Walk into any fruit and vegetable retailer and it’s a picture of perfection. Flawlessly plump oranges snuggle up against elegant eggplants and broccoli in bloom. But like all Mother Nature’s handiwork, produce comes in all shapes and sizes. So where does all the misshapen fruit go? Say hello to Ankit Chopra, the wonky fruit crusader. Ankit and his mother Jaya re-home lumpy, bumpy or bruised produce in their chutneys and pickles. We’re not talking about run-of-the-mill preserves. Jaya has been honing her Indian cooking for 45 years. Ankit has completed Paris’s Le Cordon Bleu cooking course. Together they make magic and label it Eat Me Chutneys.
So how did the business begin bearing fruit? “The idea was to make Mum’s heirloom tamarind chutney recipes, passed down from her Indian grandmother, and sell them at the markets,” replies Ankit. “We started brainstorming about how we could improve production, and everything grew from there.”
Next step? Fairtrade ingredients. “We spent a year sourcing Fairtrade spices, sugar and tamarind, and now all our tamarind chutneys are Fairtrade certified,” says Ankit. One of the advantages of sourcing Fairtrade produce is that most of it happens to be organic. Double tick. A third tick comes from the fact that Eat Me Chutneys is a Certified B Corporation, a new type of business audited as an instrument of change to solve social and environmental dilemmas. Eat Me Chutneys is now the only venture across Australia and New Zealand with Fairtrade and B Corporation certifications.
These days, the future of wonky produce is looking bright thanks to the enterprising spirit of Ankit and Jaya. Eat Me Chutney was cruising along nicely, with the tamarind chutneys its only product, but after rescuing an incidental bunch of wilting rhubarb from a Sydney farmer last year, Ankit and his mum turned it into another chutney. Fast-forward to now and they’re rescuing as much imperfect (but perfectly cookable) fruit from farmers as their resources allow, transforming it into pithy chutney using Fairtrade sugar and spices. Nothing is off the menu. “A lady came up to us with a box of garlic at the markets recently. It wasn’t whole bulbs of garlic – just single cloves. No-one wants to buy those, right? Those incidental exchanges result in new chutneys being made every day,” explains Ankit.
If you haven’t noticed, The Chopra family has a social conscience and they’re not afraid to use it. Food waste is at the top of the list – last year they saved 1 tonne of waste. Next year their goal is more ambitious. “In 2016 we intend to save 10 tonnes of food,” declares Ankit.
So how will Eat Me Chutney upscale production ten fold? Crowd fund, that’s how. The ING Dreamstarter crowdfunding initiative allows social enterprise start-ups like Eat Me Chutney to promote their product while raising funds to continue arresting food waste, producing sweet-as chutney and employing more people to do the work. Right now, they have five days left to raise enough their tipping point target of $25,000.
Eat Me Chutneys hired its first employee this year – a woman from Sydney’s Asylum Seeker Centre. Ankit’s long-term goal is to hire disadvantaged female job seekers, to help them build independence and re-integration skills to become valued members of the community. “We’d like our part-time employee to become full time, and put her through the Certificate II and III cookery courses so she can move on to bigger and better things,” explains Ankit.
Ankit’s father Bhupinder does much of the labelling work for the business. And Jaya is still working as a primary school teacher. So what prompted Ankit to quit climbing the corporate ladder? “I was working for Deloitte in IT, travelling the world, then I saw my uni mates in London making pasta from scratch. I thought ‘this is amazing! I reckon I could cook.’ So after training, I worked in a commercial kitchen in Paris [L’Astrance], then returned to run a pop-up kitchen.” The rest is chutney.
Want to lend a hand? You can support Eat Me Chutneys by buying from their online store or visiting Ankit at famers’ markets where he’s in his happy place educating market goers about all the imperfect food brought to life in shiny new jars. You can also find Eat Me Chutneys on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.