It was the sickly smell of burnt flesh that struck me first, followed by the wall of smoke as I opened the door. Three fire alarms roared into a shrill chorus of disapproval so piercing, I felt they were taking aim at me personally, like an electronic Greek chorus.
I flew into a flustered chorus of invective as I looked at the prime cut of Cornish pork belly that had turned to charcoal in just fifteen minutes flat, thanks to some wayward advice from Jamie Oliver and a Bosch oven with the heat control of Reactor Four at Chernobyl.
Let me make one thing clear. I do NOT do cooking failures. It's something I pride myself on. I'm an ambitious cook, and I like to think a skilled one too. So this epic failure, ruining a superb piece of meat was something of a blow. It topped one of those days that I'd rather forget, which began with a rare burst of middle-aged rage at a Texaco garage in the Roseland Peninsula in Cornwall, followed by backing into an unseen bollard when I was distracted by a sleepy queen wasp that suddenly appeared in our car.
Why had Wednesday become such a day of irritation and woe? Afterall, Rebecca and I had weathered the full force of Storm Dennis despite being holed up in a remote cottage high on the cliffs of St Anthony's Point, overlooking the amazing Fal Estuary in Southern Cornwall. The approach roads were flooded, and the winds so ferocious that it was near impossible to walk outside. Yet the conditions made such a perfect backdrop and start to our week-long break here.
They allowed us to focus on our plans for Hobeck without distractions. While the storm raged outside, we were finally able to take stock of the whirlwind few months we've had since we launched the company. I know it's one of those cliches - that setting up a new business is one of the hardest things you can do, but we really haven't had a great deal of time to reflect and plan the next stages of Hobeck's development. It's also given us the time to really recharge the batteries without the demands of children and daily commitments.
One of Cornwall's great charms is the pace of life here. You almost feel it as you cross over the Tamar and enter the county from Devon. The further south you venture, so the pace slows too. Everyone has time for each other, especially in February before the spring and summer seasons choke the roads with holiday makers. We've used the freedom to explore places we've not visited before, like the wonderful Cornish Seal Sanctuary in Gweek, or finding wonderful independent bookshops like Hurley Books in Mevagissey.
One of the challenges we've set ourselves is finding great Cornish detective fiction. We've found a few titles and authors that fit the bill, but we can't help feeling that the county is ripe for a new series of crime novels. The setting is so varied and characterful, with beauty and bleakness cheek-by-jowl. Truth be told, if I had the chance I would base myself here and write them myself, but life isn't like that. However, we would love Hobeck to be the publishing home of the next great Cornish crime series.
We'll be returning home from Cornwall fired up afresh, with plenty to do as we take Hobeck forward. There's the fun of London Book Fair to look forward to, as well as the launch of our new unpublished fiction competition which we hope will unearth some seriously talented authors for us to work with.
Oh and I'll come back with a valuable lesson learned - even if you have the best ingredients at your disposal and take the most expert advice, you still have to use your best judgement and skills for things to turn out a success. I'll be trying to cook pork belly again tonight. Please wish me luck.