Show Notes

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Elysia Catering are a catering company with sustainability at their core. Listen to founder Sophie Andre explain how they make high quality food affordable by turning surplus artisan products and ingredients into mouthwatering breakfast and canapes for events.

You’ll not only learn how Elysia Catering saving tonnes of artisan food from going to waste, but how they’re saving the planet too. All their transportation is done by bicycle around the city of London, reducing CO2 emissions. Saving food waste and reducing their negative impact on the planet? That’s exactly the kind of thing we’re all about!

In this episode you’ll learn

  • How to bring sustainable practices into multiple levels of business
  • The logistical challenges involved in catering events and transporting everything via bicycle
  • How artisan products become waste or surplus to requirements
  • How to turn leftovers into delicious breakfasts and canapés
  • The importance of partnerships and joining forces with the right people
  • How to see your “competitors” as potential partners instead
  • Three solutions for reducing food waste at events

Notes & Links

Learn more about Elysia Catering and discover their event menus on their website.

Hannah McCollum from ChicP

Episode Transcript

Guy: [00:00:01] You’re listening to Good Foodies and this is episode 24. In today’s bite sized episode, we’re talking to Sophie Andre from Elysia Catering. They are a catering company that have sustainability at their core and they work with artisan producers to take their leftover and surplus produce and give it a new lease of life, like turning it into delicious breakfast and canapés at events across London. I’ve just spent the morning with Sophie tasting some of the delicious treats that they create and talking about all things food. So let’s dive right in to that conversation with Sophie.

Sophie: [00:00:38] Well hello, I grew up in France next to Paris. I spent actually lots of my time with my grandparents and I think it’s them who give me this energy to do it well and to, its simple things that were well cooked. I used to have lunch at my grandparents place every day since I was the kindergarten to high school. So I spent many years with them and it came from, I think, it’s just having the habits of eating healthy but good food and the comfort food as well. But quite quite simple, in a simpler way, and then I moved to Normandy in the west part of France to study business and finally I did a short stay in Cardiff in Wales of accounting and then a Masters in Warwick in Economics, in the UK.

Guy: [00:01:43] Really interesting. So I obviously, I knew by your love of food but I had no idea that you had gone and studied business for so long and in so many different places. But take us back to your childhood in Paris with your grandparents, were you just eating food that they had cooked? Or were you cooking the food with them? Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Sophie: [00:01:59] Sure. Well they were cooking most of the time, I was otherwise making a mess with the food. Like many kids I guess. But obviously I think we all learn just watching people learn how they make things, how they want you to eat in a joyful and in a good environment as well. So we used to make a few things like cakes together, but otherwise I was lucky enough for me to to have them cook for me.

Guy: [00:02:32] Fantastic. When you speak about that it kind of brings up images for me of you know like around a big wooden kitchen table and like very hands on, people talking about the ingredients and where they come from and kind of like a teaching approach to it as well. And so was that how it work, was it all like very local and handmade food?

Sophie: [00:02:50] Ye,s yes it’s true. Well obviously in Paris you don’t have a lots of apple fields or anything better known now you have many things and the good thing there that you have many markets everyday, everywhere. So it’s very easy to look at food from local farmers and producers. So yes most of the ingredients are local and seasonal.

Guy: [00:03:16] And I guess that must have had an impact on you as a child because the work that you do now is very much working with local producers and artisan producers who are making amazing handmade food with a lot of love and care possibly the same amount of love and care that your grandparents put into the food as well. So can you tell us a little bit about what it is that you do now with Elysia Catering?

Sophie: [00:03:37] Sure. So we make breakfast and canapés and we make them with surplus food of local producers. So we mean by that is for instance in pack like fruits and vegetables, so fruits and vegetables that are misshapen and that are little bit too big or too small. Or sometimes that are just a little bit damaged with some dots, but that we can use to cook. We also have a bit of cheese, bit of granola flour but many many things that we can use for cooking and preparing our breakfast and canapes bites for events.

Guy: [00:04:16] And so let’s talk a little bit about food waste or food surplus. It’s very much something that hit the headlines over the last few years I guess and it is a huge problem. Can you talk a little bit about where your food surplus comes from? And kind of how it becomes surplus in the first place?

