Hi Safia, how would you describe Another Pantry?
Another Pantry is a platform that celebrates contemporary food culture and champions a more seasonal, slow and conscious attitude to food. I set out to create a space that brings together the UK food community under one roof, somewhere you can find your favourite food writers, chefs, bakers, restaurants and creatives but that also provides a platform for emerging voices too. Online we do this by sharing recipes four times a year in seasonal edits — the idea in doing that is to encourage us to cook with local, seasonal produce and to slow down the pace a little, to allow us to consume food more mindfully (both on our plates and on our screens!) and get to know the people and processes behind the food we eat. We’ve also taken the concept offline through our Pop-Up Grocery Stores which bring together products from restaurants, bakeries and small businesses all across the UK. Underlying everything we do is an aim to get us thinking more consciously about the food we eat, to begin to recognise the people, produce and processes behind what’s on our plate and to understand the huge impact that our food choices can have on ourselves, our community and ultimately our planet.
What inspired you to set it up?
Over the very first lockdown I found it incredible to see how many of us were spending time in our kitchens and beginning to recognise the value of our food, our ingredients and local produce. It was only when people tried their hand at making sourdough that they probably clocked onto why it costs £4 a loaf! For a little while before then I had also been getting bogged down with how much food content was being thrown around online without considering the true impact of what we eat on our farmers, on our soil, on chefs, bakers, food writers, stylists, photographers — the whole world behind the scenes. So I wanted to create something initially just to slow things down a little, to help us hold onto that new found appreciation and love of food post-pandemic and to get us thinking about our food beyond the plate. I also felt there was a lack of spaces in food media for new voices; younger writers, chefs and photographers. It’s often quite hard to be featured, so I wanted to create somewhere that both existing and emerging food talent could exist alongside one another.
The idea for the pop-ups came about from the fact that so many restaurants began pivoting and creating their own range of products for us to enjoy at home. We could suddenly bring all of those things home and honestly those little things kept me going throughout that time. I also realised many of those products were and still are only available directly from the restaurants so this was an attempt to bring them together in one place, to celebrate them all and make them more accessible to people too — the idea is a kind of concept grocery store.
Could you tell us about your work before?
I realised I wanted to work in the food industry whilst I was at university, and I began spending my summers and holidays interning at bakeries and food magazines. Once I graduated I went to culinary school to do a pastry diploma and did a few stints at bakeries around London for a while afterwards before setting up a series of supper clubs with a friend of mine. I loved it and got a taste of running my own business so knew eventually that’s what I wanted to do longer term. I decided to go freelance about 6 years ago and I’ve been working in recipe development and photography ever since — photography wasn’t ever something I intended to turn into a career but I’d been doing it since I was in my teens and it sort of all fell into place by accident. Another Pantry is actually my side hustle so I’m still freelance most of the time. There’s a lot of crossover as I work with many of the restaurants, bakeries and small businesses that feature on the website and in the shop. It was just that over lockdown I felt I needed to sink my teeth into a new challenge, something of my own!
Where do you find creative inspiration?
Mostly from the people around me and those I work with or admire in the food world, to be honest. I’m lucky to call many of them friends and being surrounded by people with ideas and passion for what they do keeps you excited and inspired. And of course, eating out! When things get super busy I don’t have time to, but I spend most of my spare time eating in restaurants and bakeries, and drinking a lot of coffee. It’s the same when I travel — you probably won’t find me at the main tourist attraction but I’ll be on a side road nearby in a bakery. I feel like it’s the best way to discover a city and see things how locals do. It means I’m also constantly trying new things.
Could you tell us about how you create your recipes?
I mainly think about what’s in season when I’m starting to be honest, or something just as simple as what I feel like eating! I do find cooking with the seasons the best way of staying inspired in the kitchen, it’s just constantly changing so you’re never bored of making the same thing. It also makes certain ingredients feel so much more special because they’re only around for a short period of time.
How did you first discover your love for what you do?
I’d actually always wanted to study art when I was younger — I did it all through school and planned on doing it at university but I ended up falling a little out of love with it on the academic side. Food and baking was something I ended up turning to as a kind of creative outlet. Funnily enough I was such a fussy eater as a child but it was around the age of 16 that my brother made me try a couple of things that I never would’ve before (prawns were the first!), and that sort of ended up opening the box for everything else, a whole world even. I fell more and more in love with it over time, and I’d never considered turning it into a career to be honest. Whilst I was at university and living abroad in Madrid, I ended up starting a blog documenting the cafés, restaurants and bars I would go to whilst living there and interviewing the chefs and owners as a way to practice my Spanish. When I got back a friend and I booked onto an evening baking course at Meringue Girls in Broadway Market just for fun and before I’d even done it I messaged them to see if I could intern at the bakery that summer and the rest is history!
Why do you think enjoying good food is so important?
