We caught up with food start-up Founder, Claire Ladkin, who established All About The Cooks: a new concept platform for home cooks wanting to sell their fare to local people. We talk about the origin of the business, the potential it has for positive social impact and what it’s like being a start-up founder in your 50s.
Tell us a bit more about All About The Cooks
All About The Cooks is an online platform that allows people to discover delicious home-cooked food being made by talented cooks in their local area. The business launched in 2020, initially in Bristol, and we now have almost 40 home cooks signed up, selling their food week in, week out.
How did the idea for the business come about?
I have always been motivated by a mission to eat real food made in kitchens, not products made in factories, and am a sucker for a farm shop, food market or honesty box.
2 years ago, I bought a jar of lemon curd, made by volunteers to raise money for Square Food Foundation - a wonderful food organisation I admire. Every time I went to the fridge and saw this delicious lemon curd, I felt good about it, and started thinking…what if it was easier to buy home-cooked food made by talented local people? We all love home cooked food, but it’s not always easy to achieve, for all sorts of reasons. So, we compromise when in fact if we were just aware of the local talented home cooks in our neighbourhoods, we’d be able to benefit.
I was also acutely aware that it is very difficult for talented people to make money from their skills - working in the food industry is very weekend and evening heavy and there is financial outlay and risk involved for people to start their own businesses. I’d expected that most of these people were women, often with circumstances which make it difficult for them to earn money in conventional ways - language barriers, cultural barriers, caring & parental responsibilities. I saw the potential not just for a business but for massive social impact.
Can you tell us a bit more about the cooks on the platform and the food they make?
The platform showcases the amazing diversity of home-cooks in Bristol, from South American, Italian, Turkish, Greek, Vietnamese food and more.
We have cooks who are professionally trained chefs, offering exquisite three course meals, perfect for celebrations or birthdays; talented bakers creating cake masterpieces; a whole roasted duck with Egyptian inspired sides, ideal for an alternative Sunday roast; freshly made Italian favourites including handmade pasta, authentic Sicilian pizzas and even an unrivalled tiramisu – plus so much more. The joy of the platform is in the discovery of the cooks and the food they create.
There’s been a boom in individuals selling their home cooking, what makes All About The Cooks different from individuals just going it alone on social media for example?
Whilst I was apprehensive about launching in 2020, given the global pandemic, what has emerged is that people care even more about the quality and provenance of the food they eat. We have also spent more time than ever at home this year – often seeking a change or some variety in our eating week so the platform has performed well on that basis. In terms of cook numbers, we’ve seen an influx of new cook enquiries throughout the year with many looking to monetise a creative outlet whilst continuing their day job, and others – such as professional chefs – looking to continue cooking having been made redundant or furloughed from their professional roles.
The difference for the cooks is that by doing it via the All About The Cooks platform means they do not need to invest in their own business infrastructure, such as websites, insurance and payment systems etc. We also support them to achieve all relevant health and safety standards – including being inspected by the local council with all cooks signed up required to achieve at least 4 out of 5 stars. This provides assurances for those buying the food too, that you might not get from someone going it alone on social media.
You mentioned that the platform has a significant social impact, can you tell us more about that?
Absolutely. All About The Cooks is a community connector – with cooks liaising directly with customers, who are often only streets away. This develops community connections and in pandemic times this has felt more important than ever. It’s the antithesis of the ‘click app, get fed’ commoditisation of food.
The platform keeps money local. Instead of spending £15 in your local supermarket on a few ready meals for an evening dinner, money spent on All About The Cooks goes straight to someone else in your community, instead of into the pockets of big supermarkets selling factory-made food. In difficult economic times, this ensures the platform is part of a sustainable local food system.
With work life balance a hot topic at present, All About The Cooks provides a way for individuals to make money flexibly and on their terms – including those with caring responsibilities or barriers that make traditional employment inaccessible.
How have you found being a tech start up founder in your 50’s?
Would it have been easier to do this if I were 20 years younger? Probably yes, especially in respect of learning the nitty-gritty of new technology. But 20 years ago, I had three little girls under 10, and a husband whose business sailed the ship.
Doing this now, at 58, feels great. I have a pragmatism I’d have lacked years ago. I feel wiser and better equipped to support our cooks. I am freer, have more energy and more focus now than I would have then.
I have at times found that people seem to underestimate my ambitions for the business – perhaps mistakenly believing I am only doing this just because of my passion for real food. The truth is I am doing this because I see the way that a commercial incentive can make possible the huge social impact which this business could have and feel now is the right time for me to invest energy in realising that potential.
What does the future hold for All About The Cooks?
I’m hugely ambitious for this platform. Expansion into other UK towns and cities is on the cards in 2021/22 and in my eyes, the sky is the limit beyond that. I have ambitions for All About The Cooks to be as synonymous with home cooked food as Air BnB is with holiday rentals. So, watch this space.