In Cowley, tucked behind the behemoth that is Templar’s Square Shopping Centre, stands a relatively unremarkable building with bright lettering on the railings spelling out the word ‘Café’. Welcome to the Ark T Centre, a hub of creativity providing support and inspiration to create social change in the local community. The café in question is run by social entrepreneurs, Sandra Ruge and Marie Lehri, founders of Waste2Taste, who met through their work in the charity sector and founded a business inspired by their mutual love of cooking, seasonal eating and a drive to effect social change.
As with all of the best nomenclature, the clue is in the name. “We use food surplus supplied to us by our wonderful partners The Oxford Foodbank and Bucksum Farm to make magic with what is in season, and in abundance. The beauty of it is that we never know what will be available on the day.” Wait, what? This soup I’m rhapsodising over is made from leftovers? And that cake winking at me on the counter top? “Yes, we create with food that was supposed to go in the bin. There is still a great misconception that using food surplus as a main ingredient means the food will be limited in choice or quality but our menus are very creative and really healthy.” What modesty prevents them both from adding is that their food is also nothing short of delicious.
“Waste2Taste was born from our shared vision to reduce food waste and to support vulnerable and disadvantaged members of our community experiencing food poverty”. What started as a bespoke catering service run from their home kitchens has expanded over the past couple of years to incorporate a community kitchen at Ark T from which they also run workshops teaching skills in cooking, budgeting, nutrition and seasonality for homeless, vulnerably housed, or families otherwise facing poverty.
At this point I’m aware that I tend to judge myself on the contents of my food waste: when full of peelings and cores I’m confident I’ve eaten well, when rammed with leftovers my self-appointed halo feels tarnished for I know that food waste is an unforgivable indicator of privilege. So how to do better? “There are hacks we’ve learned that anyone could adopt, for example broccoli stalks make a yummy hummus or soup, or add beetroot leaves to your stir-fry. Most food can be made delicious with a few store cupboard basics like tinned borlotti beans or chick peas, dried chilli, spices, coconut milk – all of these elevate any dish. You can turn stale bread into bread and butter pudding or convert aging bananas into cake. We often have an abundant supply of root veg like potatoes or carrots, both perfect for soup.
Primarily, though, we’d like to see the law on sell-by dates changed or at least be better explained to the consumers. There’s so much waste because of the sell-by dates and some are just massive nonsense. We have to trust our senses: if it smells good, feels good and looks good it most likely is good.”
Is it too much of a cliché to say ‘food for thought’? Looking around the café there’s a corner sofa seating area complete with toys and books for harassed mums to have a well-earned cuppa whilst their kids are happily distracted. The walls are decorated by art created by Ark T’s various groups, other tables seat what are clearly devoted regulars and, all the while, that cake is still winking at me.
Courgette & Lime Cake
For the cake:
3 medium eggs
125ml of good quality extra virgin olive oil
150g caster sugar
225g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarb soda
250g courgettes finely grated
For the icing:
400g cream cheese
175g icing sugar
2 limes, juice and zest
40g pistachio nuts
- Preheat oven 180°C/Gas 4. Grease and line 2x 21cm sandwich tins.
- Beat together the eggs, olive oil and sugar in a large bowl until creamy. Stir in the flour, sieved together with the bicarb and baking powder. Mix well and then stir in the grated courgettes until well combined. Divide the mixture into the cake tins.
- Bake in the middle of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes.
- Remove the cakes from the oven and leave to cool in a wire rack.
- To make the icing, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Sift the icing sugar and stir in the lime juice.
- Use half the icing and sandwich the cakes together and use the remaining icing to cover the top of the cake. Sprinkle with pistachio nuts and lime zest.