We eat three times a day, so we have three opportunities to think about what we’re eating, where it’s coming from and how it impacts the world around us. I feel so passionately that all of us can make small changes in how we shop and how we eat in ways that will have a far reaching impact. If we’re talking about the environment, the way we eat is responsible for one third of greenhouse gas emissions which is absolutely huge! Reducing our food waste and being a bit more savvy in the kitchen, and opting for products and producers that take care of our soil will help us to look after our planet and our future harvests.
It’s not just that though, by choosing to eat better food more consciously and by beginning to look at where our food comes from we begin to value it more, and that allows us to ensure that everyone along the supply chain is paid for their work too. Cost and value have become so disconnected. We seem to have got to a place where we seek out the cheapest, quickest food we can without realising that the cost is deferred elsewhere — to the environment and healthcare mainly. From a £4 loaf of sourdough you’re getting so much in terms of nutrition and flavour; you’re also contributing towards creating more jobs, and if the bakery uses whole heritage or regeneratively farmed grains then you’re doing something good for the planet and our soil. It’s a world away from a 70p loaf of white bread made in an industrial factory with additives, chemicals and conditioner.
Of course it’s a lot more complicated than that and unfortunately eating well (that is, having access to good quality, nutritious food) is still a privilege and not accessible to everyone which I find crazy, but it needs to be and I’m optimistic that if as a society we begin to look at food differently, we can make positive change. There also needs to be intervention from higher up. Food needs to be prioritised in government and in legislation for it to have a real impact and for good quality, great-tasting and nutritious food to be accessible to all.
Could you describe a typical working day?
I’m not sure I really have one! Most days are different for me because of the mix between my freelance work and Another Pantry. I’d say I’m usually on a shoot on location in a restaurant or bakery or at a food business two or three days of the week, and then the other two days I spend on edits and working on Another Pantry at home or in my co-working space.
Is there an element of your work that you love the most?
Meeting and working with new people all the time. Being self-employed you don’t really have a ‘team’ as such, so all of my clients and suppliers and collaborators are my unofficial team. A good friend of mine used to organise ‘Christmas drinks for people with no colleagues’ every year which was just a bunch of us freelancers getting together and it was always just great.
How valuable is the online community to your work?
The online community was such a huge part of allowing me to start out in the food world and build up a network — I’m very grateful for that! The same goes for Another Pantry. When you run a small business and don’t necessarily have a huge marketing budget, the best thing is being able to reach your audience and build your community through social media and newsletters. It’s invaluable really. I’ve met so many wonderful people through and it have gotten so many opportunities too. It is definitely becoming increasingly more tricky to navigate and I do miss how it used to be, but I think as long as we’re aware of the negative side of it we can hopefully still use it in the best way possible.
What’s been the biggest eye-opener for you in running your business?
Doing things alone is HARD! I always thought running a business alone would be okay as I’ve generally got a pretty specific vision for things, but honestly nothing can prepare you for having to and make every decision alone and wear about 20 different hats at once. When you run your own small business and it’s just you, you’re the marketing department, the finance department, operations, legal, everything!! I have learnt so much in just one year but god it’s not been easy!
What are the joys, and what are the challenges?
The joys are watching your own brand grow and on the few occasions that I have been able to build a team (mostly around the Another Pantry pop-ups) it’s just such an incredible feeling watching people care about your business the way that you do. Seeing people engage with and enjoy what we do is the best reward. I’ve always thought that one of the best things about working in food is that you can see the impact of your work immediately, and it make such a difference.
The challenges are balancing work and life and everything else, to be honest. When you’re self-employed or run your own business, and currently I do both, you can’t really ever hit the off button. I wouldn’t change it for the world, but I’ve had to be strict in not looking at emails over the weekend or after a certain time in the day.
What have been your business highlights so far?
Our pop-ups. I really had no idea what to expect from them to be honest but I’ve just been blown away. It’s crazy when something starts off as an idea in your head and then all of a sudden you’re standing in it, and you made it happen. It’s been a huge personal learning curve. One of the main reasons why I started Another Pantry was also to face up to my own challenges and things I wanted to improve on (like being terrified of putting myself out there!) so I do have to force myself to stop every now and again and realise that I’m proud that I’ve done it.
What’s one thing people would be surprised you do in your work?
Probably everything?! I think many people don’t know that Another Pantry is my side hustle and I still am full time freelance alongside it so I do pretty much every little thing that you need to do to run a business.
Do you have any pastimes or hobbies – what does your ideal day off look like?
I was very smart and made my hobby my career (I say this somewhat sarcastically..!) so my days on and off are very blurred. My escape from it all would be yoga though. My ideal day off would start off with a yoga class before (of course) heading for a pastry and coffee, and a long long walk.
What does the next year hold for you?
I plan to take January off to catch up on some sleep, post pop-up! I have a few other plans up my sleeve for next year but for now, I’m looking forward to a nice relaxing Christmas and taking a step back for a few weeks to spend some time with family and hopefully come back with even more ideas.