Q1. What’s your background and how did you get into paleo eating?
As a child I always loved food and cooking but I was also good at sciences, so when the time came to make decisions I ended up pursuing a degree in chemistry. I absolutely loved the course, but quickly realised I didn’t want the career out the other side of it. So, half way through my first year I decided to study for a diploma in Nutritional Therapy whilst I finished my degree.
When I graduated, I then went to work for one of the major UK supplement companies, eventually combining a career in practitioner education with private practice. Over the next five years I worked with a lot people who had digestive, immune or hormonal issues, many of whom had underlying food reactions that were driving their symptoms.
Over time I found myself recommending that many of my clients remove foods such as grains, dairy and sugar. As with any major dietary change, many had reservations, but one of the greatest joys of my role was showing these clients just how much they could eat by sharing recipes and finding ways to recreate the foods they missed. It was seeing such dramatic clinical results that lead me to reading more about the paleo diet.
As a nutritional therapist I’d always thought I had a pretty good diet; I’d been wheat-free and cow’s milk-free for years after doing an elimination diet, and I didn’t have any overt health problems. But, I also wasn’t what I now consider truly well. I had an incredibly irregular menstrual cycle, terrible food cravings, anaemia and a digestive system that was never happy!
In terms of my personal health, the first breakthrough came when I discovered I was coeliac. Completely removing gluten from my diet three years ago was like a light bulb moment. My digestion and anaemia improved almost immediately. Over the next few years I also become aware of the work of Dr Tom O’Bryan and the linked between gluten-sensitivity and cross reactions with grains and other food proteins. So around this time last year, I decided to do a Whole30 and properly test the paleo diet on myself. I’d been inadvertently recommending it for years to clients and was already semi-eating this way as a result of trialling the popup recipes, so it was about time I gave it a proper go!
30 days later, I had tons of energy, had lost a load of inflammatory water weight I didn’t even know I had and was sleeping better than ever before. I felt so well by the end of the process that I decided to stick with paleo principles long term. After some experimenting, I found I do best with plenty of fat, moderate amounts of starchy vegetables and not too much fruit. Now I’ve taken them out, I know I definitely cross react with most of the grains and dairy products, but I seem to be fine with dark chocolate and red wine!
I’m nearly a year in now and I finally feel like everything in my body works the way it’s supposed to – I don’t even suffer with PMS! Going paleo has also allowed me to forge a much healthier relationship with food and reawaken my creativity in the kitchen
Q2. What are your top tips for sticking to a paleo diet?
Aside from when doing a strict paleo reset diet such as the Whole30, I think the key to following a paleo diet long term is including a little of what you love. If you have a sensitivity reaction to a particular food then avoiding it is key, but that doesn’t mean you have to avoid every non-paleo food 100% of the time. The same applies to paleo treat foods. Whilst they shouldn’t be a daily occurrence or emotional crutch, being able to create paleo versions of the foods you love for a special occasion or the pure pleasure of the eating experience shouldn’t be off limits.
The human brain doesn’t respond well to denial and while I’m not a fan of cheat days, I do think having the option to ‘off-road’ as it were, is really important. In the long run, eating paleo tends to reduce the appeal of true junk foods anyway so simply being mindful of your motivation for eating a particular food and enjoying a treat without any guilt can be great tools for building a healthier relationship with food.
The other key for me is getting creative in the kitchen and making food interesting! I think the more you can experiment with delicious seasonal produce, herbs and spices to make meals that are packed with colour and flavour, the more appealing eating paleo becomes. I say out with the beige and in with the rainbow!
Q3. When did you start the pop-up supper club and what was the response like?
A few years ago I started to volunteer in a local fine dining restaurant with the aim of getting some professional cookery experience. I’d spent a successful and enjoyable career in private practice and nutrition education but I still felt like my passion for food hadn’t been fully realised. I’d always enjoyed cooking but I wanted to see whether I was suited to a restaurant environment. It’s very different to cooking at home, but I quickly got addicted to the buzz of preparation and service.
A few months later, the company I was working for changed its strategy and I had the option of accepting a very different role, or taking voluntary redundancy. At the time it was a very difficult decision, but looking back, taking the redundancy package and spending it on a fast-track professional cookery course was the best decision I could have made!
Once I’d finished my course, the restaurant I’d been volunteering in gave me a part time position as a pastry chef so I could carry on seeing clients and lecturing. Over time, I used my experience with gluten-free cooking to help them develop some bread and cake recipes, and we even ran a gluten and dairy-free evening together. The night was such a success; the other chefs suggested that I think about running a pop-up. At first I wasn’t sure how to go about it, but the restaurant arranged to let me use their venue one night a month and the staff agreed to work for me. So in February 2013, Pure Taste was born! For one night a month, I took over Jeremy’s Restaurant in Haywards Heath and ran an entirely gluten-free menu with paleo, dairy-free, vegetarian and vegan options.
Q4. When did you decide to go for opening a proper restaurant and how did you go about getting funding?
The pop-up events were so successful, we were fully booked every night of opening and often had a waiting list a couple of months before each event. At the end of each night I’d always try to get round to visit all the tables and see what people thought of the food. It really bought home for me how much people valued an eating experience that embraced their dietary needs. Nothing I’d done before in my life had given me the same high I experience after a pop-up night, so deep down I knew a restaurant was the logical next step.
I’d learnt a huge amount over the year of running pop-up nights and working in the restaurant but the idea of opening a restaurant, particularly the business and financial side, was pretty overwhelming. At first, I spent a lot of time getting very frustrated trying to write a business plan before eventually realising I needed some help! That’s when I teamed up with my now Operations Manager Adib who helped me finalise and put my plans into action.
The majority of the capital we needed to start the business came from personal and outside investment but we also ran a kickstarter campaign to ensure we’d have enough money in the pot to get a good central London venue. Some of the investors are people we know through personal connections but others are individuals who got in touch because of the kickstarter campaign.
It was actually one of the pop-up customers who mentioned kickstarter to me in the first place and I can’t thank him enough! Running the campaign was one of the most time consuming and stressful things I’ve ever done but it was a brilliant way to spread the word about what we’re doing and build momentum and support for the project
Q5. When and where will the restaurant be opening?
We’ve been looking for a venue since January and are currently waiting to hear back on an offer we’ve made on a property in Marylebone. Initially we’d hoped to have things up and running by March but the restaurant property market was very slow at the beginning of the year so we are running behind schedule. The Marylebone venue is perfect for us so we’re crossing all our fingers and toes but still keeping up with our search efforts just in case. As the project unfolds I’m posting news on our facebook page www.facebook.com/PureTastePopUp, so for the moment it’s a case of watch this space!
Q6. What can we expect from the menu?
Like at the pop-up nights, the entire menu will be gluten-free and about 80% of the dishes will be completely paleo (free from grains, legumes, dairy, refined sugar and processed vegetable oils). They’ll also be options suitable for people on a dairy-free diet, vegetarians and vegans, as well as those on other specialist dietary regimes such as the Specific Carbohydrate Diet and Low FODMAP eating plans.
Our menu will change regularly to reflect what’s in season but the focus will always be on using high quality and nutrient dense real foods. We’ll be using grass-fed meats, embracing nose to tail eating as well as creating beautiful free-from pastries, breads, cakes and desserts. They’ll be everything from bone marrow and sweetbreads to raw spaghetti and chocolate strawberry tart!
We also plan on pairing our delicious offerings with an exclusively organic and biodynamic wine list as well as a range of gluten-free beers and paleo-friendly alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails with a therapeutic twist!
Photography by Matt Redman, SPMF Photography