Friday Interview: Tostada
Chef Roxanne Toal on bringing Spanish flair to the North East and beyond…
By Jenny Brownlees
If you’re feeling less than inspired about cooking right now, we have just the tonic. HLN chatted to Chef Roxanne Toal about her Spanish-inspired business, the best easy to make recipes, must have ingredients and why everything is better on toast…
Roxanne Toal brought her Spanish-inspired cuisine dreams to life via Tostada, sharing her deep passion for food and the joy it brings to the world. She explains, “I lived in Spain and travelled extensively throughout the country — put simply, I’m in love with the place; especially the food. It’s not just the ingredients and flavours and textures and smells, but the way Spanish people talk about food and their whole dining culture. Food is never just food, it becomes a moment and a memory captured in a mouthful. And it all stems from pure passion and love.”
Roxanne tells us that through Tostada, she is able to celebrate two of her favourite passions — travel and eating. Based in Whitley Bay, she took a leap during lockdown to launch the brand’s DIY meal kits — and demand skyrocketed. We adore Roxanne’s authentic style and down-to-earth approach to cooking; here she tells us about building the business, future plans for supper clubs, cooking classes and more of those delicious meal kits.
Can you tell us about your journey to becoming a Chef? What transpired to lead you to launch Tostada?
I developed a love of cooking very early on in life — my parents say I was always wanting to try new things. People couldn’t believe how such a small girl could eat so much, (they still say this.) I loved going to restaurants and cafes when I was young but my sister wasn’t interested, so I’d usually end up being the third wheel at my parents’ romantic dates! My Grandad was a chef and my Nan a fantastic home baker so I definitely learned a lot from them. My Mum on the other hand was not the best cook, so I started experimenting in the kitchen at a young age, cooking for my sister after school. I loved watching Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson and anything and everything to do with food on TV. So naturally when it came to choosing a career path, cooking seemed right — I don’t actually think I considered anything else. For my school work experience aged fifteen I went to a hotel kitchen — I loved the creativity, adrenaline and the steep learning curves. The hotel ended up offering me a job and even paid for my training — and so my career began. From there, I just kept working hard; rising through the ranks at award-winning restaurants and cafés in the North East, York, Manchester and Madrid.
What made you fall in love with Spain and its cuisine?
My family have been going on holiday to Menorca every year since I was a young child, so that’s where it began. Some of my best friends live there, and my husband and I even got married there. Menorca is so beautiful; in every aspect from the coast and coves to the architecture and markets. I fell in love with the relaxed way of life and of course the food. For me, it’s not just the ingredients, flavours, textures and smells, but the way Spanish people talk about food and their entire dining culture. Spain had been in my heart from a young age, so I knew when I grew up I wanted to travel and see more of the place and learn the language. Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to live, study and work throughout the country. I studied in Salamanca before moving to Madrid, a beautiful city with incredibly friendly people. I actually ended up taking a photography course in Madrid as I couldn’t stop taking pictures of all the amazing things I was seeing. The fruit and veg was misshapen compared to what you see in supermarkets here but tasted amazing! My absolute favourite is Spanish tomatoes, and specifically ‘Pan con tomate’ (grated tomato on bread). So simple but so delicious. It made me realise when you cook with fresh, local ingredients you can allow them do all the hard work. I hope to make many more memories in Spain in the future. I get my niece and nephew to really try new things when we’re out there — they now love squid!
What was your vision when setting up Tostada — were you keen to share your recipes or perhaps bring people together with supper clubs?
