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After events turned virtual due to the ongoing covid-19 pandemic, Legacy events, supported by the Sustainable Event Alliance, created the Green Room. A place for event planners to chat about sustainable events, a chance to share information, ask questions and enable a community of event professionals to come together and support each other by sharing knowledge and experience. 

Giulia Civello of Gourmet Girls. joined us in the Greenroom to discuss sustainable event catering. Giulia and her partner Kate Goodall  met on their environmental masters course at Brighton uni, bonded over their mutual passion for food and the environment and together founded Gourmet Girls. They provide sustainable events catering and private dining services as well as hosting pop up food events in Brighton & Hove.

They both worked as environmental consultants for many years and therefore sustainability is at the heart of their food and business. Guilia has Italian heritage and takes a lot of inspiration from classic Italian cooking, focussing on fresh, seasonal and local ingredients brought together with a lot of love to deliver unforgettable flavours. Kate is passionate about making everything from scratch from bread to butter and halloumi.

Below are the answers to some of the key questions that event organisers had for Gourmet Girls

Have you found that there is an increased cost associated with sustainable menu options?

Yes and no! Of course an organic tomato will cost you more than a ‘normal’ tomato but choosing local and seasonal ingredients means that the food miles are significantly reduced which is reflected in the price of ingredients. We always plan our Gourmet Girls menus around what is in season because it is more sustainable but also because seasonal produce tastes so much better.

We also try to use lesser known ingredients, for example cuts of meat which might otherwise be wasted. These are often the tastiest cuts but they cost less because they need a lot more time and attention.

There are also lots of other ‘costs’ to think about when it comes to sustainability in the food chain – it is not always easy to get our heads around it, but some methods of farming which keep food prices low have a damaging impact on the environment which ‘costs’ us in other ways such as dealing with flooding events and cleaning up our drinking water all paid for through our taxes.

Is there anything we should look out for when shopping for sustainable food or researching suppliers

Where the ingredients come from is a good place to start – local food has a much lower carbon footprint as it hasn’t travelled so far. But choosing local and seasonal produce is even better. There are lots of seasonality calendars online which are super useful, and we certainly refer to a lot in our menu planning. The carbon footprint of a tomato grown out of season in an energy hungry greenhouse in Sussex in February is probably higher than the same tomato grown in Spain even though it has been flown over.

There are lots of standards displayed on food packaging which you can look out for too – Fairtrade, MSC (for fish), RSPO for sustainable palm oil.

In terms of suppliers, check out their websites – see where they’re sourcing from, what are they doing to reduce their environmental impact and what commitments / targets they have. If they are not saying it, they are probably not doing it.

How did you find starting your own business after leaving London?

 It has been a huge change, going from commuting into London five days a week and working in a corporate environment. We are still working consultancy jobs part-time while we build up Gourmet Girls which has been challenging in terms of competing demands on our time, but it is amazing to be building a business we are really passionate about and something we have talked about doing for years and years.

We are learning that you have to become a master of all trades to run your own business – finance, marketing, events promotion, branding, dealing with suppliers etc. It is not just about the cooking! We have just launched our new website 

(gourmetgirlsuk.com) and website building was something neither of us had done before and we have learnt a lot and loving it.

Do you have to change your menu a lot depending on the season?

We do change our menus for our pop up events and event catering to reflect the season. Seasonality is really important to us. But it also means our customers are eating our dishes when they are at their best. Of course we have a number of basic dishes which we can tweak with different produce according to season.

What has been your biggest achievement so far with your new business and any tips for those who want to start up their own?

Running our first pop up event for the general public and serving 50 people was a huge achievement. Neither of us have worked in catering before and so it was a steep learning curve, but the buzz was fantastic. Cooking for an event like that is completely different to cooking for friends and family in the comfort of your own kitchen.

The recent launch of our branding and website has been a huge achievement too and has really made the business come to life. It is very hard work but very exciting.

Gourmet Girls is still a very young business but I would say you need to have bags of self-motivation and resilience to make it work, and of course, really believe in your product and always listen to criticism.

Apart from COVID - 19, what have been the biggest challenges you have faced so far?

In sustainability terms one of the biggest challenges we have encountered is maintaining the highest standards of food hygiene whilst trying to minimise the use of products like clingfilm and blue towel! The cleaning chemicals needed to sanitise food prep surfaces are really nasty for the environment too and we have found that the eco-friendly ones are A LOT more expensive, which is difficult to take on as a fledgling company. We have been talking to our Food Safety officer about using a steam cleaner instead which they seem very positive about. If anyone has any suggestions for alternatives we would love to hear them.

What kind of challenges did you face in sourcing packaging that’s sustainable?

The packaging has actually been really challenging. We wanted to use the most sustainable materials available, i.e. those which can be reused and recycled. But finding the right products which also ensure the food is transported safely has been tricky and we are limited by the recycling facilities in our Council area and also by price! We have found that the most sustainable packaging options can be the most expensive.

In our Ploughman’s picnic hampers we are not providing disposable cutlery and napkins but encouraging our customers to take these from home. We will collect the outer boxes too to be reused. We also include a ‘note on packaging’ in all of our boxes – we think it is really important that people know what the packaging is made from and how to dispose of it correctly to avoid contamination of waste streams!

What is the most complicated brief a client has given you so far?

Often the most complicated bit of a brief is thinking about how the food / menu works with the format of the event, so guests can continue to have an amazing time with the food complementing that rather than interrupting it. We catered a barn dance recently, and designed a Sicilian street food menu with little cones of arancini circulating so guests could have a bite, have a dance, have another bite!

I want to approach my work with more sustainable options for our catering. How do you think I should go about this conversation?

Now more than ever, consumers are making choices as to which organisation and companies they buy from / work with based on their environmental and social responsibility (Corporate Social Responsibility). And so it is a big sales plus for companies to be showing they are actively engaged in this area.

The Government has now declared a Climate Emergency which is very big on the CSR agenda, with companies trying to frame their response and so catering is part of this.

I think that in reality most companies do want to actively engage in being more sustainable because they understand the benefits, both in terms of the environment but also in terms of their brand and perception to their customers.

Thank you Giulia for joining us in the Green room. It was a really interesting discussion with tons of engagement, we hope this will inspire other event professionals on how to make their catering options more sustainable.

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