Farm To Fork

Plant-based eating with Mindful Chef

TOAST talks about the benefits of plant-based eating with gluten-free recipe box company, Mindful Chef.

“When did you ever see a pasta tree or a cereal bush?” Giles Humphries is educating me in the ways of natural eating. “Your body does better with grains and vegetables than refined carbs.” I guess he’s right, though I’m too busy thinking about all the money I’d make if I had a penne poplar growing in my back garden. 

For the record, Humphries has no beef with refined carbs (or beef for that matter) – he just doesn’t eat them every day. “I’m not vegan or a gluten-free warrior. I’ll still have pasta as a treat at the weekend, but making the switch to nutritious vegetables, great proteins, spices and herbs three or four days a week has revolutionised my diet. My energy levels are far more stable these days.”

Humphries was converted to the benefits of a plant-based diet two years ago, when, along with childhood friends, Myles Hopper and Rob Grieg-Gran, he founded Mindful Chef, the UK’s first gluten-free recipe box company. The boys grew up in Devon and reunited in London in their early twenties. Humphries was working in brands and marketing, Greig-Gran in finance and Hopper was a personal trainer and nutritional coach. Quite the collective skillset, though Humphries admits none of them knew their way about a kitchen.

“We enjoyed cooking, but led busy lives, often finishing work at 9pm. As a result, we used to eat what 80% of the population eats – pasta, white rice and a readymade sauce with very little nutritional value. Now, I have three meals a week from Mindful Chef. It’s introduced me to new flavours and techniques, so I’ve become a far more accomplished cook, and feel massively better, too.”

Mindfull Chef Founders

Mindful Chef Box

There’s a growing appetite for recipe boxes around the world, especially among time-poor urban professionals, who want to eat well with minimal effort. In the US, grocery startup Blue Apron is reported to be on track to surpass $1billion in revenue over the next 12 months. “It’s a huge area of growth. Recipe boxes came to the UK just three years ago and our USP is very health-focused. We never include bread, pasta or white rice. Instead, we’ll have things like butternut squash noodles, courgetti, broccoli rice, quinoa, wild rice and buckwheat.”

The premise is simple. Mindful Chef has eight recipes – four meat and fish, and four vegan (sorry, “plant based – people get scared by the word”)  – available each week. Customers choose from between two and five meals that can be made in 30 minutes or less. The team puts the exact amount of ingredients needed into a box (where possible, packaging is recyclable, biodegradable and compostable), which is then delivered to your door. “Everything is pre-measured and put in a brown paper bag with the recipe on the front. If a dish calls for 2tsp paprika, that’s exactly what you’ll get.”

The zero food waste goes down well with Mindful Chef subscribers, says Humphries. “Your average supermarket wastes roughly 20% of all food. They have to estimate and order in huge quantities. We have no guess work at all. Every week, our customers are on a subscription, which they can pause or skip easily. On Thursday at midnight, orders for the following week are cut off. We then call in exactly what we need from the farms, no more no less. You won’t end up with wilted spinach because you had to buy a massive bag from the supermarket as that’s all they sell. It also means we’re not screwing over local farmers. I’ve heard some horror stories about supermarkets asking farmers to grow 40,000 cabbages then turning up the week before and saying they’re only going to pay 50% instead of 70% as agreed.” 

Craft Bag Shot Mindful Chef2

With their green credentials and hip grain offerings, it’s clear Mindful Chef is surfing the zeitgeist, but it’s not just London-based millennials signing up for a weekly hit of goodness – the company has gone nationwide, attracting thousands of customers outside of the capital. Last year, the team raised £1million via crowdfunding after just 12 days, enabling Mindful Chef to grow 500% from July 2016. There are now ten full-time employees, plus 20 packing staff at weekends. In March, Humphries, Hopper and Grieg-Gran released their first cookbook, Mindful Recipe: Eat Well, Live Better, and are currently looking into launching a dinner party box. It’s an exciting time for the trio.

So, what’s a typical day for a burgeoning startup? “To be honest, there isn’t one. This morning I’d a HR meeting with employees, after this I’m meeting a gym to discuss a partnership – we team up with lots of fitness and yoga studios. This afternoon, I’ll be doing some marketing, dealing with investors and fundraising, and helping our professional chef test new recipes and tweak existing ones.”

Mindfull Chef Meatballs

Before I let Humphries get back to the kitchen, I put his new cooking skills to the test. What’s an easy-to-make healthy dish that will wow dinner party guests?

“We’ve got a squash, mushroom and butterbean lasagne that tastes amazing. Just slice squash into sheets, chuck some mushrooms and butterbeans on top then whatever flavours you like – a tin of tomatoes, passata or whatever. You can bulk out a dish very easily with veg" says Humpries. 

"Another popular one for groups is chickpea tacos with purple sweet potato. Most people have never seen a purple sweet potato and the colour is fantastic when it comes out of the oven. Slice into wedges, stick a bit of paprika on top and bake. Take some mini gem lettuces, peel off the leaves and use them as tacos. Then fill with chickpeas, harissa sauce and drizzle over some creamed coconut and lemon, with mashed avocado and a few herbs. People are always impressed by that.”

It’s no pasta tree, but we’re pretty impressed, too.

Mindful Chef boxes start at £6 pp per meal for a family box each week. The most popular option is the couple’s box at £7pp per meal. You can take a look at the Mindful Chef in our Little Black Book for their website and contact details.

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