Gemma Hammond is owner of Pollito Loco, a restaurant based in Southsea, Hampshire. Describing the business as “a street trading and music festival fast food concept”, she sells tasty chicken in various styles and flavours. All the restaurant’s fresh fruit and vegetables are supplied by Fruit and Vegetable Market wholesaler Nature’s Choice and Gemma’s links with the Market go back a long way
Tell us a little about yourself, as we hear you have a long-standing connection to New Covent Garden Market.
I’ve had a connection with food since I was very young because my Dad, Geoffrey William Hammond, worked at New Covent Garden. He co-owned a business with Barry Ruffel called Ruffel and Hammond. I have many fond memories of the Market from my younger years. Since I was very young, I loved the buzz of the market and my Dad used to walk me around the different stalls. He’d haggle over prices and buy and sell goods, it was so exciting!
This is where my passion for food really began; seeing and smelling all the fresh produce, the colours and shapes of the vegetables. The market was a whole different world which happened at night, there was even a pub that was open all night long – this secret world was amazing to me!
When did you first visit the Market and what made it so special?
I used to love going with my father to work, even though children were not really allowed in the Market and I wasn’t even eight years old. So, I was forced into taking drastic action. At bedtime I’d wait until everyone was asleep, then I would get dressed and hide myself in the boot of my Dad’s car and sit and wait. I knew the journey well and soon learnt every turn and change of speed, working out when it was safe for me to jump out – too far for my Dad to be able to turn back and take me home. He was never that cross with me, I think he secretly loved my wanting to go to work with him in the middle of the night, in the freezing cold, whatever the weather. The smell of the market is one I will never forget.
My Dad loved the market, it was in his blood. He was always disciplined in getting up at strange hours and driving into town, and it didn’t stop him enjoying his life. He loved his music, fast cars and travelling. I wanted to follow in my Dad’s footsteps and carry on his business when he retired. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease before I was old enough to do this and so I took another path, supported by my father.
He used to take me to wonderful restaurants, including regularly to Jack’s restaurant in Battersea, which was yet another world. It was the time of the yuppy and anyone who entered Jack’s wearing a tie had it chopped off and put on the restaurant wall!
Are there any stories from when your father had his wholesale business here?
We were never short of fruit and vegetables in our house and growing up this was often an amazement to our friends, who had never seen such an abundance of exotic fruits and veg. By our teenage years, however, we took it very much for granted and the food wasn’t always eaten, which led to my Stepmother’s Sunday ritual of making “MFP” (which to you and me is mouldy fruit pudding). It sounds horrible but they were always divine. I learnt that most fruits are at their best when their sugars are most concentrated.
My Dad had other ingenious uses for his fruit and vegetables; they were not just for eating apparently. There were six kids in the house, me being the youngest, and my Dad and Stepmother used to holiday without us quite a bit. Of course, house parties would follow. My Dad always knew whether we had had a party or not and we could never work out how he knew, we had always cleaned up so well and returned the house to its rightful state? How could he possibly know? Well, the sneaky fella used to purposely bring a large box of fruit home before their departure, knowing that we would never eat it all. When he returned from his travels if all the fruit had gone it had meant we had a party – ingenious!
When did you start your restaurant business?
I’ve been a chef since I was 15 years old, so food is very important to me. I first thought of the idea for my business in 2014 when I relocated from the UK to Spain. I was learning how to speak Spanish and watching a lot of TV to listen to the language,
and I picked up a lot of great ideas from food programmes. My first commercial experiences were cooking my chicken lollipops, a new recipe I was trying out, at a couple of children’s festivals. They proved a success and after I moved back to the UK in 2017, I was inspired to start my own food business. I knew that I wanted my business to be socially responsible and to also educate people about the food chain.
What are your plans to expand the business?
We have big plans to bring about system change within food businesses. Currently we’re seeking funding to get our first food truck on the road so that we can build our brand and make our sustainable, zero-waste dreams possible! We’re starting small and working hard to expand across the UK. It would be a dream to one day have my own unit at New Covent Garden, taking the family history full circle.
You’re based in Hampshire, but still visit the Fruit and Vegetable Market for your produce. How did Pollito Loco get started and how did your new connection with the Market come about?
Pollito Loco serves award-winning free- range chicken in a variety of amazing styles and flavours. Our menu is designed using the entire bird, as we’re a sustainable, zero- waste food business. We prepare the chicken accompanied by six crazy delicious sauces with global flavours. All our food is prepared in house using the finest fresh ingredients - the herbs, chillies, tomatoes, and peppers for our sauces all come from Nature’s Choice.
One of our customers’ favourite sauces is Jamaican Jerk, a crazy hot sauce made with Jamaican all spice, scotch bonnets, fresh thyme and coriander, ginger, lime, spring onions, brown sugar and tamari soy sauce.
The Market has a special place in my heart due to the family ties and I feel personally attached. Over recent years I’ve watched it change and develop into the Market it is today. I love visiting at every opportunity and the vast array of suppliers and fresh produce all in one place offers food businesses like mine a great opportunity to get the very best produce on offer.
How frequently do you purchase from Nature’s Choice? Tell us a little about your relationship.
Nature’s Choice has been my preferred fruit and vegetable supplier for many years. I first learnt about Nature’s Choice years ago when I was a chef and met Martin Dykes (Nature’s Choice owner). The quality of his fruit and vegetables and his excellent service and customer care has won my loyalty to him as my supplier.
When I became Executive Head Chef at Crystal Palace Football Club I used Nature’s Choice as the supplier and continue to use them wherever possible. Martin has been a wonderful support to me over the years and I cannot fault him or Nature’s Choice in any way. He has always gone above and beyond for me and is always available if I have any issues, which I find amazing as the company has grown massively yet he still makes the time to communicate with me personally, even though I am relatively small fry!
How does the knowledge and expertise of Nature’s Choice contribute to what you purchase?
His knowledge is invaluable to my business. I often ask Martin for obscure things to prepare my menus. I love to create exciting dishes for my clients and often need something out of the ordinary. Martin and his team always do their best to find the exact products that I need. If they are unavailable, Martin makes a point of giving me a call and discussing alternatives to my requests.
Do you have a best-selling product and what makes it so popular?
Our best-selling product is our chicken, as this is the main component of our menu. However, we’ve also introduced vegan items to our menu and accompanied some of them with a Peruvian aji verde sauce, made with fresh coriander, oregano, garlic, parsley
and fresh lime juice – again all supplied by Nature’s Choice. We couldn’t make our delicious sauces without our supplier’s commitment to providing us with the freshest, best quality produce money can buy. We’re truly grateful for their attention.
Find out more about Pollito Loco by visiting its website at www.pollitoloco.com or follow the business on Instagram – @crazylittle_ chicken – and Twitter – @Pollito_Loco76