Tostada has been in my head for a really long time, but it was a certain sequence of events that led to me really give it a go. I was working as a chef in Manchester up until the end of last year, and I absolutely loved it. But my husband and I always had our hearts set on moving back to the North East coast — so that’s exactly what we did. It was always my dream to create something Spanish-inspired and I’d always talked about doing supper clubs and collaborations. But the fear of putting myself out there and a lack of confidence meant I never took the leap. I’m naturally shy and quiet, (something you might not expect from a chef!) Lockdown gave a lot of people the chance to rethink what they wanted from life and that’s what happened to me. I wanted Tostada to come to life, so I started working on it properly. At first, the idea was to share what I was making so people could make it themselves, since we were all at home so much more. I missed being in the kitchen, so I made Instagram my restaurant to share it with others. I also thought if I couldn’t go to Spain this year, then I’d have to bring Spain to me. I got a lot of lovely messages from followers saying a profile like mine couldn’t have come at a better time, when people needed a little escapism and inspiration. I then had the idea for At-Home Paella Kits, which became more popular than I could ever have imagined.
At the moment, what services does Tostada offer, and have these been tricky to launch throughout the pandemic and lockdown? How have you adapted to this?
Tostada’s biggest hit so far has definitely been the At-Home Paella Kits. I went into it a little naively but I think that served me well. There was a lot more to it than I anticipated and it was a steep learning curve. There was plenty of stress, but I loved it. The night before they went out for delivery I didn’t go to bed. I tried to do the best I could to make everything sustainable and eco-friendly (again, more complicated than it sounds.) The work that goes into those little boxes is extraordinary. I spent a lot of time sourcing every single ingredient and ate a lot of paella to make sure it was perfect (somebody’s got to do it!) The business side of things was completely new to me so I learnt a lot. It’s definitely a labour of love, but I’ve honestly loved every minute. I then did a picnic kit collaboration with my good friend, Sophie from All Day Cake alldaycake.co.uk which was equally popular. Whilst lockdown has been so difficult for the hospitality industry, it has made me get creative — I’m going to be launching more of the at-home kits, and also have some gift sets coming out soon. They’ll include tasty things to spread on toast like sobrasada, coffee dulce de leche and cabello de angel (‘angel hair’) which is a Spanish pumpkin jam. I’ll also be collaborating with Flint Pizza flintpizza.co.uk in Heaton, which I’m super excited about. I have some supper clubs planned for the near future too — my first will be at The Roxburgh in Whitley Bay in October and then I’ll be hosting one at Noodlehaus by Pippy Eats in Manchester in November. The dishes I cook at my supper clubs are special, personal and built around simple but striking flavours.
What do you think made the meal kits so popular, do you think it gave people a push to get back in the kitchen as life has been forced to slow down somewhat?
I think a lot of people love to cook but need a little help, so I wanted to create something that was easy but was still at a restaurant standard, using the best possible ingredients. Something you perhaps wouldn’t take the time to do yourself usually, but that still gives the same sense of achievement as you’ve cooked and created that dish. I don’t think a lot of people would make things like paella from scratch or go out and buy all the fresh ingredients, (I have to shout out to North Shields Fish Quay here!) So I did it for them. Seeing people’s pictures of them cooking up a storm for date night and getting feedback at how much they enjoyed preparing it and eating it was amazing, as I love bringing people together through food. People were genuinely proud of themselves and it felt so good to be part of that. Someone even said they were pretending they were on holiday eating the meals during lockdown — I absolutely loved that.
We love the branding of your business, right down to your Tostada totes! How did you decide on the name, and the aesthetic of the business?
Tostada means ‘toast’ in Spanish, (my favourite thing to eat is tomatoes on toast). I think it sums up the informal dining culture of Spain — both in the simplicity of great flavours and my own memories of eating snacks on small toast lined up on bars. I wanted the aesthetic to be simple, I love that simple food is sometimes harder to make as there’s nowhere to hide, it’s just incredible ingredients treated well. I did want the branding to be colourful, to remind me of Spain. The branding is actually a lot more thought out than people think. I’m very lucky that my husband, Gary Toal, www.garytoal.com works in design and advertising so he’s helped me a lot alongside his amazing designer friend, Mark Arrowsmith – (markarrowsmith.co.uk) they made my vision come to life. I’ve also just collaborated on a Tostada tea towel with a lovely artist named Julie-Ann Smith, which will be available soon.
