Interview with Simon Boyle, Founder of Beyond Food Foundation14 October 2019
INTERVIEW WITH SIMON BOYLE, FOUNDER OF BEYOND FOOD FOUNDATION
Simon Boyle is an award-winning chef, author and social entrepreneur. He is the founder of our charity partner, Beyond Food Foundation, whose home and social enterprise restaurant, Brigade Bar + Kitchen is in London Bridge.
Simon has been recognised for his outstanding contribution to the industry. In 2017, he became a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts, while Beyond Food and Brigade won the ‘Education, Training & Jobs’ Award from Social Enterprise UK.
From chef to social entrepreneur, we interviewed Simon about his career, the inspiration behind founding Beyond Food and his plans for the future.
What is Beyond Food trying to achieve and how?
Ultimately, Beyond Food is frustrated that people have not only become homeless but stay homeless. What we are trying to do is to provide a longer-term solution. We need to give people the support and skills, but prior to that we need to inspire them. We are about inspiring homeless people or people at risk of becoming homeless, then getting them the support they need to be able to stand on their own two feet, and then giving them the skills to get a job. We’ve now developed a succinct set of programmes to take them from A-Z in that process.
How many programmes does Beyond Food run?
In Breakthrough Kitchen the team approaches hostels, Jobcentres, probation officers etcetera, to spread the word that we’re about to open our process and we’d like to come and sit in your day centre/reception . We’ll bring a big cake and coffee, and talk to people about our programmes. In November, they are invited to Brigade to get to know each other and gain an understanding of the process. December is all about the application process, so all the people we’ve reached out to will be encouraged to submit their application, with support if needed. We then process them, and Fresh Life, a three-week motivational course aimed at inspiring people using food, starts in January. It isn’t just a CV writing workshop, it teaches attendees how to be an employee; from how to dress, to how you act, to how you have difficult conversations. We also teach cooking as a life skill, as we think that if you can do that, you’re halfway there.
At the end of that three-week process they can leave if they wish to, if they’re job ready, we have great resources to help them find a role within our partner companies, like Searcys. If they aren’t quite ready, but we see potential, and they are inspired then we offer them an apprenticeship. We have two apprenticeships – in front of house and in the kitchen. Their first 12 months are here, at Brigade, and they get paid an apprentice salary, in their second year they work for another business in a work placement, which is technically a job, and their salary goes up.
When did you start Beyond Food and what inspired you to do so?
A few things, mainly, I was involved in the tsunami in 2004. I wasn’t there, but the day after I flew out and created a relief camp with people I met at the airport. We set up a camp where we helped a lot of displaced people, in total we helped about 5,500 people. This was when I became passionate about displacement. On the way back to the UK, I realised I couldn’t go back to normal life. I realised I could use my skills to create an organisation to break the cycle of poverty.
So, originally Beyond Food started as a company called Beyond Boyle, in 2005, as an events business. We moved to Soho in 2006 to the House of St Barnabas. It was a women’s hostel and that’s where my idea of using hospitality to inspire homeless people formed. I employed all 69 women and taught them how to run a venue. 18 months later, we moved to All Hallows, which was a bridging gap before we moved into Brigade in London Bridge, in 2011.
Before Beyond Food what did you do?
From the word go I didn’t do anything in school. I wasn’t a drop out, I just didn’t do it. I would go home, peel potatoes and make shepherd’s pie – much to the frustration of my parents, but they did work out that I was different from my brothers. I decided at 14 to become a Chef and that I wanted to start my own business. I worked at the Savoy when I was 16 for four years, I worked in a banqueting hotel, I worked on a cruise ship, I worked for a Saudi Prince as a personal chef and I worked at the Chewton Glen hotel.
The thing that changed everything was working for Unilever as their Culinary Ambassador. I worked on their food culture and very closely with the board to define what Unilever stood for. I was able to influence really big projects at Unilever that changed a lot of people’s lives. At this point, I went to Sri Lanka and came back with the idea that you can use a base skill to help other people and with the mindset to start something different.
What are the most complicated issues you face?
The big one is reaching people. We think we’ve got a great thing and a great opportunity, but finding the people, which sounds daft as there are lots of homeless people, is difficult. Finding people who are supported in a way that they can be referred to us by the public sector, Jobcentre etc. is incredibly complicated. The stars have to align to get the right person, to the right work coach or key worker, who knows about Beyond Food, at the right point.
Secondly, our apprentices are often very complex individuals with lots of issues – 80% of them have childhood trauma which has never been dealt with. Some of our apprentices have never worked before, or haven’t worked in years, which means we need to get them into the right mindset – which is actually pretty easy once they’re on board.
The last thing is how they re-enter society; getting rid of their debt, sorting out their banking and helping them to maintain relationships is a big thing. Some of them are on self-destruct, so they may start, and the first 6 months are brilliant and then they self-sabotage. In the final stage, they have been with us for a year and we put them into a new business which can be difficult. They’ve been in a bubble here (at Beyond Food) – there’s lots of love and when they screw up there’s someone there to sort it out for them. When they move, we are still there for them, but it’s at an arm’s length, so they’ve got to be job-ready. 80-85% of our graduates are fine – 10-15% don’t quite get there.
How much does it cost to sponsor an apprentice through the Beyond Food programme?
Putting someone through the Fresh Life 6-week course costs £2,500. The total cost for the whole two-year process is about £25,000 per person. We have to touch 1,000 people to employ 20. What we aim to do with Break Through Kitchen is to try and meet as many people as possible. From around the 1,000 people we meet, we receive around 300 applications, of which about 150 will turn up and out of 150 we will personally employ 16, 8 chefs and 8 front of house. We reckon we will get about 100 people into a job over the course of the process.
What are the best ways to support Beyond Food?
Come to Brigade and eat food, hire rooms and come to events! If you eat at Brigade a pound per-person directly goes to Beyond Food and we also get a share of the profit. Of course, come to Searcys for your Christmas party as we get a pound for every cover.
SEARCYS’ CHARITY DINNER
Rough sleeping has more than doubled in the last six years in London. Beyond Food is a social enterprise working to provide those at risk of homelessness with the skills they need to work in the hospitality industry through four different programmes. Whether that’s in the kitchen, or front of house, Beyond Food not only supplies training but the vital support its beneficiaries need to break the cycle of homelessness through gaining meaningful employment.
This Christmas, we are partnering with Beyond Food again, to raise money across our venues to support their incredible work. To launch our partnership, we are hosting a collaborative four-course supper at St Pancras Brasserie. Beyond Food apprentices will cook alongside Searcys chefs to create courses including scallop and crab tortellini with green apple and coriander salad with curry oil and Lake District beef cheek with Caroll’s heritage mashed potato, chestnut mushrooms, and a red wine jus. Each course will be accompanied by an expertly paired wine, as well as the knowledge that the profit from your meal will be going towards providing a long-term solution to homelessness. BOOK HERE