The culinary director at the Salad Project tells Victoria Miller what it was like to win Uber Eats Restaurant of the Year 2022 and her plans for opening salad bars across London and beyond
How did you get involved in the Salad Project?
I used to work in digital marketing, but I wasn't fulfilled. I am naturally entrepreneurial and knew I want to do something with nutrition, so, I channelled all my savings into going to the Ballymaloe Cookery School.
After my training, I got in touch with two guys [James Dare and Florian de Chezelles], who were setting out to build a salad bar in London. A lot of my mates knew me as the person who just made loads of salads and posted them on Instagram, so it seemed like a match made in heaven. I met up with them over coffee and they pitched me the idea. I took a punt on them, they took a punt on me and now we're here!
Can you tell us about the concept behind the Salad Project?
All three of us had worked in corporate environments and had the same day-to-day problem of "Where the hell am I going to get some lunch? And how am I going to eat something that's healthy?" So, we set out to build a first healthy, exciting lunch option that helps people move away from the kind of the places where you grab the same item you've had for the past four days. We wanted to bring colour into everyone's day and break up the working routine by having some food that we think is designed to fuel you for life. We've seen this kind of concept kick off in different parts of the world but, for some reason, London just seemed to lag behind, even although we've got a super-exciting food scene.
A big passion of mine is educating people on what food is in season, both from a nutritional perspective of getting the most out of food at the time when it's at its height seasonality, but also encouraging people to eat creatively, and hopefully go home and cook creatively.
How was setting up the Salad Project during the pandemic?
Covid was obviously a horrific situation for hospitality but, for us, weirdly, it was our only experience of the industry; we'd never functioned outside of lockdown scenarios. So when we launched in May 2021, that was the norm. We opened at the worst of times, but it now means we can enjoy it all. We're at the point where we're thinking, "How do we manage having so many people come through our doors?", which is a nice problem to have!
Sustainably sourced food is part of the Salad Project's ethos. How do you ensure this when working with suppliers?
Fortunately, we've opened in an era where sustainability within food is pretty high on the agenda, which makes the job much more of a joy than I can imagine it would have historically been.
What's great is we have a super close relationship with our suppliers, all of whom we ensure are working sustainably with their own suppliers with their transportation techniques. For example, all our chicken, salmon and tofu are delivered by Collectiv, which uses Last Mile delivery and, as a result, we have reduced our carbon emissions for protein delivery by two tonnes of CO2e.
It takes a lot to find the right suppliers, but we are excited to come on a journey with them because they share that same passion.
What was it like to win Uber Eats Restaurant of the Year award two years after opening?
Totally bonkers! When we got through to the final, we looked at the list of restaurants and we were just a tiny name, but by some miracle we made it. For the final we had to cook for Prue Leith, no less, and it was in a kitchen that was opposite my old office. I was looking at my old office and thinking, "Wow, this is the right thing to be doing."
It's nice to reflect on moments like those because it was life changing. But equally, we go back into the store on Monday and we're picking up shifts and washing pots.
What does the future hold for the Salad Project?
Hopefully lots! We have just had our third opening [5 May] near Oxford Circus, which opens us up to West London which is exciting. And then, from there, the plan is to continue to grow in London and hopefully further afield.
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