Steve Brown left SMC in 1999 and embarked on a journey in the world of food, working in a variety of positions both at home and overseas, building his experience and working his way up to become Head of Food Education at Edinburgh Food Social, who have been instrumental in feeding people in Edinburgh during the pandemic. We caught up with Steve as he prepared to provide Christmas meals to those in need over the festive period.
When you were at school, did you have a clear idea of what you wanted to do when you left or did you stumble across your career through trying different options?
I didn’t really know what I wanted to do when I was at school- although I had a part-time job as a waiter and had the first of many chance encounters which led to the opportunity to work in a kitchen. I was extremely lucky that this happened early on in my life as this experience kickstarted an interest which became a passion, which has led to a career in the food industry, both as a chef and educator.
You’ve held a variety of positions in kitchens in the UK and overseas, tell us about working your way up through the ranks and the challenges of working in kitchens overseas where the language was not native for you.
Haha, good question. One of the great things about food is the fact that it’s a universal language so, if you can chop a carrot then you’re good to go! Although I think that the classroom sets you up for these situations, living in a country really gives you the opportunity to learn a culture as well as just a language. Sometimes it was tricky to take part in deeper, more meaningful conversations in a second language but the experience of travelling, meeting new people and learning new things more than made up for it.
Quite early on in your career you tried running your own business (Zucchini), what did you learn from this experience that has helped you form plans for the future?
I would encourage people to run their own businesses if they are keen to- it’s a fantastic confidence builder and forces you into adapting to multiple situations and environments. Zucchini was very successful and allowed me to grow as an individual and experience the various challenges of running your own business such as communication as well as managing both money and time. On the flip-side, there’s nobody to support you so you need to be self-motivated and try not to make too many mistakes as there’s nobody to blame!
You’ve consulted on a number of restaurants and for a time ran a restaurant consultancy supporting startups and existing businesses to develop. How did you get into this and what was the most exciting aspect of the work for you?
The Restaurant Consultancy was an interesting period of my career where I travelled lots, undertook exciting projects and felt quite a lot of responsibility for my actions. I began consulting as I had just come back from setting up and running a restaurant in France and hoped to support others on their journey- to be honest, I had probably been watching too many Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares! We had some really successful projects, however, hospitality is such a complex industry (I often compare it to spinning plates) that it’s often difficult to offer successful and long-term solutions to people who are just starting out- it’s very much an industry where experience matters each and every day. The weight of offering people advice that led to them spending huge amounts of their own money was very heavy and when I took the job at Edinburgh School of Food & Wine, I wound the consultancy up.
In 2010, you transitioned into teaching at the Edinburgh School of Food and Wine and moved onto Daylesford where you focused on organic and seasonal produce. This has led you to your current position as Head of Food Education with Edinburgh Food Social. Tell us about getting into teaching why the position at Edinburgh Food Social attracted you and a little about the organisation’s objectives.
Teaching has been a real gift and I’m so thankful to Ian (Edinburgh School of Food & Wine) for giving me the opportunity to teach at the school- he took a leap of faith and I hope that I’ve paid that back over the years. There are chefs that aren’t great teachers and teachers that can’t cook very well- I hope that I am good at both. Each job has taught me a lot and I have always followed my passion for seasonal and sustainable food, looking to learn and develop with each experience.
Working at Daylesford was a life changing experience- the owners are billionaires and the way they produced food and ran their business was truly inspirational. I was grateful for the opportunities I had to spend time in the beautiful surroundings, learn about organic food production and to fulfil a privileged role in the business. However, as I was leaving, I made it my goal to take the things that I had learnt and to share them with folk who would never have the chance to visit places like Daylesford.
Edinburgh Food Social is a social enterprise that teaches young people and communities about local, seasonal food. I am honoured to be able to share my passion for food with such wonderful people and to help folk understand more about where their food comes from, how to cook and to be able to support young people to work in the hospitality industry through our Good Food Apprenticeship.
With the pandemic this year, Edinburgh Food Social have become pivotal in providing food to significant numbers of locals here in Edinburgh. What’s been the driving force behind this work and how easy have you found it finding facilities to assist and working with partner organisations to distribute the food?
It’s been an incredible journey over the past 9 months; challenging at times but a real honour to have possessed the skills and understanding to be able to help people during this time. When COVID surfaced in the UK and the Prime Minister asked people to stop visiting restaurants, it became clear that there were about to be a lot of chefs out of work and a lot of folk needing food. Our ‘just in time’ supply chain, together with a lack of cookery skills means that there was very little resilience in Edinburgh’s deprived communities when things got difficult. Not only are we campaigning for better education and shorter supply chains but we are also supporting people in our local community with fresh, nutritious food for as long as they need it.
This work has only been possible with the kindness and generosity of organisations and businesses throughout Scotland. From producers to chefs to you guys at ESMS, everybody has pitched in to support us with the food, volunteer hours and kitchens that we have needed to support people during this time. (photos below)
And finally, what one thing do you wish you’d known when you left school which would have prepared you better for life and business?
That’s another interesting question! I think that I didn’t quite appreciate the sheer expanse of life that lay ahead of me. Life is full of opportunities to have wonderful experiences but so often we rush into things and don’t appreciate the spaces in the middle; the peaceful moments, the quiet days. They say it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become great at what you do- so make sure that you do something that you love and the rest will come.