Healthy eating and great food shouldn’t be a privilege for those who can afford it, it should be a right for everyone, and ChangeKitchen is helping to make that happen, says founder Birgit Kehrer, the anti-celebrity chef. Read an updated version of an article from BVSC Update.
ChangeKitchen is changing food and lives. At the heart of everything we do is our ethos: ‘more than profit’. How many of you know when you pass by the SIFA Fireside building, just opposite Birmingham Wholesale Market, that behind its façade beats the heart and soul of ChangeKitchen CIC? Hidden inside the building, which is owned by SIFA Fireside, is a professional catering outfit cooking up great tasting, organic, vegan and vegetarian food for events of between 10 and 400 people – from corporate canapés to celebration feasts – all ethically sourced and produced.
And it gives people the chance to learn and work. SIFA Fireside works alongside disadvantaged adults, addressing alcohol issues and homelessness, helping them to meet their short and long-term goals. My first contact with them was when I was working together with service users on a community allotment, growing organic vegetables and plants for the Places of Change Garden, which won a silver medal at the Chelsea Flower Show. I also got to know them through running Five-a-Day-on-a-Budget classes, where people learned how to make good food without spending a fortune. I was inspired by their level of skills, their great enthusiasm and their wish to work – but could see that they had few opportunities to get back into the labour market.
In the beginning it was just me and our first two trainees, Roman and Colin. They both wanted to be involved in converting the former drop-in kitchen in the SIFA Fireside building into a commercial catering kitchen. Since we started in June 2010 we’ve ‘cooked up change’ for countless events, welcomed and offered training to 23 volunteers and supported several paid members of staff back into the labour market. The team at ChangeKitchen has grown. We’ve been joined by some fantastic people – chef, Paul; Sally and Kirk, our admin and finance team and most recently Marisela, our new general manager. Anthony (front of house) Lisa, our marketing guru, have recently left after making a fantastic contribution. They are all incredibly enthusiastic about what we do and come up with great new ideas for development.
ChangeKitchen CIC is not only different because it gives people opportunities to work, we also make an impact through the way we source our ingredients, produce our food and manage our waste. Everything is geared to environmental, cultural and social sustainability. This was recognised city-wide when ChangeKitchen won the Birmingham Green Restaurant Award 2012, recently presented to us by the Lord Mayor, Councillor Len Gregory.
Another recent success was that we catered for the Social Enterprise Exchange – the world’s largest Social Enterprise Conference – in Glasgow in March 2012. We were chosen as one of only five social enterprises to cater for the 1500 attendees. Our team got lots of fantastic feedback: “I have to say the lunch was outstanding, especially for such a large event. You could choose from a number of social enterprises and I went for ChangeKitchen’s excellent veggie chilli with wrap and coleslaw. It was yummy and I loved eating it.” There is also a fantastic video about the event, where we are featured – see www.is.gd/7p4Jua.
Altogether, we have started working on much larger contracts with lots of regular clients. We are due to cater for two other prestigious events, this time in London – we aim to wow your guests! Our ethical wedding and civil partnership catering services are also increasingly popular and we were mentioned recently in Diva magazine about a wedding this year. We are now working on offering a package for ethical wedding services with several providers that we have teamed up with, including a fantastic Midlands garden that will provide the venue as well as the most ethically sourced flowers for the festive occasion – straight from the plot! Watch this space for more – but do get in touch if you want find out more about the bespoke wedding catering we offer, bookings are still being taken for the remainder of 2012 as well as for 2013.
Bringing people and cultures together
One thing that makes a big difference to all our customers is that we create food differently; we celebrate sharing a meal, as well as fuelling our bodies. All of our food is fully vegetarian (always with vegan and gluten-free options), so everyone shares food from one table. Guests always comment on how much they enjoy how the food brings them together, rather than dividing them, with different sections for people from different ethnic, cultural or religious backgrounds. Our food really celebrates diversity. This is something very important and close to my heart: I moved to Birmingham with my partner because we enjoy the fact that ‘the world meets’ here on all levels – and people live and learn with and from each other. As a German national, I feel more welcome in Birmingham than all the other British cities I have lived in, and feel it is a great city to be part of.
Our food is inspired by cuisines from around the world: curries from South Asia, South East Asia and the Caribbean, as well as dishes from around the Mediterranean and the Americas and our own very popular versions of British favourites like sausage rolls and pie! I really enjoy picking up recipes from different cultures – and making them part of ChangeKitchen’s repertoire by putting my own stamp on them. And we still run our Five-a-day-on-a-budget cookery classes. We deliver them to community groups, housing associations, corporate teams and the general public. We often deliver them for free at community events – the essence of ChangeKitchen’s mission is to be part of a revolution that turns access to healthy eating away from a privilege to a right for everyone. I always introduce myself as an ‘anti-celebrity’ chef – I want to inspire people to cook meals that are healthy, easy and yummy – whatever their income.