The work we do is so much more powerful when we connect, collaborate and ahre our knowldge with others. This is something I feel strongly about, so I get out and about as much as I can to make new connections.
I went for a lunch at Refettorio Felix, a non-profit organisation by the chef Massimo Bottura. His concept is about fighting food that would otherwise go to waste. It’s also based on the premise that people living on the streets aren’t putting good food into their bodies. I’m a strong believer in this too, which is why nutrition is one of the things I focus on first when I start working with homeless people on our Freshlife programme. Refettorio Felix is getting amazing support from organisations such as Baxter Storey, who we work with too, and it’s just really inspirational. At the event, we shared experiences of working in the area of homelessness and I’m excited about how we might be able to continue to share knowledge in the future.
I also spent some time with Jeremy Goring from The Hotel School last week. Jeremy is the CEO of The Goring Hotel and they run the Hotel School scheme with The Passage homeless resource centre and other hostels across London. It’s all about teaching hospitality skills to homeless and vulnerable people and getting them into sustainable employment. This is all happening in the heart of Westminster, which has a horrendously high level of homelessness. It’s another really inspiring project.
It’s fundamentally important to share knowledge and skills like this in the social enterprise sector, but raising awareness of different innovations that can help us is also important.
This struck me when I attended a food tech innovation session called YFood. I’ve noticed a lot of change in these events – they use to be about the latest kitchen gadgets, and now there’s a huge focus on food waste and sustainability. One interesting project was Winnow Solutions – something I’ve used – which helps restaurants, hotels and caterers measure their waste. It’s where food bins have scales under them and an attached tablet with menus loaded onto it. As you throw stuff into the bin, you categorise the waste. It helps you see where there might be a problem, for example, maybe your portion sizes are too large, or perhaps you’re putting some food on the plate that no-one enjoys. It can really help cut down food waste and save money. I also really enjoyed learning about the really tasty ChicP, which is hummus made from surplus fruit and vegetables.
Sharing discoveries like this with others in the industry can help us become much more innovative, sustainable and responsible.
Local + Global Connections
Something else I’ve learned through my work is to never underestimate the power of the local. Giving local businesses our custom is important, for example I love stopping off at Monmouth Coffee for really good coffee, a slice of the best brownie going and for an experience of a company that has always stuck to what it believes in. But through my work, I’ve also made a number of local connections that have been invaluable in so many ways.
The Fishmongers’ Company is one example. They’re great people and their base is really close to us in London Bridge. We take our apprentices down to see them quite a lot at Billingsgate Market too. They also do live demonstrations for us – inspiring and sharing their passion for fresh fish with our apprentices, who really soak up the enthusiasm of people who know their stuff. Last week, we found out that The Fishmongers’ Company has decided to give us £15,000. This will enable us to work with 10 homeless people through our Freshlife and Get Stuck In programmes, with the likelihood that one of these participants will go on to join Brigade as an apprentice. It makes such a difference to us that organisations like this share our passion for helping vulnerable people turn their lives around through food.
Another great partnership that came into fruition last week was with The Conduit, which is a new private members club opening in London. The head of culinary for the club is a friend of mine – Gary Robinson – who is the former chef of Prince Charles and who also previously headed up Condé Nast’s portfolio of restaurants. He’s got a real eye for quality and has some wonderful ambitions around sustainability, seasonality and growing as much of his own produce as possible. Aligned with this, the club also wants to ensure a percentage of their workforce comes from vulnerable backgrounds. Given the synergy with what we do, they are subsequently inviting our graduate apprentices to apply for some roles. It’ll be a wonderful opportunity and experience for them.
Working locally is really important to me, but sharing the things we’ve learned can also have a positive impact globally. I had a session with a social entrepreneur from Lebanon recently who has set up an app called ProAbled. It’s a way for people who are either vulnerable or disabled – who have undertaken similar training programmes – to find jobs with companies looking for people with particular skillsets and backgrounds. When you’re committed to working responsibly in certain areas, it’s not always easy in practice for employers to find candidates that meet this criteria, so it’s a great concept for our industry.
Collaboration is a powerful thing. Maybe too many cooks don’t spoil the broth after all!
Simon Boyle | Chef Founder | Beyond Food Community Interest Company