Sophie: [00:04:32] Sure. So we work with local producers, they are based in the UK and most of them are actually based in London and we buy those surplus meaning that they can have over projections of our production for instance let’s say some over production of granola. So what happens is that the person we are working with his name is, her name is Heidi, and she runs Husk and Honey. And she makes a beautiful organic granola and sometimes she makes big bespoke orders for a couple of our clients. So it happens sometimes that she actually don’t set out everything which makes sense. So we buy the surplus, the overproduction and then we can transform the granola with some fruit that we have from farmers, we can try them, we can make fruit compared and make little balls of granola with yogurt and have fruit for breakfast for instance. We have many more examples. The idea that we source high quality ingredients is organic on their track meaning they don’t have to be certified but the producer that we work with are the artisans that we work with and make all the food and everything is chemical free. So that we assure that’s how it’s made, the quantity of it so that there’s nothing that is added that is not necessary. And then we transform everything from breakfast and canapes.

Guy: [00:06:09] So you’re taking things like surplus ingredients so maybe the fruits has been you know that a misshapen or wonky as well as overproduction from somebody else’s like branded products or artisan products. And so you take those pieces and you create completely new things. Can you talk us through some of the the types of dishes or the canapes that you create?

Sophie: [00:06:33] So we, for instance for canapes we have lots of seasonal vegetables that we use that are locally grown from veg and they we would transform them and make some and Crystal metals are breasted Belgian that we can then use to create canapes that are for instance like we make sun kissed tomatoes and sourdough bread with some cheese shavings and a bit of olive oil some salt and pepper. There is something quite simple but full of flavor and quite good food as well. So also we make mini bites like that for events. For the breakfast we have beautiful sourdough bread loaves that we can toast with some very nice salted butter and homemade marmalade from wonky fruits. Our chocolate spread that we make from broken chocolate tubs for instance with salted butter, we can make cakes with this broken chocolate as well. And some broken packages of flour for instance. So there are many many things that we can make. Again another example is with the cheese. We have huge quantities of cheese surplus and this is because, well there are several reasons but one of the main reasons is that some of the cheese wheels are tested during the maturing process to make sure that the cheese is ready to be eaten. The cheesemonger will put this huge knife inside the wheel and when you destroy it she destroys it there is whole inside the wheel left. So they can’t really do anything with the bites that are the hole obviously so we buy those, we buy those pieces and then we can transform the cheese in many things we can quiche, we can make choux pastry, we can make cheesy sandwiches, many many things that are quite simple and tasty with this delicious cheese because in the UK you have a fabulous cheese selection, yes.

Guy: [00:08:38] Absolutely. And I’m a big cheese fan as well. And I guess when you’re catering which is the kind of the delivery mechanism of the food that you’re rescuing and reusing, you need those kind of punchy flavors because people are going to have just a small bite here and there because you really want the food to be able to stand out and speak for itself I guess. So has that been the approach, is to try and create those kind of things? or have you just had to work with whatever you’ve got?

Sophie: [00:09:05] So we have the same menus over time that we can change according to the season. But as we work, we use the same producers and artisans the supply is constant so there will always be overproduction of our constant orders let’s say of some fruits and vegetables. We always be somehow have some over production of granola so the supply is constant so that we can work on it and create recipes with that. And for us it’s very important that the quality there it has to be very good. It’s the main selling point and then we can talk about the fact that it’s surplus, that it comes from local producers and that is all natural. But it comes after it has first to taste very good so that people can talk about the food first, ask questions, and then we can explain the story.

Guy: [00:09:59] Yeah I think it’s so important because sometimes it can be like if you are very passionate about the call, you saw the mission you know you want to rescue all of this food and is an absolutely amazing way to approach business is something mean of course we are hugely behind. But it can’t just be the mission and then the food is kind of a bit average. It has to be led with the food or led with the thing that everybody can get. And then there’s the like there’s still added value at the end which for certain people that will sell them through and through and then for others they’re just like “oh, that’s nice” you know. But it’s always just a little extra bit on top. We are so important to get the food right first. So can you talk to us a little bit about some of the, some of the types of events that you work for, are they mostly events with food people? Or are they just corporate events? Can you talk a little bit about those?

Sophie: [00:10:47] Sure. So our clients range is quite wide. So we were recruit in events from 35 to 300 people. And it can be events for charity, startups, but there is vaka operates. We have quite a large range of businesses. But most of them have an interest somehow in sustainability and they want to share that with our employees and with their guests. So that’s how we usually partner with them.

