While only 2-3% of people eat a 100% vegetarian or vegan diet in the UK, an increasing number of people want to eat more fruit and veg. This is great for our planet and for improving people’s health, but the problem is, even under the same roof, we have meat eaters, pescatarians, vegans and vegetarians sitting down to eat different meals at the same table.
This can be wasteful, not to mention time-consuming and super stressful especially as we get closer to Christmas.
We spoke to Gwen, founder of It’s From Scratch, to learn all about how to feed all the hungry people in your house without having to lose your mind cooking separate dishes.
Riverford – where the passion turned into a business idea
We started by talking a bit about Gwen’s background with veg boxes and organic food, where the passion for sharing food and recipes became a novel business idea.
Gwen said: “My neighbour and I used to get a veg box to share between us on a Friday night. That turned into us socializing and cooking some of the things out of the veg box.
Inspired to apply for a Riverford veg box franchise, there wasn’t a local branch suitable.
Gwen said: “Two years down the line, there was a message in the newsletter in the veggie box; Riverford were opening up for deliveries in the north of England. We emailed them and said, remember our previous application we'd like to proceed with that for a franchise in the north of England. We moved up in 2006 and started running the business on Valentine's Day in 2007. We did that for 13 and a half years and sold it back to Riverford in June 2020.”
Early Days of Its From Scratch
Gwen said: “I fully intended not to run my own business again, but, a friend of mine convinced me otherwise. We decided we would go into business together. Our original idea was to have an ingredient shop with a cookery school above. The shop would have all the difficult to find ingredients. And then we would do international cooking workshops using those sorts of ingredients. We tried to get that off the ground. But with COVID, it was just proving impossible.
“In the meantime, we launched an online ingredient shop in November 2020, doing cookbook and ingredients hampers. You would get the book and all of the difficult to find ingredients that I had sourced.
“We also started doing online cookery classes as well - both elements of the business that we originally thought would be in-person because of COVID we took online and we just kept doing the online courses that just proved to be really popular.”
“The classes were super easy for people to access when they couldn't get out and about. It’s a way of learning something and being social at the same time. So, you know, during those dark days of January, February & March of 2021 it was just a really good thing to give a service to people.
“We would have groups of friends; one was in Manchester, one was in the south of England, one was in the north, and then we would be able to get them together and get them to cook together and have a social evening.”
It’s from Scratch’s first customers were friends and family, before the cookalongs were rolled out for businesses, private parties, as well as charities. Gwen has even done a live demo for a conference of 400 clients.
Building cooking confidence
A feast for the eyes, dishes from the Palestinian Cookalong - It's From Scratch
We all have to start somewhere when it comes to sharpening our culinary skills. I remember going away to university with a basic knowledge of how to cook from scratch. But lots of other students were lost, eating pasta or pot noodles for every meal. Some even got scurvy! Sometimes you just need a helping hand to give you the confidence to explore the kitchen a bit more.
Gwen said: “When I'm doing live cookalongs [rather than demos] the most that I've had is about 20 people. With 20 people, I'm able to check how people are getting on. I can say ‘will you show me that’, or ‘I think that needs a little spot more yogurt or water in.’
“In a lot of cases people are just not confident. They're not confident with flavours, or textures or cooking times. And it's just about giving them that reassurance.
"Also, the benefit of the cookalongs is it's a concentrated amount of time that you can devote to learning a new skill and producing a meal.
"I often say by the time you and your family have decided you want a takeaway and you ring up and they say it's going to be an hour and a quarter, you could do one of our cookalongs in two hours.”
Flexitarian, vegan, vegetarian
Gwen said: “I was driving and I heard a radio report saying if you're eating meat, you should be eating less meat.”
“And I thought, well, that's great because I do eat less meat. And then it said if you are eating less meat, you should be going vegetarian, so I needed to go vegetarian.
“I did that in about November 2008. And then my youngest daughter followed maybe a year after.
“I ended up in a situation where myself and my daughter were vegetarian. My other daughter was very much ‘meat needs to feature in all meals’. And the husband was 'I'll just eat whatever comes on the table'.
