After years of travelling the world, cooking for dignitaries, celebrities and royalty, including private dinner parties for Her Majesty The Queen and the late Duke of Edinburgh, chef Penny Lewis is now responsible for Café on the Park; arguably Mamhilad Park Estate’s best kept secret.
It wasn’t until the late 1980’s that now 66 year-old Penny started cooking. Her then 11 year old daughter came home from school one day and announced that she was going to become a vegetarian. Penny didn’t want her living off pasta and cheese so she learnt to cook.
Fast forward 30-odd years and Penny is now fondly known as Penny ‘Poppins’ because of her calm and unflappable nature plus her magical cooking skills. Having cooked for royalty throughout Europe, Penny has toured America doing food demonstrations, is a frequent guest at the world famous Abergavenny Food Festival and has published various cook books as well as having appeared on a selection of TV shows. She also ran the successful ‘Culinary Cottage’, a haven for food lovers and those wanting to enjoy a selection of one day and residential cookery courses.
It was here at Culinary Cottage in Abergavenny that Penny met James Crawford, Chief Executive of Johnsey Estates UK Ltd, owners of Mamhilad Park Estate. James had enrolled on a cookery course and was so impressed with the standard of cuisine that he asked Penny if she would be interested in running the cafe at Mamhilad.
Penny explains: “As a young Mum with a very limited budget in the 1970’s and 80’s, I could never have dreamt that food would become my life. My daughter and I lived off convenience food before I discovered my love of the culinary arts.
“From small intimate dinner parties to private gatherings for the royal family, I have been so fortunate to have had the most amazing career and now I get to cook delicious local produce for all the lovely people at Mamhilad.
“For me, it’s all about sharing my love of good food. I use seasonal ingredients and we always champion local meat, fish and dairy. From simple salads and sandwiches to our themed menus and delicious deserts, almost everything is cooked from scratch and we take great pride in all that we serve. I just love feeding people and seeing the pleasure that good food brings.
“That’s what interested me when I first met James and he suggested taking on the café here at Mamhilad. It’s been an incredible adventure, cooking for dignitaries and touring the world. I have some wonderful memories but there is nowhere quite like home, especially an area like this that is renowned for its food, so I jumped at the chance to embark on this next stage of my love affair with cooking. I’m just so pleased that Café on the Park is so popular.”
The Café on the Park is open Monday to Friday from 7.30am until 2pm. The menu changes daily with a wide selection of hot food, salads and freshly prepared sandwiches. From September there will be a daily special. The café is open to occupiers and visitors. Outside seating is available.