Sustainable Business: Interview With Eleanor Cunningham Owner of Edinburgh Larder
This is an interview with Eleanor Cunningham who opened the Edinburgh Larder in 2009. In search for sustainable and ethical businesses, coming across Edinburgh Larder was a surprise. Combining locally collected and seasonal produce in recipes which reflect the flavours and tastes of Scotland, she has demonstrated that highly successful business is viable through sustainable practices.
The list of the suppliers she uses is impressive; when you go into the Bistro, you are met with a map of where the ingredients hale from, proudly naming the artisans involved. The Edinburgh Larder started as a café just off the Royal Mile and expanded to include a bistro in the west end of Edinburgh in 2012. At the Edinburgh Larder Bistro they organise events where people get the chance to talk about local produce and share some tasters. They also run foraging courses through the year – a particular delight are the 2 mushroom foraging courses in September and October.
On the menus, there is no sign of the mundane, nor processed easy-to-flog fare which can be ordered through juggernaut corporate companies that are moving further and further from the land. Each ingredient has been carefully sourced by Eleanor, who says that she stopped being vegetarian because she needed to know exactly what she was selling.
Getting the chance to hear how she establishes a personal relationship with each supplier is manna to hear, because she can genuinely tell you where the pork or scallops, beef or leeks where produced – and more.
Creating their own sauces, jams, chutneys and cordials, all is produced freshly and to traditional recipes blowing the myth of required buy-in to corporate distribution chains out of the water. This is not to say that it is easy, when she talks about the barriers she has had to overcome, it is obvious to see that it passion and drive that has generated the Edinburgh Larder.
Sustainable Business: Eleanor Cunningham talks about Edinburgh Larder by Ragged University on Mixcloud
The humane runs from top to toe in the business dismissing the insidious myth of ‘there are no friends in business’. It is clear that the staff are nurtured, and community threads run through many of the activities. The head chef at the bistro was a fisherman and forager, and they are connected into the local Slow Food movement – which, for those who do not know about it, is a philosophy and way of life revolving around food which pays attention and due honour to the ingredients that go to make up our food; it is the heritage which is being bleached by industrial processes and fast food empires.
The multidimensional collective of people creates an interdisciplinary mix of individuals who work together to create what I found to be a pleasant and homely atmosphere. The cafe manager ran a wine shop previously, they have an illustrator on board, their bistro manager holds a masters in maths and accounting… Eleanor insisted on having lunch with me, giving me that chance to experience the food currently on the menu.
The menu never stays the same as seasonality and availability is a critical ingredient for what they do. The dishes change and use ingredients which are uncommon simply because our food chain has so rapidly narrowed in the last hundred years, that what were staples for centuries, and common treats – enter the stage a practical example of The Ark of Taste, an initiative run by the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity:
“The Ark of Taste travels the world collecting small-scale quality productions that belong to the cultures, history and traditions of the entire planet: an extraordinary heritage of fruits, vegetables, animal breeds, cheeses, breads, sweets and cured meats… The Ark was created to point out the existence of these products, draw attention to the risk of their extinction within a few generations, invite everyone to take action to help protect them. In some cases this might be by buying and consuming them, in some by telling their story and supporting their producers, and in others, such as the case of endangered wild species, this might mean eating less or none of them in order to preserve them and favour their reproduction.”
It is obvious that Eleanor loves to work with the range of the small artisanal producers to be inventive with foods and ingredients. One such product they stock is Barney’s Beetroot Beer, produced by Andrew Barnet AKA ‘Barney’ who brews beer using traditional techniques with no pasteurisation.
All in all, Eleanor runs an exemplary business employing and interactively trading with many other small, independent businesses striking the need to accrue airmiles when having a bite to eat. This is an important business to support and learn from in sustainability terms. Leaving the last note to them to say:
“The Edinburgh Larder team work closely with local suppliers to bring you the best of the Scottish landscape on a plate. We source seasonal ingredients from small, conscientious producers who treat Scotland’s wild, natural resources with an honour we’re proud to share.”