Ankit Chopra, Eat Me Chutneys

I love a good chutney! Growing up in the bush, a good chutney could transform a leg of mutton from Sunday’s roast to Monday’s feast. There’s something about the texture and tang of chutney that had me transfixed as a child. And while many people overestimate the power of gravy, most underestimate the power of chutney. But not this family. In this family chutney is their Legacy Project and their life.

This week I sat down with Ankit Chopra from, Eat Me Chutneys – where their socially good jars of chutney are tackling food system injustices, raising consciousness, connecting generations and bringing great food to life.

Eat Me Chutneys (the socially epic chutney) is a Certified B Corporation, located in Sydney, Australia and is a mum, dad and son company. You will find Ankit and his Mum at farmers markets and festivals across Sydney. Sharing their special recipes, sparkling stories and delicious chutneys throughout the year – spicing up ugly eggplants and disguising wonky tomatoes!

I was inspired to interview Ankit when I discovered the incredible impact this small business is making. To date, they’ve rescued over 2 tonnes of produce that’s been converted into more than 10,000 jars of lip-smacking chutneys preventing 4.75 tonnes of nasty CO2 emissions.

In this interview, we talk about Ankit’s journey to crafting chutneys, how their business serves a higher purpose, his conversations with Aboriginal elders, the great lessons he is learning along the way and how he has become a guardian of his family’s way of life.

Read on to discover the story and inspiration behind this socially epic business.

Q&A

Where did the inspiration come from to launch Eat Me Chutneys?

Looking back there were many points of inspiration but the true source was mum’s heirloom tamarind chutney. It wasn’t until I got back from London that I somewhat hijacked her wee chutney venture. We started discussing how all the ingredients that are imported into Australia do not necessarily translate to fair terms for the farmers that grow them (especially since most of it came from developing nations). We spent about a year looking for Fairtrade equivalents and in the process we became Fairtrade certified. Our small way of making sure all imported ingredients we get are sourced sensibly.

We also learned that roughly $5 billion worth of fresh produce is being tossed out each year in Australia! Growing up in India my dad always grew our vegetables. My brother and I saw him growing carrots with two legs, and wonky tomatoes so we have grown up with this idea of living consciously and living as self sufficiently as you possibly can. We could start to see an opportunity to use this amazing produce and draw a line of connection from the farms to the table. Eat Me Chutneys really became the culmination of all these things. My love of food and cooking, helping mum, using fresh beautiful wonky produce, a desire to create an ethical product and bring a greater awareness to food, the growers and the planet.

$5 billion worth of fresh produce is being tossed out each year in AustraliaClick To Tweet

Where did the inspiration come from to be Fairtrade Certified?

While I was living in New Zealand and later in Australia, I completed two Oxfam Cycle Challenges through India as well as Vietnam/Cambodia. Through these travels, I got introduced to Fairtrade practices. Concepts such as transparency, sustainability and fairness in a business context were beginning to coagulate better and they all sat nicely next to the values instilled in us by our parents.

Where did your passion for cooking come from?

I moved from New Zealand to London where I was pursuing a career as an IT consultant. And shortly thereafter I saw friends make pasta from scratch. I thought, I’d like to do that! But there was a small problem. I couldn’t cook so I began to teach myself and loved it. I loved it so much that I decided to change my career completely and trained as a Le Cordon Bleu chef. I eventually decided to leave my corporate career and pursue my passion in the food mecca – Paris.

The chef I trained under at L’Astrance never missed a service. For that man to cook and be in the kitchen every day was extraordinary. This was before cooking TV shows and cookbook deals and it showed me how passion and dedication can be combined to create something extraordinary. I also discovered what it means to run a restaurant and a business – which is absolutely amazing. You normally work for a chef, not a restaurant as well.

Post the Paris gig I moved back to London, where I began volunteering in soup kitchens. When I eventually returned to Sydney I decided to run a hidden kitchen that I lovingly called Jaune, a mystery dinner experience with 5 courses for up to 8 guests. My brother who can talk his heart out was the waiter/sommelier extraordinaire and I was doing the cooking. For almost a year and a half, on Saturdays and Sundays, we would get 8 people to come in (because that’s pretty much who we could fit around the dining table) and serve them 5 or 6 courses and everything I had learnt in Paris! 

Eventually, my brother wanted to go back to claiming his weekends, so we stopped. But it was great to see how people interact at such an intimate level. It was an amazing journey. I still have friends I made during that experience – it was wonderful and terrifying at the same time. It was lots of fun and allowed me to explore my talents and learn more.

How does Eat Me Chutneys give you a sense of purpose?

Going to farmer’s markets and interacting with them and talking about how we use their produce. All of this is a conversation around a jar! When Mum went to India where many of the spices are grown and met the farm manager and saw how these farms operate we effectively started working the supply chain backwards – the whole journey became, and still is a very organic process.

