Launched in April 2013, Gather & Gather offers workplace restaurants and cafes, as well as hospitality and event services, to a range of clients across a broad spectrum of sectors including media technology, legal, financial services and retail.
Gather & Gather's Culinary Director Mark Anderson has over 20 years' experience in the industry, having travelled the world making him an excellent choice to pioneer the ethos of Gather & Gather, educating chefs and clients alike, whilst proving that catering in the work place can be of a premium quality. So how has the reception been to this innovative program, and what are the key learning areas that businesses can benefit from? With this in mind, we talked to Mark about their mission statement and asked him to spill the beans about how the industry has changed in recent years.
Food for Thought - FFT.ie: Where did the inspiration for this initiative come from?
Mark Anderson: I first attended Food on the Edge (FOTE) three years ago and it was one of the best and worst things that has happened to me personally.
The first time I went to FOTE, I left feeling totally inadequate. I wanted to be like these guys. I started thinking about how Gather & Gather could take all the amazing ideas and innovation people were talking about, and apply it to workplace catering. That was just the start of the journey and three years on, I was really honoured when JP McMahon asked me to get up on stage and talk about the progress we’d made as a company.
What are interesting trends that are currently happening in the industry?
The industry is rapidly waking up to food waste and how we can tackle it. It’s a recurring theme at FOTE.
Influencing the waste in our kitchen was an obvious place to start as we could directly control that. We started by breaking wastage into three categories: plate waste, reduction, and over production. Because we work with a lot of tech companies, a techy approach was the logical step so we brought in Chefseye, a software company which gives us real data on wastage. It’s easy to use and affordable which also helps. Any food waste is weighed, photographed and recorded so we can identify trends, like excessive peeling or quantity management. Where we’ve found issues, we’ve set about a solution and that’s seen out waste drop substantially to less than 3% of food purchases.
We’ve also taken that a step further by educating our consumers. At one of our clients, we plated up the waste food and put it out on show in the restaurant so they could see how many extra people they could feed. Food waste fell 25% overnight. They had no concept of how much food waste they were generating.
What do you hope to challenge in the industry through your work?
I want to dispel the myth that workplace catering is all bain maries and boiling broccoli to death. What we produce is far cry from that. We have demanding professional clients with high expectations. They want healthy, sustainable, well thought out and balanced restaurant quality food. We give them that, and more.
What are the major problems facing the industry at the moment?
Attracting and retaining talent is increasingly a problem for the chef industry. I want to offer our chefs the opportunity to carry on learning and growing. It’s one of the things I love best about this industry. Some of the best chefs we have, started with us as kitchen porters and have risen through the ranks, but you need to put the time and effort in, not leave people rotting away in the kitchen.
Why do you think your work is important?
My job is to remove any blockages so the chefs can reach their potential, whether that’s development, culture or fantastic produce. I have a brilliant team and I genuinely count myself lucky to be able to support them and watch them grow. That also comes with responsibility and I don’t take that lightly.
This is a great profession to be in. You make friends who quickly become like family, you can travel the world, it’s cool and creative. We need to nurture all the positive bits for the next generation and shape a future that they want to inherit.
What is the new approach you're taking towards 'kitchen culture'?
Culture is so important. Everyone talks about it, but it means nothing unless you live and breathe it. And everyone should be able to do their job feeling comfortable in their workplace. Now we could mandate a set of values, but what incentive was there for people to live up to them? Instead, we set about empowering the team and asked everyone to pick ten words to define how we should work in our kitchen. Now anyone can call out unacceptable behaviour if they believe someone isn’t living up to those values. That runs all the way through the organisation, from our commis to the head chef, and it’s super powerful. That ownership has had a massive impact on culture.
How has reception been to it so far?
So far, it’s been unbelievable. We’ve got a long way to go, but people are beginning to realise that there are lessons they can learn from our evolution too. We fed 1,000 people over the two days at Food on the Edge. Some of them hold three Michelin stars, but we were blown away by the feedback.
How did you conduct your research?
The industry used to be so secretive. Recipes were kept under lock and key, concepts shrouded in mystery. These days, it’s not like that. People want to share their experiences, their knowledge and their techniques, so the more networking the better.
Working with high end law firms and tech companies, also keeps us on our toes. They are, rightly, demanding. They want the best for their staff, so we keep looking for new and interesting ways to provide it. We also learn and absorb from the way they work too, especially when it comes to culture and looking after our teams.