Michelin-trained chef creates ‘socially responsible’ chutneys with sustainable methods – and Mum’s help
Ankit Chopra introduces his mum Jaya as a ‘self-professed chutney queen’ and himself as an ‘annoying Michelin-trained chef’ on the website of their venture, Eat Me Chutneys.
The chutneys themselves are described as ‘socially epic’.
Meet this unassuming duo in person and you know soon that this is just Ankit’s tongue-in-cheek humour to communicate the serious business of reducing food waste and being sustainable in a fun way.
“The amount of food we waste, and the ‘perfect’ nature of produce sold on supermarket shelves has always bothered me,” says Ankit.
“It struck me that the produce that came from the family backyard was never perfect but definitely tastier.”
His crusade to save less-than-perfect fruit, came together with his father’s passion, the backyard veggie patch, and his mum’s incredible-tasting chutneys, and Eat Me Chutneys was born.
The venture, now only about 18 months old, grew organically. Not just because the produce sourced was organic* and Fairtrade* but because they took baby steps in making it the best venture they could.
It was decided that the ingredients for the chutneys would come from ‘rescued’ produce* and would be chemical free.
“Anything that doesn’t look right, anything that can’t be sold by the farmers, anything excess – that’s our raw material,” says Ankit.
“Farmers can’t and don’t sell all that they produce. It is all economics. If they put a lot in the market, prices drop, so they don’t want to flood the market.”
He has connected with a network of farmers over time, from whom he now buys excess/wonky/bruised seasonal produce. They then hire a commercial kitchen by the day to make and bottle the chutneys.
A curiosity to find out where the spices came from and how the Fairtrade process works, took Jaya to Kerala recently. She points out, “Although Fairtrade and organic spices are more expensive, we have to use less as these are more flavourful.”
Eat Me Chutneys is not a ‘not-for-profit’ venture. They are a for-profit enterprise with a heart and deep values.
Rescuing food is one aspect of their ethic and the other is to employ disadvantaged women. For the current scale of operations, they have the capacity to employ only one person and they have provided this job to an asylum-seeker.
Ankit says, “It is great to start a business but if you want it have a social impact, it has to be sustainable both financially and environmentally.”
At a young age, Ankit had fund-raised for Oxfam by bike-riding in Vietnam, Cambodia and India. This experience changed his perspective on life.
An IT consultant from the corporate world, Ankit became interested in food as a career while working in London.
His parents were shocked but supportive when he announced his decision to train as a chef in France. Returning to Sydney from Paris with training at Le Cordon Bleu and a Michelin-star restaurant, he began serving four-course French dinners on weekends from his home in the lounge-converted-to-dining area.
This venture, which began as part of Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food Month, became so popular that it was booked out for the whole year.
However, soon, missing out on their own weekends and the departure of his brother – who moonlighted as waiter and entertainer for customers – to London for work, set Ankit on his new venture, rescuing perfectly good produce destined for the rubbish bin.
Recently, Eat Me Chutneys ran a crowdfunding campaign to expand the business. They raised over $28,000, even though their target was $25,000. The money will help to buy equipment.
Currently everything is hand chopped and manually filled into jars.
Going the crowdfunding way, rather than a conventional route to finance the project, was again to raise awareness about food waste, as well as concepts of Fairtrade and organic.
They created a fun video to explain their venture. Ankit and Jaya also love going to the markets to sell their chutneys as it gives them an opportunity to speak with people about these matters. They also teach making chutneys.
In today’s world, when generation gaps seem to cause children to drift away from their parents, Ankit values the opportunity to work alongside his mum.
The combination of Jaya’s traditional Indian culinary skills and Ankit’s French sensibilities has produced best-selling sensations such as ‘tamarind and fig’ and ‘tomato and kaffir lime’ chutneys. He values the passing down of recipes which would otherwise have been lost.
Ankit’s dad, whose backyard veggie patch sowed the seeds of his sustainable sensitivities, is Eat Me Chutneys’ official ‘labelling machine’. Laughs Ankit, “He used to be an engineer and likes everything aligned, including the chutney jar labels!”
Eat Me Chutneys is now one of the few B Corporations* in Australia. They also partner with the NSW Environment Protection Authority’s Love Food Hate Waste campaign.
Eat Me Chutneys is the only company across Australia and New Zealand with a Fairtrade certification for chutneys, and one of only two in the world.
*Organic: Produce grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilisers and genetically modified organisms.
*Fairtrade: Fairtrade products ensure better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world.
*Food rescue: the practice of gleaning edible food that would otherwise go to waste.
*B Corporation: B Corps are for-profit companies certified by the non-profit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.