The sentiments of growing your own food, not throwing things out, respecting your stuff and using wonky carrots that grow naturally versus going to the supermarket where everything is straight, drive a deep sense of purpose for Eat Me Chutneys.

Along with using cotton tote bags and thinking about everything you could be doing along the way…

What drives you to do the work that you’re doing?

It’s the depth of what we are actually doing that drives me. At times when I look at other small businesses and they look at the things of “going up” first, like good branding and good website, creative packaging and that’s all great but we did it the other way around. We “went deep first” and grew our roots around Fairtrade and the premise of what it means to work as a family.

We “went deep first” and grew our roots around Fairtrade.Click To Tweet

My Grandfather used to say “Save a little, spend a little, give a little”. And I think it’s that giving part. When we thought about getting our first employee on board rather than heading to a chef’s school and getting a trained chef we went to the asylum seeker shelter and we got a lovely lady from there who comes and works with us two days per week. It’s the sentiment of giving when it really doesn’t take that much to give that also drives what we do.

It’s the sentiment of giving when it really doesn’t take that much to give that also drives what we do.Click To Tweet

What has been a highlight of the business so far?

Working with my parents has been the biggest highlight. It’s a generational thing – learning how and why my grandma and mum cook and do things in a certain way. If you’re not talking to them and learning then it’s going to get lost. No one documents these things.

Receiving our Fairtrade and B Corporation certification were great.

And we received this amazing email from a 17-year-old girl saying that her weekly budget didn’t actually allow her to buy chutney, but she would so like to support us for what we are doing. Well, that’s phenomenal! When someone as young wants to help – it makes you think wow this is amazing. The support we receive and how people react to us, it’s absolutely phenomenal.

How does Eat Me Chutney’s serve a higher purpose?

The awareness we bring to people around what it means to be Fairtrade. It’s back to that concept of sharing a little. We are exceptionally privileged in terms of living so it’s about sharing a little.

What great lesson or lessons have you learnt so far?

I’m learning a lesson every week if not every day. Of course there are a lot of business lessons which I am sure any small business owner would share but I think really the best lessons I’ve learned and I am sure Mum would agree with me (because of her trip to India) is the grace with which these farmers grow their produce and the amount of passion and knowledge they have.

The grace and the ease in which they share their story it’s phenomenal. The lesson is really about being exceptionally humble. For instance, when I sit down and have a pint with farmers they are the friends I have now instead of the corporate world friends and what I am learning from their perspective. It’s being so close to the land I think that teaches you something completely different.

It's being so close to the land I think that teaches you something completely different.Click To Tweet

Last year I was invited to go and meet some Aboriginal elders, so again learning from them… People living so close to land have far more exciting things to share than any business book, to be honest. It’s a generational thing. This lovely lady, an Aboriginal elder was telling me some amazing things and one lesson I should share with you – I was just discussing with her that people who live in big cities aspire to buy these amazing houses, it’s all about the property market and property market is crazy… and she said, “We are never actually the owners of the houses we are just guardians for the next generation.”

Ankit, you are a guardian for your family’s way of life.

Yes, I’ve never thought it that way. But what a beautiful thing to say.

You are a guardian for your family’s way of life.Click To Tweet

How would you like to be remembered?

I would like for the work that we are doing to be remembered. That should be it I think.

If you were going to give anyone one piece of advice what would it be?

You’ve got to explore even if at times it might feel a little bit painful. Because you can’t explore while feeling comfortable. That’s not an exploration. If we don’t explore we just don’t know. I don’t think I had any idea that I would be making chutney’s one day with my parents unless I wanted to explore cooking years ago. And then, of course, we began getting curious about where the ingredients were coming from so you’ve got to explore …

A few of my favourite bonus questions with Ankit.

Who or what is your favourite:

Breakfast: Mum’s roti! Oats, milk, fruits in season, nuts and you’re done
Musician: Chemical Brothers and Groove Armada
Mantra or Quote: Keep things simple.
Book: Mother Theresa’s Autobiography

Learn More About Eat Me Chutneys: Facebook  Instagram  Twitter  Web

•••

Thank you for being here and consciously choosing to explore the different ways that ordinary people are living extraordinary lives by serving a higher purpose through their daily work. Everything we do here at Your Legacy Project is designed to inspire and empower you to live your legacy and bring your unique talents to life.

I’d love to know are you B certified? Or do you desire to become a B certified corporation? I’d love to know what your business is about and how we can support you in bringing your business to life.

Hundreds of people visit this site each week and you’ll never know the difference you can make in the lives of others by sharing your own personal experience, dreams and plans. Please share your thoughts about this interview and of course all comments are welcome ? Ankit and I can’t wait to read them.

And remember, Live With Purpose.

Brooke

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