Urban Food: Green ethos at Rubies In The Rubble
Urban Food Fortnight began on Saturday, showcasing the best of produce grown and cooked here in the city. We visited fast-growing east London company Rubies In The Rubble to find out the secret to their culinary success.
The custom of making jams and chutneys by hand is usually confined to rural England. However, Rubies In The Rubble has brought it to the heart of east London.
Operating out of two portable buildings in the urban surroundings of New Spitalfields Market, just yards from the Olympic Stadium, entrepreneurial duo Jenny Dawson and Alicia Lawson see the business as an ideal way to make delicious food while also doing their bit for the sustainability.
Alicia, who joined founder Jenny at the company over a year ago, said it all stemmed from the childhood of her business partner, who grew up on a farm in Scotland
"As is tradition, with the glut of fruit and vegetables they would make preserves," said Alicia. "You would take something which would last just a few days and you turn it into a product which would last all year round.
"What we're doing is no different to a food glut in the country but this is one on a more vast scale and set in an urban environment.
"It's a traditional concept not usually done on a commercial level."
The reduction in food waste has always been the main inspiration for Rubies In The Rubble since it was established in 2011.
The company estimates millions of tonnes of fruit and vegetables are thrown away each year, so they work with market traders and farmers to take on unwanted goods.
"If you see a cucumber that's come from Spain, been picked, packed and shipped, stayed here for a few days but not been sold and then is repacked and sent off for compost or landfill it is such a shame," said Alicia, 24.
"Then you have farms which are providing to supermarkets to stringent quotas on specific sizes, shapes and texture so a lot of perfectly good food goes unused."
It's a concept which has seen the business gather strong momentum. A year ago Rubies In The Rubble had a stall once a week at Borough Market and supplied to just one stockist.
Now the products go out to 25 London stockists, from Selfridges and Fortnum and Masons to east London delis.
It is also working with two UK distributors and one in France.
And a recent deal with Waitrose - Rubies in the Rubble products are now sold in nine of the stores including the one in Canary Wharf - saw the number of part-time employees double to four.
The expansion coincided with the company moving out of charity kitchens and taking up residency in the market.
"We go to high end stockists, such as Waitrose, because it's not a cheap product to make," said Alicia. "We're processing ingredients from fresh completely by hand. We're peeling, we're stoning mangoes and chopping everything with no machinery."
Being a company built on a social conscience, as well as promoting sustainability, it is also providing work to those who need it. Links with homeless charity Crisis and led to the hiring of two workers.
For the management these fundamental principles are key. And it's part of what persuaded Alicia to join Jenny, 27, after the two met at a party.
"I was studying Classics at Oxford before this, so it was straight out of the library and into the kitchen," said Alicia. "I always wanted to work for a charity in international development but realised there was a lot of problems on our own doorstop.
"When I met Jenny it ticked all the boxes - it was environmentally minded, supported those in the community and it was also about building a business.
"And, if you ask anyone who knows me, they will tell you I can't abide food waste."
Go to rubiesintherubble.com