Nicky Elliott transitioned from a career in health and beauty PR to running her own artisan mail-order free-from cakes and treats company. We’ve found out where she sources her ingredients, the hurdles overcome and opportunities available within this marketplace.
Who is The Conscientious Cook, how did it all begin and what makes your brand unique?
I have always been passionate about good food and nutrition. I initially trained and worked as a Cordon Bleu chef for many years before changing career and becoming a health and beauty PR – I was a founding member of the successful health and beauty agency Chalk PR. I have always had a keen interest in ingredients and their benefits to the body. As my family grew, my interest in food became more focused and I found I was increasingly looking to find healthier alternatives to traditional recipes and ingredients. I realised there was a gap in the market for nutrient-rich healthy cakes and treats and hence I created The Conscientious Cook – an at-home mail-order company.
I wanted to be able to work from home to be there for my family, whilst reaching a wider audience with my products. By using a reliable mail order company I can deliver my products overnight so everything is baked freshly, leaves my kitchen and arrives the next morning. It’s great that small businesses can have this flexibility; it means I don’t have the overheads of a shop and I can distribute to individuals and cafés across the country. I have a growing stable of regular customers ordering and I already supply a fabulous café in Brixton called F Mondays; in fact, this is an area I am looking to expand. I also do private commissions and create bespoke menus for special occasions; I’ve been lucky enough to work with companies who share a similar ethos to me, including Jurlique Skincare, Jimmy Choo, the Liz Earle Beauty Co and Louis Vuitton.
There are so many fabulous cookery books out there but not everyone has the time to bake, so The Conscientious Cook is for the ‘time-short’ individual or family who wants to eat home-baked nutritional and healthy treats.
There are so many fabulous cookery books out there but not everyone has the time to bake, so The Conscientious Cook is for the ‘time-short’ individual or family who wants to eat home-baked nutritional and healthy treats – we do the hard work for you and for the “Special Treat” purchaser, who wants something a little more delicious! Everything comes wrapped beautifully, with a card describing the benefits of key ingredients – it’s like receiving a gift when it arrives on your doorstep and my customers tell me they get excited when the delivery arrives.
How do you create your recipes – and which ones make the final cut?
I am gluten and dairy intolerant, and I try to avoid all refined sugar, so all my recipes are based around these three disciplines. I take traditional recipes and mix them up a bit, tweaking them with healthier ingredients but not compromising on the taste. That’s the most important thing; they must taste delicious – so many healthy recipes taste too worthy and don’t satisfy your craving, but mine do.
I get my inspiration from food trends, other chefs and by visiting restaurants and cafés to see what everyone is actually eating. I then create my recipes and test them on family and friends who have become increasingly discerning (especially my two young boys) and let me know exactly what works and what needs refining.
I am just starting to work with Natura Coco – a coconut oil company that works with a cooperative of small farmers in Kerala, India… we are very proud to be assisting their local community.
Where do you source your ingredients from?
Most of my dry ingredients come from Suma Wholefoods – the UK’s largest independent whole-food distributor. They specialise in vegetarian, fairly traded, organic, ethical and natural products and so have similar values to The Conscientious Cook.
I am just starting to work with Natura Coco – a coconut oil company that works with a cooperative of small farmers in Kerala, India. They produce coconut oil using the centrifuge extraction method, offering the least intervention of any extraction process; it involves no heat whatsoever, producing the purest oil possible. They have also assisted their cooperative of farmers in developing their production standards to a truly international standard, and we are very proud to be assisting their local community.
I use Meridian nut butters; I have tried many but these are far superior. They don’t use palm oil or include any hidden ingredients. All my fresh ingredients are organic or fair trade and are locally sourced as much as possible.
What hurdles have you had to overcome in setting up your own business – and what learning curves have you gained as a result?
I’ve really enjoyed setting up the company and, as I am passionate about food and eating well, it’s a joy to be in the kitchen creating dishes that other people can enjoy too. I think the main hurdle is that there are so many opportunities out there and the challenge is trying to decide which is the best way to use my resources. Possibly the toughest part of my job is finding enough hours in the day to create the food and oversee the distribution, follow new business leads and, of course, keeping abreast of social media. Finding like-minded entrepreneurs to bounce ideas off is also critical to keep the momentum.
Where do you see the healthy sweet treat market heading?
This is a very exciting time for the small artisan food businesses. The general marketplace understands that we need to remove refined sugars from our diet as a matter of urgency for health reasons and the large companies just can’t do it quickly enough. As smaller suppliers we may not be able to produce the quantities but we can experiment with flavours and ingredients quickly, bake them and pretty much have them on sale the next day.
This is a very exciting time for the small artisan food businesses. The general marketplace understands that we need to remove refined sugars from our diet as a matter of urgency for health reasons and the large companies just can’t do it quickly enough.
There is still so much education that needs to be done on the harmful effects of sugar and I think this falls on the shoulders of us as parents. We need to educate our children about how to remove/replace sugar in their diets. When you train your palate to enjoy less sweet foods, then you really don’t crave them and you really do feel so much better, so it’s great to see all these fabulous cookery books on the market promoting a healthier lifestyle – it’s just finding the time to make the change. I’m also championing correct portion control. It’s so important to make sure you do not over eat and that, again, is a hot topic currently as obesity levels continue to rise.