Guy: [00:11:19] Because I imagine, even though perhaps you’re getting the raw materials at a discount, perhaps because they would gonna go to waste otherwise., I imagine working with artisan products and ingredients and putting all the care and attention in to the menus and the recipes. It probably is a more expensive way to go for someone who wants to bring in a caterer rather than using just something that’s mass market off the shelf, is that right?

Sophie: [00:11:43] Yes. Well it was behind the business is to make high quality food affordable to everyone. So we work with surplus, meaning that we buy it from the producers at a discounted price as you said. We buy it usually a little bit below the wholesale price. So then the producers still make a margin, it is very important for us to make sure that it’s a win-win for everyone that the producers make some money out of food that wouldn’t be wasted, that we are able to transform the food into something different for breakfast and canapes for our events and to sell it at a price that is reasonable meaning very competitive to the market price for our customers. So that’s people with, usually go for maybe a supermarket order, if we squeeze on something that is maybe little bit less healthy and then see that they could actually afford catering. So that’s really the idea behind it to make healthy natural foods affordable for people.

Guy: [00:12:51] It’s a great way of putting it and I think if you are leading with that kind of message people be like well if I can go with this. Which is better food and it’s almost the same price and it’s also having some kind of impact by reducing waste and surplus. Then then it becomes a no-brainer and a win-win as you said which is exactly what we’re always looking to find as well which is brilliant. So how are these people finding you?

Sophie: [00:13:12] Well usually we get in touch with them. Well we tend to just contact the businesses that we know organize events and would want to develop some kind of sustainability scheme in the company, are interested in sharing that with our clients with our employees as well. But now actually most of our clients come from recommendations as we are lucky enough to be present at events and to talk about our story and the guest who tasted the food. Some people tend to naturally recommend us which is fantastic.

Guy: [00:13:52] Which is brilliant. I mean and that shows that you’re really on to a good thing which is you know so important and to get that positive feedback and people kind of spreading the word organically is a great sign I think. So in addition to rescuing food and taking the surplus and kind of giving it a new lease of life which is a fantastic thing I think you’ve saved something like six tons of artisan food from going to waste. And I think that’s a really important kind of point to come back to is the fact that this is artisan food and that any food waste is a terrible thing because it’s you know the amount of inputs that have gone into creating it are huge and then it’s just terrible just to throw it all away. But when we’re talking about artisan food I mean it almost seems to me more of a travesty because these are things that are made with very high quality ingredients made with lots of care and love and attention. Has that been a big part of wanting to do this or is it part of that idea of wanting to make good quality food affordable?

Sophie: [00:14:48] Yes for me it’s very important to know the producers, to know how they work, where they work, with whom they work with. I really value the food that is natural and made with simple ingredients. So this is very important. Then as you said all food should be consumed and not wasted so in an ideal world there would be no food waste. So we should tend to prevent food waste instead of trying to reduce the end of the chain that this them. But no for me it is very important to work with people I know and I know how they make the food.

Guy: [00:15:29] And are you able to communicate some of their stories, some of the stories of the ingredients of the producers that you work with to the guests at the events that you cater?

Sophie: [00:15:39] Yes definitely. We also work with them also a couple of brands that are using surplus food for instance. So for instance we know you know they can Benet’s said a woman. I called them I couldn’t runs it. And she shows it to February’s who’s made from wonkier fruit and vegetables and this delicious Fula and then transfer surplus. We sometimes do events together. We are planning to have at the end of the summer together as well too. She has a story of those companies and the people we work with as well. So for ours it’s not about so much that we are making but more the story of the ingredients. So if we are preparing let’s say canapes with some roasted vegetables and some cheese for instance. We will, in our menu, explain where the cheese come from, where the vegetables come from, why it is surplus and make sure we are available if some guests want more information about that as well. So it’s really about the ingredients.

Guy: [00:16:54] And then do you end up training the staff that work with you to serve the food to teach about this stuff as well? Or is it just like a buffet style?

Sophie: [00:17:02] So they will always be well, if needed in the company, there will always be people from our company to make sure that we are there to explain the story of the food, that we also have some other things like our genes and things like that. But you know it is very important that everyone know very well in the company, those behind it and the story of the ingredients. Because it’s what we want to share with our guest if they want to hear about it.

Guy: [00:17:33] Fantastic. And in addition to rescuing all of this food and saving tons of this artisan product, you’re also saving tons of other things as well. Because the way that you transport the food around and get to all the different venues is a little bit different as well. Can you tell us about that?

