The pandemic has exacerbated many existing food issues such as food poverty, sustainability, and waste. If we have people going hungry at one end and perfectly good food being thrown away at the other, the food system is broken. But it’s obviously more complicated than that.
One key figure who has been busy unravelling the layers of bureaucracy and trying to separate the issues and deal with each problem is Corin Bell, Director of Open Kitchen Mcr. And she’s been power-housing her way through Manchester long before covid happened. Much of her time has been spent providing a hub for re-directing quality produce that might otherwise go to waste and providing a place for it to be turned into delicious meals.
Corin and her team recently partnered with the People’s History Museum to open a new all day café bar on the spacious ground floor on Bridge Street. All dishes on the menu have been created using ‘intercepted ingredients’ – food that is absolutely fine, but for whatever reason, can’t be used or sold in the initially intended manner. ‘Food is a business,’ Corin explains, ‘it goes to waste when it's cheaper to dump it in the system than it is to keep it.’
Like what? What kind of food is being binned? ‘Oh, the ridiculous horror stories I could tell you,’ says Corin, who goes on to tell us about whole fields of fresh cauliflowers which were rejected by the supermarket because ‘they were the wrong colour.’ If a box of red peppers has a couple of wrinkled, damaged or bruised ones on the top, it’s likely that the whole box will get rejected. Throwing the good out with the bad. Open Kitchen is there to make use of the perfectly good ones.
Corin’s sustainability mission began when she worked at Manchester City Council which indirectly lead to her setting up the Real Junk Food Project pay-as-you-feel pop ups and their first restaurant on Oxford Road. This led to the Open Kitchen’s catering operation which cooks for private events as well as providing meals and grocery bags for community groups to help feed vulnerable families.
She describes the latest café operation, Open Kitchen Mcr at the People’s Pumphouse Museum as a ‘more grown-up version.’ Dishes and drinks now have fixed prices. This means that instead of relying on staff made up of kind-hearted volunteers, they are now a real living wage employer, signed up to the GM Good Employment Charter - something else Corin is campaigning for. The non-profit café will generate an income which will be able to further support community activities.
So, by popping into Open Kitchen Mcr’s delightful new café for breakfast or lunch, or coffee and cake, or by employing their catering company to supply the food for your next do, you can take a step towards helping to fix a broken system.
But is the food any good? Yes, it really is. Executive chef James Bouchier needs to get creative with the ingredients he gets offered. The café opens from 8am every day for breakfast and fairtrade coffee to eat in or take away.
Open Kitchen Mcr is hoping to extend the opening hours in July to cater for small plates and after work drinks, but for now the all-day café offers sandwiches (on Holy Grain sourdough), salads, sides and three ‘heart helpings’ main courses. These will of course change regularly, so these particular dishes are not fixed.
We enthusiastically dipped through a delicious mezze platter of hummus, sweet potato wedges, chickpea falafel, olives, roast peppers and flat bread with a welcome tangy texture from shredded pickled slaw (£8). ‘So, all of that was rescued food?’ I asked our server. She scanned the empty plate and confirmed it had been. Apparently, the olives came from a restaurant who had obviously been closed due to Government restrictions and they still had well over a month left on the use by date.
Battered bang-bang cauliflower with cous cous salad and more of that pickled slaw (£8) was bang on and incredibly filling. We also finished off a bowl of tagliatelle, dressed with wild garlic pesto, ribbons of fresh courgette and sundried tomato, liberally scattered with crumbled feta cheese.
The café is licensed so we washed it all down with a chilled glass of white rioja and a pint of local beer from like-minded brewery Beer Nouveau while we stared happily over the river, ignoring the slowly decaying Mark Addy pub across the water.
I’ll definitely return; either to meet up with friends or to sit happily on my own. The food is delicious, ethical and sustainable. The café is bright and airy with huge windows for people watching. And what’s more, a visit to Open Kitchen Mcr is good for you, from your mind all the way down to your carbon footprint.
Open Kitchen at The People's History Museum, Left Bank, Manchester M3 3ER
OPEN MON - FRI 08:00 - 16:00, SAT 10:00 - 18:00, SUN 10:00 - 17:00