For readers who are coming to cooking as beginners, are there any ingredients you always keep on hand, any tools and apparatus you suggest starting with or any advice you’d give?
I’d actually love to do some cooking classes as I really enjoy teaching and helping my friends and family, and I get a lot of cooking questions. I think a lot of the time it’s just patience — start simple and don’t overcomplicate things. I like making soups and stews, I find it really therapeutic and it’s a good place to start for beginners. If you start with a base of onions, celery, carrots and garlic and then add whatever seasonal vegetables and legumes you like or have, add some water and seasoning then just let it simmer away for a few hours to let the flavour intensify. The longer meats, vegetables, herbs and spices co-mingle in hot liquid, the more complete their combined flavour will be. Plus, while you make it your kitchen will smell heavenly! Adding herbs and spices is always good, but just start with a small amount (you can always add more but you can’t take it away). As for inspiration, there are brilliant recipes from amazing chefs on The Guardian Feast website, and Instagram is a great for recipes too. Milli Taylor @millitaylor does great follow-along cooking and I’m still a massive fan of Jamie Oliver, who has great family recipes that are really easy to make.
Do you have a favourite dish to make, and if so why?
This is really difficult. I’d probably say Fish Stew as it’s one of my favourite things to make and eat. Again, it’s something I eat a lot of in Menorca so I have wonderful memories of it. I’m really lucky to live so close to the North Shields Fish Quays and be able to pick up amazing seafood here. Caldereta de Langosta is on my next supper club menu.
Is there a recipe or ingredient you’ve been eating on repeat through lockdown, or since spending more time at home?
I got my hands on some Sobrasada, (a cured sausage from the Balearic Islands) during lockdown. I’ve been ordering a lot more food online to be delivered and I ordered quite a lot of it! So that’s been making a regular appearance. When I lived in Menorca, I volunteered at the Isla del Rey restoration project. Every Sunday I would go and get the boat across with other volunteers and work on restoring the world’s oldest naval hospital. At the end of the day they would make us snacks (not the reason I went, I promise! But definitely a welcome bonus). They always made Sobrasada on toast, it was so delicious and so the taste of it now always takes me back. My bonus tip is that Sobrasada is amazing on toast with cheese and honey.
With many people working from home, do you have any suggestions for quick, easy meals for lunch or dinner?
I definitely have to say things on toast for lunch — surprise, surprise! It’s so quick, easy and satisfying. At the moment wild mushrooms are in season, so get them on your hot bread for a delicious snack. Pumpkin/squash is also in season, which is really good roasted with some cheese, nuts or seeds. I do love seasonal greens fried in butter with poached eggs for a lovely lunch, too. I think one pot wonders or tray bakes are really quick and easy for dinner. I’d do chicken or fish with onions, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, paprika, sherry vinegar, bay leaves, saffron, fennel seeds, maybe some legumes and then some crusty bread on the side, of course!
We’d love to hear about your plans for Tostada in the future…
I would love to keep doing meal kits, offering products to buy online, continuing the supper clubs, sharing my recipes and sharing skills via cooking classes. I just want to share what I love and I can’t lie, a cookbook is definitely the dream.
Finally, could share your favourite North East spots for a day out?
The North East coast is so beautiful and I can’t list them all but I’d have to say Riley’s Fish Shack is a favourite. I used to work there and I never got bored of the view or the amazing food. It’s incredible, and where I take people when they come to visit. I think the Ouseburn is great and love visiting all the independent places there. Heaton’s food scene is really growing too, I could eat Flint Pizza every day. My perfect day in the North East would probably be a road trip along the coast, exploring Northumberland. I love finding markets, local fruit and veg shops or farm shops along the way and of course checking out as many cafes and restaurants as I can!
Oh, did I mention I like toast?