Sophie: [00:17:50] Sure. So we deliver everything by bicycle, meaning that we actually pick up the food when they land in London by bicycle and then we transport everything to venues by bicycle as well.

Guy: [00:18:05] So this is by a human powered bike not a motorbike?

Sophie: [00:18:10] Yes, yes exactly. Human powered.

Guy: [00:18:13] So that sounds, it sounds incredible but it also sounds very labor intensive and you’d have to recruit people based on their cycling ability as well as their cooking ability. Has picking up and delivering everything by bike caused you any challenges? Or is it just like an extra one of these little win-wins on top?

Sophie: [00:18:31] At the beginning it’s quite an organization that we need to know where and when to pick up everything and when and where to deliver everything. But once everything is organized, there’s not much difference between delivering everything with a van or everything with bicycle and so I say, no it’s quite straightforward. But obviously the logistics has to be sorted in our events.

Guy: [00:18:55] Cool, fantastic. So lots of exciting things happening and the business seems to be going from strength to strength. Can you talk to us a little bit about some of the partnerships that you’ve been working on recently? Because I think that you are saying is one of the secrets to unlocking future growth for the company. Can you tell us a little bit about the importance of partnerships with what you guys do?

Sophie: [00:19:15] Sure. So yes it’s very important for us to grow the company with other people who are who have expertise in different field from us and grow together. So we have a few things that we want to develop. The first thing that we may want to move is one of our suppliers so that we can share the warehouse, the kitchen space, and have our workspace as well which would be very good in terms of building relationships but also expanding get to where our network and making things very stressful when it comes to logistics as well.

Guy: [00:19:54] And less cycling as well, I guess.

Sophie: [00:19:56] A bit less cycling, yes which is good too. And then we want to work with other catering companies, the larger catering companies who may want to develop sustainability side in their business that we could maybe help with, so that we could grow our activity with them and maybe expand in other cities in the UK and put on Chelli in Europe as well.

Guy: [00:20:26] And so working with other catering companies is a very interesting idea because you are a catering company and a lot of people would see other companies who do the same thing as them as competitors and yet you’re seeing them as a potential partner which is very interesting. What is it that has made you see that opportunity?

Sophie: [00:20:43] I think to grow faster we need to do this. We need to have partnerships with larger businesses that have experience in scaling output, that have lots of experience in running very large events and many catering companies now want to become more sustainable in their practices from energy saving, water saving to the reduction of food waste. So our expertise is more on this and they could be, we could maybe add them on that side, on the sustainability side and for them they could potentially help us grow the company as well with our expertise. So by managing our expertise and we could potentially grow together into something great at a large scale.

Guy: [00:21:31] Which is a brilliant approach and I think it’s exactly the right kind of mindset for these kind of win-win type businesses. And so are you looking to kind of teach them and educate them in the ways that you work with surplus? Or are you looking to take their surplus or provide them surplus? How are you planning to work with them? Or isn’t it all quite worked out yet?

Sophie: [00:21:49] I think it really depends on how our discussion will be moving forward. At this stage, we are in discussion with a couple of catering companies and it looks like it will be up more and what it looks like it will be we will be helping them becoming more sustainable in their approach of regarding getting food waste and energy saving, water savings as well. And I think we will be helping on that and sharing the knowledge that we’ve acquired those past couple of part of what I’ll do here is working with producers.

Guy: [00:22:25] And I think it’s great that you will be able to learn something from them and they will potentially be able to learn something from you as well. So again it comes back to that idea of the win-win which is brilliant. One question that suddenly popped into my mind is your creating a food product from surplus or from food waste and serving it to people at events. What do you do with all your food waste?

Sophie: [00:22:47] Well we don’t have much food waste. We try to be very careful with the quantity that we serve. So all the quantity our set beforehand and we make sure that obviously there’s enough food for everyone, that we want to make sure that people will eat everything. So in the way you display the food, in the way you serve the guests for it can make a huge difference. So we learned that on the job. And then if we have any food waste we have three solutions. First one is to make doggie gift bags for the guest, which is quite nice. Usually it works quite well. And then we can work with a charity. Or with all your at lunch recently service to pick up the surplus food from catering companies but usually our supplies if there is any which is very rarely is directly given to the guests so that they can enjoy it on their own.

