30 November 2016

Stuart and Mike are chefs at the Eden Project and this year decided to use their love of food and knowledge of the catering industry to tackle a major problem facing Cornwall and the UK, launching their social enterprise Keep Cornwall Fed. 

Two men sitting in the Eden Project Mediterranean biome.

Mike (L)  and Stuart spoke to us in the Med Terrace Kitchen at the Eden Project

What is Keep Cornwall Fed?

Stuart: It’s a really simple project. In Cornwall we’ve got high food waste and high food poverty, so we’re going to use the food waste to help those who might find themselves in food and nutrient poverty. To fund it we’re kitting out a horsebox as a pop-up restaurant to cater at festivals and weddings, and anywhere else really. For every meal that we sell, we’ll donate a meal back to someone in food poverty.

Where did the spark for Keep Cornwall Fed come from?

Mike: We’ve worked together for quite a long time now and we always wanted to do something outside of our normal day job to keep us busy. We did a function recently using waste food and we got talking about social enterprises, and giving back to the community.

Stuart: That was the kickstart. What we feel strongly about is, in a county if you’ve got high food waste and high food poverty, to us that doesn’t make sense at all. So I think that’s the bit that niggles us: we were saying for ages that someone should use one for the other, and in the end we decided to go for it ourselves.

What is food poverty and food surplus?

Mike: Food poverty comes in many forms. It could be children not having the right breakfast in the morning, single parent families struggling to balance paying their bills and buying healthy food – do they turn the heating on or buy food? It’s trying to make sure that everyone can have a nutritionally balanced meal.

Stuart: Food only becomes a waste if you’re not going to use it, so we call it food surplus.

You had an idea, but where did the motivation to act come from?

Mike: We wanted to do something different, something good. We both volunteer outside of work already, but, being chefs, cooking and catering is what we know. It’s what we’re good at. So if we know we can turn surplus food into healthy meals for people who are struggling to eat, then everyone’s a winner.

Stuart: We’ve been in the catering industry for 20 years, and at the end of the day it always comes down to profits and margins, but we’re getting to a stage where we think there has to be more to it than that – there has to be. We didn’t really know anything about social enterprises until about 18 months ago, but now we’re sold on the idea and think that we, and others like us, could eradicate a lot of problems in this country.

Mike: We thought it was something we could do and something we can achieve, something in our powers that we could deliver.

Were you nervous about telling others about your idea?

Stuart: No, we’ve told everybody!

Mike: We think it’s such a good idea – you’ve got one problem that can be solved by another problem – we should be telling everyone. We’re happy and proud to be telling people.

How have people responded?

Stuart: It’s overwhelming. We’ve had people donating paint, kitchens, supplies, discounted materials, all sorts. Plus support and backing on social media. Because it’s not-for-profit, community-led, and tackling issues people actually care about we’ve been inundated with help and support. 

What’s your ambition for the future?

Stuart: We’re taking it in small steps. We’ve said we’ll feed 5000 people by the end of 2017. If we can do that, that’s 5000 paying customers, giving back to 5000 more – so that’s 10,000 people to feed. That’s quite a big impact. I suppose the ambition is to make the whole of Cornwall food poverty free – that’s the idea. I can’t see why it cant happen.

How has this projected impacted you personally?

Mike: For years and years you work in a kitchen and you’re always cooking for someone else. But for this, you’re cooking for a purpose – feeding the public but at the same time knowing that you’re going to give back to people who actually need it.

Stuart: It means something, it really does. We’re still doing what we do every day and we love it, but we know that with this, every meal that we sell is going to give back to the community. It is really challenging, but we are learning. We’ve probably done things a bit backwards, but it’s just a learning curve. We’re absorbing as much as we can so we’ll see!

 

Do you have any tips for others looking to find their spark?

Mike: Research. If you’ve got an idea and you think there’s an issue somewhere, use the internet because it’s only going to cost you your time. I always say to the guys I work with in the kitchen ‘There’s no such thing as a bad idea or a bad question, so take your time to research and see if there is a need for it, and what you can do’. You don’t want to be flying to the moon to solve a problem: you’ve got to select achievable targets.

Stuart: Surround yourselves with people who are experts in their field. We know people who work in media, or who build kitchens day in, day out and to be honest, without them it would have been a lot harder. There’s no such thing as bad advice: ask questions, you don’t have to agree, but ask as many questions as you can. And just believe! Believe!

To keep up to date with Keep Cornwall Fed, follow them on Twitter and Facebook, and make sure to check out their website http://www.keepcornwallfed.com/.

You don’t want to be flying to the moon to solve a problem: you’ve got to select achievable targets.