Husbands Brent Cruickshank and Julian Jenkins have created the ultimate lockdown dining shed during the pandemic, fully equipped with a stocked bar and vintage interiors.
When it comes to successful lockdown projects, pop-up bars and barbecue pits seem to be have been all the rave.
However, one Aberdeenshire couple has taken their love of outdoor dining to the next level by designing and kitting out their second dining shed.
Brent Cruickshank and Julian Jenkins, who have been married for three years and together for 24, have loved food, and most importantly cooking, for as long as they can both remember.
A keen fisherman, Julian, 70, can be found on some of Scotland’s most breathtaking lochs fly fishing for his dinner, while Brent is usually found in their home library, surrounded by more than 500 of his cookbooks, with a glass of wine.
A menswear specialist who works in the city centre, Brent, 51, came up with the idea to create their second dining shed during lockdown while on furlough from his job.
Making shed dining chic
Brent said: “The idea of the sheds really came from having our conservatory. Sitting in there on a hot summer’s day is just too hot – it ends up like a sauna.
“We wanted an outdoor space where we could enjoy ourselves with friends. We came up with the idea of having a shed, but we didn’t want a shed like a sauna or with just a bar in it, we wanted a dining shed, and that is where the idea for Fed in the Shed was born.
“The Little Red Shed was actually used for the lawn mower, our bikes and gardening equipment, but during lockdown we decided to do something with it because I was bored. While it is not red on the outside, inside, it is laced in red paint and is decorated with vintage trinkets I have collected over the years.”
Taking one week to build their first shed which was constructed seven years ago, Brent says the concept of Fed in the Shed really only emerged three years ago.
The second shed, The Little Red Shed, was built last June and was transformed into a dining shed throughout lockdown.
“There actually used to be a pergola where the main shed is based. We stripped everything down, put concrete in and then just built the shed around it for the first one,” said Brent.
“Myself, Julian and his son built it together through a kit. It took us around a week to build and we did the roof, and painted inside. When painting the walls, we had to be careful to paint the knots in the wood first as they sometimes seep sap so we had to double paint them all before painting the rest.
“Gradually over time I have collected things and I just wanted the space to be different. My taste is vintage and Julian shoots and fishes so we have a lot of country items, kind of like a country lodge. I like quirky things, things that have different uses. The majority of the items have been used for other things before we have got our hands on them.”
Preparing for dinner
Having their own private dining sheds has resulted in the couple hosting numerous get-togethers with friends and family over the years, and has even resulted in them making new life-long buddies.
Taking up to a week to prepare for their dinner parties, both Julian and Brent have key roles to play in the lead up to hosting.
Brent said: “Preparations normally start on the Monday and I’ll probably have around six different menus initially. Friday arrives and it has usually changed again, and then the real panic kicks in. In the morning we get everything set up to make sure all the candles are ready to go and all the cutlery, glasses and plates have to be right. Only then is it cooking time.
“We usually start preparing the food that morning as well. We also have the house to clean, dishes to wash up and we work right through.
“When guests arrive we serve nibbles and canapes. The Champagne is flowing and there’s gin, too. We’ll then go into the shed and open the wine. We’ll top it up a few times and then just let guests help themselves. We go back and forth to the kitchen and we have food covers to carry the food across the garden with. Although, there has been a few close calls with wet grass before.
“Usually when we set up ready for dinner, we light all of the candles and close the curtains. When our guests arrive they think they are going to be dining in the conservatory and they’ll see the table not set up. We then surprise them and tell them to make their way to the shed. They then get to pull back the curtain to reveal the dining shed. It is something quite different.
Julian added: “It looks really good in the evening when it’s dark and the candles are on, it is very special.”
A cookbook collection like no other
Both classing themselves as “foodies” the sheds have been a labour of love and have also proven extremely popular on local social media cooking groups where Brent has been sharing pictures of his meals for members to see.
And with more than 500 cookbooks to his name, Brent has surrounded the couple with plenty of inspiration for their menus.
Julian said: “We’re both quite into food and we both like cooking. I like cooking game and fish and Brent is more into starters and that sort of thing. He really likes Thai food and his favourite dessert is panna cotta – he can make it with his eyes closed now. His cookbook collection is very impressive.”
Brent added: “Yes, I don’t even know how many I have now, I must have around 500. Our inspiration for the menus come from there.
“I joined around five cooking groups on Facebook during lockdown but the main one I’ve been posting in is Cooking through the Corona which was set up by Ann-Elyse Finnie from Peterhead.
“Most people had been baking throughout lockdown and when I first joined there was only a couple of people and they were all baking so I left the group as I’m mainly into cooking. When I rejoined the group a little while later there was more than 30,000 people.
“Everyone was taking pictures of their food and baking and I wanted to be a bit different, so I took pictures of our picnic in the garden, with my old Morris Miner called Dorothy, and of our camping trip in the garden with the stove outside, in our library where we had a cheese and wine party, and in both dining sheds, too. It was different and people were loving it instead of just posting a plate of something like beetroot and stovies.
“The groups have been great for connecting with new people and Cooking through the Corona is now doing a cookbook – I’m going to be featured in it with my panna cotta. It is a sad time we’re living in, but food and the groups are bringing people together. It has been a real experience being part of it all. Every day I will post into the Facebook group to let them know what I’ve been eating and that sort of thing. I’ve posted things like toast and pate and had nearly 300 likes on it. I have a little fan base who wait for me to post my pictures on Instagram, too, which is really cool.”
A supper club in the making?
Making numerous new friendships online, Brent and Julian are looking forward to the day that they will be able to welcome others back to their sheds when it is safe to do so and all restrictions are lifted. However, they will need to get through the guest list which Julian says “is getting longer by the day”.
Brent said: “We’re really looking forward to hosting people again when we can. Dinner with just the two of us is great, but with friends it’s brilliant. We have had some close friends over when we were allowed who sat at the other side of the table ensuring we were following social distancing and household rules, and we have had a close friend in our bubble over for coffee with the door open ensuring that there was air getting in. We even had coffee outside under the gazebo one night and made it a Persian night in the garden. We really want people back again.
“I’d like to do a supper club one day, but I wouldn’t really want it as a business, maybe run it every month or every three months or something like that.”
Julian added: “I think it will be quite special when we can welcome people back to Fed in the Shed and show them The Little Red Shed. I think we’ll have someone every weekend once all of this is over due to all the friends Brent and I have met online who want to come over. We’ve met teachers, a marine scientist, a librarian, lots of foodies and so many other people. We have a list of people who want to come see and experience the place for themselves.
“Brent has always wanted to host his own supper club but it is just taking that step over the edge with complete strangers. Taking that big step forward, I think he’s a little reticent about making a go of it. I think he will do it in the future when it is safe to do so – watch this space.”