Emelia Ward is the lady behind Hackney Pantry – a catering company with serious sass. Alongside event catering, Hackney Pantry also puts on supper clubs, work shops, and pop-ups. Cooking and eating her way round the world, from New York to Florence, Emelia has taken a pinch of every place to inspire her cooking style. We sat down with Emelia to discuss starting a business, and what makes her tick:
You left a career in the arts to set up your own food business – how did the idea come about?
I’ve always been obsessed with food and cooking, but most importantly also gathering people together around food. Working in the arts I organised and attended many events, and whilst the art and locations were always stunningly beautiful and the food often tasty, it didn’t reflect the fresh produce led way of eating I was used to at home, and even now in many restaurants across London.
I wanted to bring the fresh flavoursome food I cooked at home and the beauty that comes with it to events,  and I could see a real gap in the market for it. Catering and events just seemed like the natural route to take for me to cook the food I love and bring people together around food!
Can you tell us a little more about the Hackney Pantry?
Our focus is on beautiful food made from the freshest seasonal ingredients that tastes amazing. I’m a firm believer that you should feel great after eating – in terms of flavour, enjoying the people, surroundings around you and nourishing your body. Nothing is off the cards just because a fad diet says so, everything that is natural can be consumed in moderation as long as it makes you feel good.

There are many things that have influenced my style of cooking. Being vegetarian for 20 years and needing to create interesting dishes, I look to all flavours and cuisines for flavours and textures. I just love to eat – and wanting to enjoy food that tastes as good as it makes you feel. I’ve grown up around a family obsessed with food, as well as in the country with our own vegetable garden, and we’ve aways focused on the best most seasonal produce, using that days harvest as the inspiration for what to cook that evening.

How long did it take for the idea to become a reality?

You could say it was both quick and slow! I registered the company in November 2015 and hosted our first event in January 2016 – in that time I sorted out bank accounts, insurance, health and safety with the council etc (you must register with them 30 days before you start providing food). In that sense as soon as I wanted to press go, I did. Of course I’d actually been thinking about the idea for some time before that and the journey to finish my part time day job took another year until January 2017, when I took the plunge and went full time with the Hackney Pantry. But that gave me plenty of time to test out ideas, build up a customer base and get my business plan lined up. After that it was really just a case of pressing the fast forward button on all my thoughts and plans.

What’s been the hardest part of setting up your own business?

In all honesty it’s been doing it by myself. I’ve realised that I am someone who needs to talk things through with people and when you have to make every decision by yourself that can be tough. It’s also very easy to compare yourself to other people on social media who’ve been in the business much longer than you have. But I’ve found surrounding myself with good friend and family and my husband of course is the best tonic.  And slowly meeting lovely people in the food business too.

You regularly hold pop-ups and workshops across London – what have you got coming up?

London In The Sky in July is our next major public event, which we are really excited about, bringing our food to a whole different location and audiences! I’m actually 6 months pregnant now (!) expecting our first baby in September (yay!) so I’m not planning any more big events after that. I’ll be taking a bit of a break to just focus on recipe writing and business plans in August, and then in the new year once the little one is settled, I’ll be cracking on again with more exciting events! I’m really keen to start hosting a series of workshops and supper clubs next year as well as our brunches and private events.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
My husband has taught me: if it doesn’t feel right, stop, asses and make a new plan. With a small new business it can often be tempting to stick to a rigid plan or say yes to every opportunity which can lead you down the wrong path. Your instinct is the most important thing and you must listen to it.
How did you make people aware of Hackney Pantry when you first opened?
Social media, blogging and hosting a network of events across London has really built up our following. Although I didn’t previously come from a catering background; fantastic clients, colleagues and friends from my previous career have also been really great at spreading the word about our services which is like gold dust for a new business.
What’s the main inspiration behind your dishes?I always start with what is best from the farmers market that week/month and build dishes from there. There’s also certain year-round ingredients that I’m obsessed with such as labneh or spelt flour which have such incredible flavour or texture, and can be a great jumping off point for a dish. Layered with that I take inspiration from cooking styles from all the places we’ve travelled, including Turkey, Mexico and California. It has to be said though that Mediterranean food and Italian in particular is a big influence for me.

Favourite breakfast dish?

A tough question! I don’t think much is off the menu at breakfast/ brunch and I’m always concocting some new combination. On holiday in Italy recently we had fried courgette flowers for breakfast which really got me thinking. My favourite dish recently has to be my green shakshuka made with foraged greens and herbs including sorrel and nettles with a massive dollop of labneh and griddled flat bread on the side. But if it’s just a regular weekday breakfast you can’t beat a good smoothie (strawberry, watermelon, beetroot and cucumber with almond milk and honey is my current fave) or classic overnight oats. I’ve recently started adding puréed strawberries to the mix which is delicious.

Favourite place in London for brunch?

Ooh that is also a hard question as it’s probably my favourite meal and time to eat out, especially for inspiration. Morito Hackney Road was the first place that popped into my head – it’s not your average brunch, the flavours are incredible, their poached eggs, spinach, chilli butter, seasoned yoghurt and crispy sage is my perfect brunch dish.