Traditional tamarind chutney has transformative powers, not just in the cracking open of the tamarind pods or sprinkling of chili and cumin. Ankit Chopra, a trained chef, denies any grand plans to create a social enterprise—“we were just making chutney.”
His mother Jaya explains that like their ingredients, their business developed organically. “My mum and grandmother had been making their tamarind chutney over the years, and I followed in their footsteps and started making it for family and friends,” Jaya says. “When we found that everyone really liked it, Ankit suggested taking it out to the world.” Jaya and Ankit became a fixture at Sydney farmers markets. As Eat Me Chutneys grew, the mother and son team began to look closer at what was going into their jars, tracing where their ingredients were sourced from. They switched to using organic ingredients and spent almost a year getting Fairtrade certified.
Their market visits also proved to be inspiring, as they noticed farmers unable to sell their less than perfect looking produce—bruised tomatoes, squashed cherries, shrivelling eggplants. This rejection of food was surprising to Ankit, who grew up in India, eating what his father grew for the family. Ankit says that his upbringing gave him insight into what real food actually looked like; feeding on carrots, turnips and radishes that tasted delicious but wouldn’t win a beauty contest. So used to these naturally malformed veggies, Ankit was shocked at seeing supermarket produce when the family migrated to New Zealand. On a mission to salvage the “wonky and wounded” veggies the farmers couldn’t get rid of, Eat Me Chutneys brought out a ‘Rescued Chutneys’ range.
Ankit and Jaya have been able to spread the word around food waste and ethical business principles, educating consumers in an informal way. “So many people we’ve spoken to did not realise what Fairtrade was,” says Ankit. “Then we brought out the Rescued Chutneys, and people would ask what the name means. At every step we’ve been able to say, ‘sit down, have a cup of a tea with me and I’ll explain’. As we’ve gone through this whole journey we realised that even with such a tiny business you can still change people’s perceptions.”
Eat Me Chutneys is one of less than 100 Australian businesses registered as a B Corporation, a certification given to those who meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency. “Every step we were just taking it slow to think about what else we can do in our business that could be good for the community,” adds Jaya. This way of thinking inspired their decision to employ female jobseekers from Sydney’s Asylum Seekers Centre, training women in order to help them enter the workforce.
Eat Me Chutneys have so far rescued 1.93 tonnes of organic and chemical free produce. “We’re wanting to grow to rescuing 10 tonnes,” says Jaya. “This will mean more employment for the women, more Fairtrade spices being used and more support to the farmers. We’d like to grow and grow.” But staying connected with their suppliers, as well as still being hands on in the kitchen, remains a priority for Jaya. “I’m still making the chutneys, even though we have the women to work for us, because it’s fun,” she says. “Sometimes Ankit gives us a hand as well; he’ll chop 10 kilos of tomatoes before he starts on his admin work.”
The mother and son team work easily together, with their different skillsets and experience complementing each other. “It’s fun to see how two different generations work together,” Ankit says. “Mum spent all that time in India and has grown up with spices and knows how to use them, and I trained up as a chef in France, so the fun part is how we actually end up fusing these things together. There will be a French cooking technique that will pop up, or it may be just the way spices are used, and I’ll say ‘no, that’s way too much spice!’”. “Working together is fun,” agrees Jaya. “Sometimes it’s butting heads, but we just take it lightly, that all the things we’re doing should be fun. The most fun part for me is being the mum and the boss at times as well. I can say ‘Ankit, you have to listen to me!’” she laughs.
Eat Me Chutneys is striving to hit some big goals, but equally important to them is maintaining the family connection. They can’t reveal their tamarind chutney recipe to me (it’s a trade secret), but it will keep circulating within their household. “Everyone is getting very busy these days and those family heirloom recipes are getting lost because my generation aren’t spending much time with our mums and grandmothers, so we don’t have any recipes to give down to our kids,” Ankit says. “We need to pass them down, because otherwise we’re handing down nothing except for the address of McDonalds.”