An Interview with the Surplus Supper Club

UK: The Surplus Supper Club is an ethical event catering business spearheaded by FareShare South West, the award-winning charity that redistributes in-life, surplus food in an attempt to aid vulnerable people and curb rampant food wastage. The UK food industry disposes of four tonnes of perfectly good food every year, and the Surplus Supper Club repurposes these ingredients into delicious meals whose proceeds go to charity. Moreover, its volunteering opportunities offer a route back into society for the marginalised and dispossessed.

After experiencing the Surplus Supper Club first-hand at Bestival 2014, Festival Insights spoke with Clare Winterbottom – Events & Catering Manager for FareShare South West – to discuss the significance and scope of the initiative, its role in the festival industry, and the way they source both employees and ingredients.

Festival Insights: How did the Surplus Supper Club become involved with Bestival? It seemed like such a perfect fit.

Clare Winterbottom: A couple of years ago, our CEO Jacqui Reeves was talking at a Greener Festival Conference in London. She was speaking about the Surplus Supper Club at Shambala Festival and the surplus collection we provide to traders at the end of the festival in exchange for a restaurant pitch. The Creative Director of Bestival and Camp Bestival, Katie Maddison, was at the conference and liked what we were doing. She and Jacqui struck up conversation afterwards and the next year we were there.

FI: What kind of reception did you receive over the weekend? From what we saw it was pretty packed, especially on Sunday.

CW: Sunday is always our most popular day, everyone is knackered and really wants a sit down, so we provide them with a good hearty meal served to their table on a proper plate with a knife and fork. This year we also offered all day breakfasts so that the late risers wouldn’t miss out.

Everyone that dines with us seems to have a great experience. Eating surplus food from the food industry whilst giving back to a relevant, ethical charity is a win win situation.

Festival Insights' Michael Baker and FareShare South West's Clare Winterbottom
Festival Insights’ Michael Baker and FareShare South West’s Clare Winterbottom

FI: Could you talk a little about the sort of menu items that were on offer?

CW: At Fareshare South West we receive a huge variety of produce. We get mixed fresh produce from Sainsbury’s twice a week, as well as Tesco and Asda, Abel and Cole, and local producers from the Bristol area such as Pertwood Organic, First Quality Food, Pieminister, Pullins Bakers, as well as random surprise shipments along the way!

With such a mix we have to be super organised, so we select a small proportion of this food and plan our menus around this. That’s the exciting thing about eating with us: you rarely get the same thing twice and it’s always a super creative way to design a menu. At Bestival we offered an all day, every day full English breakfast and Sunday roast. These were the most popular offerings last year at Bestival, and our breakfast has gained ‘Best Festival Breakfast’ status according to some of our diners.

FI: Admirable as the ethos of the SSC may be, without a certain deftness of execution it wouldn’t be a viable project. How do you ensure the quality of your ingredients and the skill level of the chefs preparing the meals?

CW: With a lot of juggling, organisation, thinking-on-feet and creativity! We work with an exciting group of chefs who come from a variety of backgrounds, and we match them to the events that they are doing.

At Bestival our team in the kitchen was headed by Fatina Cummings – a long-time festival chef – who rose to the challenge with an amazing work ethic, an all-important sense of humour and a passion for the cause.

FI: Was the staging of the area produced bespoke for Bestival? The décor suited the aesthetic of the festival really nicely.

CW: We take the same setup to all the festivals we travel to, but we always want something a bit special for our dining marquee. This year we had a gorgeous, brightly coloured Indian tent that was provided by the Indian Marquee Company. They’ve been great to work with over the summer.

Photo credit: Alex Oxborough
Photo credit: Alex Oxborough

FI: I’ve read that SSC is already in high demand for other events. Are there any other festivals you’ll be working with either this year or next?

CW: We do a range of events: anything from a small business lunch for 10 people right through to feeding over 1000 over a weekend at a festival with a restaurant setup. We are already thinking about where we would like to be for next year, but nothing has been confirmed yet. But I will say there may be some big and exciting partnerships next summer.

FI: Do FareShare have any other projects they’re working on within the festival industry?

CW: Yes! We are working in collaboration with a Greener Festival and National Caterers Association to run a pilot developmental project next year to identify how much food is wasted by traders at the end of the festival and how we can stop usable, unnecessary waste by traders particularly at the end of festivals. We will then develop a toolkit and film to highlight the issue and hopefully help to minimise most of the usable waste that is created at festivals.