“We were very much a flexitarian household and we were finding that it was a real challenge thinking about meals that all of us could enjoy.
“And that made me think is this repeated up and down households in the UK? I knew from my Riverford days, that lots of people would say, ‘my daughter's vegan and she’s coming up this weekend’.
“So I did some market research, doing some zoom interviews, just to find out if it really was an issue, asking questions like what sort of mix of households did we have? What sort of meals were people cooking, and where were they finding their pain points.
“I built a series of cookalongs around that.
“My niche is people living in a household where someone doesn't feel they're in that place yet where they want to give up meat, they love meat, but by taking them along this journey, they will maybe try something new.”
“For example, we do a Moroccan cook along, with a chermoula chicken recipe along with a chermoula whole roasted cauliflower. I would hope, while the meat eating members of the family will have the chicken, they might try the cauliflower and decide next time they just love the cauliflower. Hopefully a little bit of gentle persuasion will make people eat less meat because they've had the vegetarian or vegan alternative and thought this is lovely, why would I go the extra effort and expense of buying a chicken when I can get all of the flavour this way?”
Catering for all, Flexitarian Thali Cookalong - It's From Scratch
We talked about reducing the amount of waste by cooking from scratch. It’s important to use the whole veg – and Gwen gave some good tips including stir-frying cauliflower leaves. My guinea pigs love a bit of carrot top, but people can enjoy them too, despite, as Gwen says, there being a misconception about them being poisonous. They’re not: “when you get carrots you get two vegetables because you're getting this leafy green veg that you can use to make pesto. And you're getting the actual root vegetable of the carrots as well.”
If want to get more veg in your diet, then try the free MEAT sub guide on It’s from Scratch.
Gwen said: “It's five different ways of producing your favourite meat meals, both using vegan or vegetarian equivalents. We've got mains that are made with walnuts and mushrooms and soy sauce. We've also got a jackfruit, which we make into a pulled pork equivalent, and a gyoza filling, which we used tofu for.”
Hello too much packaging…
We talked about the rise in popularity of meal kit services like Gousto and HelloFresh. While it is great that people are trying new recipes and are prepared to cook things themselves, it still isn’t quite as good as cooking from scratch.
Gwen said: “The likes of Gousto and HelloFresh are a packaging disaster, with those tiny little tubs with just one filament of saffron in. And in the next kit you've got another tiny tub with another tiny little ingredient. It blows my mind how they get away with it.
“During our cookalongs, you’ll have 50 to 60% of the ingredients in your kitchen anyway. And if you don't, then you can go to the shop and then you're in total control of how much packaging goes into the meals that you cook.”
Gwen’s Christmas Tips for a Flexi Christmas
“Make an onion gravy and make lots of it. Everyone's perfectly happy with that. In fact, it's the most delicious gravy I've ever had. You can make it miles in advance and you can freeze it. Make it the day before Christmas Eve, pop it in the fridge and then just heat it up - and just make sure you make absolutely masses of it because who doesn't love gravy.”
“The really delicious stuffing recipes just use chestnuts and apricot plus herbs and spices. Stuffing doesn't have to have sausage meat in it. It doesn't have to have bacon in it or anything like that.”
“There's a big trend at the minute for sprouts - sticking bacon and pancetta in sprouts, but the best sprout recipe is one I got from a book about 20 years ago – it’s chopped toasted hazelnuts and lemon zest.
“You can add flavour in so many ways you don't have to keep adding extra meat and extra meat. It's just not healthy for anyone. So you're doing your guests a favour as well at the dinner table.”
COMING UP: It’s from Scratch
Anyone can join in with these live cookalongs from It’s From Scratch!
In this Cookalong we have a cosy night of cooking planned. Learn the secret of self - saucing puddings, make a popular cocktail, an unusual hot chocolate and a low carb main course.
Veganuary Cookalong – Sunday, 2nd January
Join us to start Veganuary with a great selection of meals under your belt. We plan to make:
🍒No Bake Cherry Tahini Bars, 🌶White Bean Pepper Chilli, 🥗Kale Avocado Salad, 🥥Coconut Quinoa and Beans.