Thomas & Sons – 103 years in the making…
The café concept was actually something Hamish and Tim Thomas looked at seven or eight years ago but decided the timing wasn’t quite right, so they opened Scotch instead in 2008, owning it for six years. They learnt a lot over this time, “as hospitality is quite different to retail”, and those skills helped with Thomas & Sons, particularly in the setup and they were able to use this experience to get the formula right for the café.
The cafe at Thomas’s opened on 20 November 2015 with coffee and treats from the counter but the kitchen has now come in-house, as has the dining, and a full winter menu is in operation.
Marcia Chang-Hong, cook extraordinaire, has been instrumental from the beginning. Marcia much prefers the title cook to chef as she believes cooking is a “natural, fundamental thing.” Confident in the quality of her food, Marcia is however very humble and doesn’t like any of the fuss associated with being a chef. “I just want to make fresh, simple, rustic food”. Hamish and Tim knew of Marcia as they’d been guests at her legendary dinners and were thrilled when she agreed to come on board for their new venture.
Marcia has a fascinating history. Born in Trinidad to Chinese parents who had emigrated there in the early 1950s, Marcia then went to high school and university in Toronto, Canada and it was there she fell into cooking. Restaurants in Toronto and Vancouver were followed by an eight-year stint in London where she cooked at top restaurants Kensington Place and the Brackenbury before her then husband Peter Burge suggested a move back to his hometown of Blenheim.
Marcia admits she wasn’t ready for the change of pace then, she loved her work and the busy life in London and coming to Blenheim in 2003 was quite hard, but she loves it here now. “Marlborough allows for a beautiful way of living, no traffic, open space, great people, lots of good produce – and where else in the world could I get to milk a cow for fresh milk and cheese making?”
It wasn’t too long after arriving in Marlborough that word of Marcia’s skills and experience got around and she has been in hot demand ever since. Before starting at Thomas & Sons Marcia worked overtime as a freelance chef doing private dinners, as well as cooking for top wineries around the region.
Marcia was keen for a more regular and less frantic work schedule. Having said that, she’s still pretty busy with cooking in the Thomas & Sons kitchen six days a week. All of the beautiful food sold in the cafe is prepared and cooked by Marcia and everything is made from scratch, right down to the delicious chutneys and breads.
Originally working out of commercial kitchens off-site, Marcia is now in her fifth week in the brand new in-house Thomas & Sons kitchen. It was hard working off-site as Marcia had a limited link with the cafe and was therefore also limited with what she could prepare, cook and deliver. Now being onsite she can make meals fresh and send them out straight away. She also likes being close by to see what’s working and what’s not.
The new winter menu was produced by Marcia working alongside Hamish. From the new menu Marcia is a particular fan of “Grandma Thomas’s savoury mince on toast”. While the recipe is Marcia’s, the meal and title is a nod to Tim and Hamish’s memories of their grandparents’ mince on toast specialty. Marcia also highly recommends the chicken katsu sandwich and pork banh mi rolls. “I like food to have a bit of flavour and be fresh and tasty.”
It’s worth popping along to Thomas & Sons regularly as some treats are served only on particular days of the week. Friday, for example, is Marcia’s delicious pizza and the to-die-for chocolate brioche. “Peter, who used to be a baker, says they’re as good as you can get anywhere in the world. Better than in France even. We’re so lucky in Blenheim that we’ve got these, even if it’s only one day a week!” And don’t miss “the best donuts in the world” on Saturdays.
Another item not to be missed is Marcia’s carrot cake, for which she is famous all over the world. “Every time I make it people always go crazy, even if they say they don’t like carrot cake!”
We’re so lucky to have Marcia here in Marlborough – come and try the new winter menu and treat yourself to some of Marcia’s magic.