

Other tasty morsels on Greg’s five menus include Thai crab cakes, pak choi mini Caesar salad, and bruschetta with brie and figs.

Yet despite the gourmet offerings, the humble cook said he wouldn’t describe himself as a chef. “I don’t think I have that right,” he said. “I haven’t earned it and I haven’t had the training.

“I’ve just learned from what I’ve done – what I can cook now is 10 times better than what I did on Masterchef.”

But, he added, there is someone to thank for his talent.

“I’ve been cooking since I was about 10 years old,” he said. “My dad showed me.

“He and my mam broke up, and he had to learn how to cook.

“I remember he used to practice one recipe all week, so when I visited on a Saturday he had it perfect.”

And he said dad Alan, 56, a photographer from Southwick, is still championing the cooking cause.

“He’s had my back all the way,” said Greg, whose wife Katie, 31, a nurse, gets up early every morning to help him cook.

“Every time I make something new he comes over to try it and take a photo of it for the website.

“My whole family are proud of me and have helped me.

“Katie reckons if I wasn’t doing this work I would be a size eight.”

Greg, who said he wants to cook for corporate businesses such as legal firms, has even impressed the city councillors.

“Karen invited them along to PAG to try my food,” he said.

“They were all impressed, and I’ve been invited to use the kitchen at the Youth Almighty centre in Silksworth to work.

“I’m going to give the kids there free cooking lessons in return.”

An official launch for Piquant Cuisine was also held at PAG recently – attended by his supporters including mum Janette Barwick, of Fulwell – and Greg is now hoping his business will grow to be something great.

“It’s looking really promising,” he said. “I’ve been really realistic with what I can expect and what I need to make, but it is doable.

“I couldn’t have done it without the help I’ve had. People have been brilliant, and it just shows what can be done with the support that is out there.

“Hopefully, this will be my dream come true.”

•For more information on the on the help Greg received, visit www.pallionactiongroup.co.uk or tel: 514 2011.

•For more information on Piquant Cuisine, visit www.piquantcuisine.co.uk or tel: 565 1200.