Guy: [00:23:42] That makes perfect sense. And I can speak through this personally because I attended an event recently where you were doing the catering and I turned up a little bit late because I had something else to go to beforehand and I showed up and all the food was already gone because it had been you know perfectly timed and perfectly calculated with the amount of guests that they were expecting so that there was no waste which I think is which is exactly the right approach because you don’t want to be on one hand saying oh we’re all about saving food waste and then on the other hand having things left over because it just it just doesn’t work, right?

Sophie: [00:24:11] Yes definitely. It wouldn’t makes sense to have food waste. We want to make sure people have enough to eat then they enjoy the food but obviously it doesn’t make sense that at the end of a lunch event for instance do you have plated food of food, that wouldn’t makes sense now.

Guy: [00:24:29] Fantastic. And so what are the future plans? Or what are the next steps for Elysia Catering?

Sophie: [00:24:34] We are recruiting a chef and it’s quite an exciting time. And so yes we are getting a chef, a catering manager, and a couple of catering assistance as well. This is to grow our activities. We want to become the leader in the catering family in London sustainability. So this is what we want to move forward by the end of the year. Thanks to this chef and couple more of people in the team and then thanks to the partnerships we would like to do with some catering companies. We would like to expand quite soon hopefully in 2019 in the other cities in the UK and potentially everything goes well in another city in Europe as well.

Guy: [00:25:19] Amazing so great plans ahead. And you’re hiring a chef at the moment. So who’s been doing the cooking? Have you been doing the cooking?

Sophie: [00:25:25] Well I do it yes, as well. Time to time better. So I work with an amazing chef at the moment on a freelance and part-time basis. So she makes the most of the cooking.

Guy: [00:25:39] So you kind of started from the very beginning and you were doing a bit of everything you know, you were doing creating some of the food, working on the business, and trying to build all the partnerships, making all the connections with the suppliers, so it must have been a lot of hard work when you were first getting started. Can you take us back a little bit and talk about some of the challenges and how you’ve overcome them?

Sophie: [00:25:59] Sure, well yes when I started actually I had a different model. I was only doing breakfast and working with just a few suppliers. So I was delivering individual bags to individuals or on London. And all the breakfast with a virgin glass jars so that I can take back the glass jars and pay back the guest. And well pay back my clients. A50 bank last chance that they could use back. The idea was also that you have no waste in terms of packaging up all those breakfast but it was very time consuming to go deliver one breakfast to one person and then go back to actually take back the jar. So it was not sustainable for the business and then naturally I came to get off by events and larger events and also making sure we use only material that can be reused and if there’s a need for a disposable material and then we use combustible ones so this came naturally but at the beginning it was quite challenging in terms of the supply and also very time consuming to deliver everything and then get everything back. But now everything is quite straightforward. We know exactly with who we are working with on which day and at the logistics is all sorted but it takes quite some time that to build this, to build a trust with the suppliers, to have a regular client-based as well. It takes time to build that.

Guy: [00:27:37] Yes absolutely. And so from all of the work you’ve done which is absolutely fantastic and we are 100 percent behind everything that you guys are doing. What is, what’s one piece of advice that you could leave the listeners with if they wanted to be doing something either to reduce food waste or any other kind of social or environmental impact business. What would your one piece of advice be?

Sophie: [00:27:57] So if I had to to give an advice, it would be to really understand what is the problem of the people they want to work with, so as to reply to this problem at the beginning. I just came in to some producers and say “well, can I buy the leftovers at the end of the day?” and we didn’t understand each other basically. Did you get in the same way I wanted to buy the fruit and vegetables. I didn’t understand why they have surplus, so it’s all about like the comprehension of both parties that actually help us build a strong relationship and really try to reduce together food waste and create opportunities for both sides but it takes some time then communication, really understanding how everything works, to try to reply to the problem.

Guy: [00:28:56] Sophie Andre from Elysia Catering and you can find out more about them at that’s E-L-Y-S-I-A That’s all we’ve got time for today but thank you so much for joining us again. We do really appreciate it as always. If you’re enjoying the show and we’d like to spread the word about all of the fantastic work that the brands and businesses and people like Sophie with Elysia Catering are doing, we’d love it if you would share the show with your friends and colleagues. It’s a great way for us to spread the word and to help these heroes of the food industry get the attention that they really deserve. The best thing to do is to send everyone that you know over to and they can find all of the episodes and all the details of how to follow, share, “like”, download etc. all over there. So that’s all for me today. We’ll see you next week. Cheers!