Alicia Lawson is Director of condiment company Rubies in the Rubble, which s all about fighting food waste by turning produce otherwise destined for the bin into award-winning sauces and relishes. Here’s how she goes about turning trash into treasure…
Where do you live in London and what do you like about the area?
I live in Mile End with my boyfriend and two friends. Victoria Park and the canal are right on the doorstep. I love that you can get all the way into the city along the canal towpath, and that Clapton and Hackney are a stone’s throw away. When we first started Rubies in the Rubble, our kitchen was on New Spitalfields Market in Leytonstone so I first got to know the whole area long before I moved there, from driving our white van around making deliveries. Lots of the roads are still very evocative of those early days, lots of early mornings and hard graft – which I’m sure is part of the reason I love east London so much! Places like the Deli Downstairs, Espresso Hut, and London Borough of Jam have been supporting us for years so I love that I now get to visit them as a customer too.
Tell us how Rubies in the Rubble came into being.
My business partner Jenny had the idea after reading an Evening Standard article about bin divers and getting hooked on the (then quite unknown) topic of food waste. One early morning trip to New Covent Garden Market later and Rubies in the Rubble was born. When I got involved in 2012 she’d just had permission from the City of London to set up a portacabin kitchen on New Spitalfields Market. The nature of fresh produce and the unpredictability of supply & demand means that a lot of perfectly good fruit & veg gets wasted, so being onsite, wooden spoons at the ready, to turn it into chutneys and preserves that day was a great set-up. It runs all night so we would arrive in the morning to buy any unsold produce before it was thrown away. Lots of the traders there are second or third generation fruit sellers so it’s a real community of people. They thought we were totally mad though![easy-image-collage id=103137]
How long does it take to create a new sauce, from having the initial idea to having the jars on the shelves?
It totally depends! Between finessing the recipe, sourcing the surplus ingredients and figuring out the supply chain, there are so many things to get right. Our banana ketchup recipe took literally years to perfect because the ripeness of the bananas completely changes the end product. We were tearing our hair out trying to figure out why some of our batches came out completely runny and others like wallpaper paste! It was a real labour of love. I’d say that even for the faster sauces though, six months is probably the absolute minimum. We tweak a recipe endlessly and make sure we get masses of people to try it before launching something new.
Food waste has really come under the spotlight lately, what are your top tips for reducing the amount we chuck away day to day?
Ok be warned, I’m going not going to sound very rock n roll here! I think one of the easiest ways to reduce waste at home is to keep your fridge well organised. When everything’s visible you’re less likely to find old rotten veg lurking in the back. Keeping herbs in glasses of water in the fridge door keeps them fresh for way longer. Investing in nice glass bottomed tupperwares will make your leftovers way more appealing the following day. Finally, ignore Best Before dates and trust your nose. I learned this from my mum (who is extremely cavalier about expiry dates, even with dairy or meat): if it smells and tastes fine, it usually is.[easy-image-collage id=103141]
Describe your perfect day in London.
In an ideal world, I’d manage to get up early and go for a run in the park. Then I’d either go out for sambar at Pavilion in Victoria Park, or make brunch at home – eggs, black beans, bread and of course all the Rubies condiments. In the afternoon I’d either meander around the furniture shops in Clapton or go to an exhibition. If the weather was good we’d make a proper outdoor expedition cycling to Richmond Park or Hampstead Heath. Then to the theatre (I’m a huge fan of the National, I’ve pretty much never seen something bad there) or failing that, walk to Genesis cinema in Mile End for a film.