Today our member spotlight is on Andrey, the man behind the brand VegiTerra. We chatted to Andrey about his experiences in running the business so far, his plans for the future and his experience in Newmarket Kitchen.
When did you decide to become a chef?
When I was a child my grandpa used to cook an amazingly tasty semolina porridge for me and my sister cousin, using a “secret” ingredient, which he was refusing to reveal J We spied on him every time he cooked, trying to find out what was making it so different. Later we discovered it was just vanilla sugar, but I made myself a promise then to find all the “secrets” of cooking.
Did you have any former training as a chef/ in a kitchen?
Apparently, I was learning to be a chef without realizing it – my mum was working as a chef her entire life and all my childhood I was watching her “making magic” in the kitchen. As a consequence, I really enjoy cooking, always open to experiments and I am always in search for new flavours. I spent so much time at my mother’s work when I was a teenager that I feel cooking became my second nature. Besides, I am a qualified vet and as a part of that qualification I obtained deep knowledge and understanding about food processing and risks related to it.
Did you have any past experience producing dehydrated foods?
Dehydration is a very traditional natural way of preserving food in Eastern Europe, specifically in Ukraine where I am from. I remember helping my grandparents to dry different fruit in the shade of trees every end of summer and this was the most natural way of preserving fruit for the long and cold winter. We would wash, clean and core surplus fruit, place them on trays and dry them for few days. Then they could be stored for years, providing they are kept in dry place. That was what inspired me to experiment with drying fruit and coming up with my own products.
What gave you the idea for VegiTerra?
Two things inspired me – I love good food and I hate wasting it.
Good food. I am a strong believer of natural when it comes to food. We don’t need all that chemical nonsense in our food on most part, but mass production of food demands using these “nasties” to simplify processing, give it a better look and extend the shelf life. Dried food doesn’t need all that and providing it is kept in airtight container, so it doesn’t absorb moisture from the air, it can be stored for a very long time without losing its nutritional values.
The waste. I was truly shocked to discover that almost 40% of food goes to wasteland in Ireland. Due to the lack of time we tempt to “overbuy” food and then end up throwing a lot of it away, not being able to consume. Especially it is true with fruit and vegetables, which don’t stay fresh for long. I felt that pain every time I had to throw something away and so did many of my friends, many of whom have children. They would complain that most of the time the fresh fruit they put in lunch boxes for their children come back home untouched and often times not as fresh as it was in the morning, so usually those products end up in the bin. I recognized the opportunity to create a product which would be as nutritious and tasty as a fresh fruit, but compact, convenient and with great shelf life.
When did you set up your business?
I set Vegiterra up a year ago and on most part it was market research, producing small batches and testing them on food markets, changing and tweaking the recipe and experimenting with different flavours. I also participated in the Food Academy programme with SuperValu.
What prompted you to start your food business?
First of all, it is to provide a truly clean and nutritious product to my customers. Unfortunately, there are many products in this category which use words like “natural” and “healthy” for marketing purposes, but in reality they still have some added sugar and preservatives in them.
Drying fruit under low temperature over long period of time (up to 24 hours with my products), preserves most of nutrients a fresh fruit has without the need of those unhealthy ingredients.
Secondly, there is an educational side of it. When I talk to people about my product I always encourage them not to throw “spotty” or damaged fruit away. Thoroughly wash and clean them, slice or blend, put them in the oven and dry under lowest temperature to produce great snacks that you can take anywhere you go.
Is there a chef you admire most? Who and why?
I don’t have a favourite one, to be honest, because I believe every one of them has something unique and incomparable about what they do.
Have you any tips that you think would help someone starting off a food business?
I would say never assume that everyone will love your product, no matter how passionate you are about it. Instead, try to find those who will love it, test it first, prove the concept and only then start producing, but keep it simple and low cost. You can always improve it later and your customers will tell you how, if you dare to ask them.
What has been your best experience since starting VegiTerra?
First email from a customer with a great review of my product.
Where can we find your products?
I am in process of redesigning my website Vegiterra.ie which will open soon, where you’ll be able to buy our products directly from us. For the time being we are taking orders by phone 0857025850. There has been slight delay in placing my products on SuperValu’s shelves, but we hope it will be resolved soon. Also, we will be selling at the MART Saturday market in Rathmines.
Do you have any new or exciting plans for VegiTerra?
We are delighted to announce a new product coming to the market, which is the Natural Sweet Spreads. It is a well-balanced blend of pure honey and natural dried ingredients, which we call Enriched Honey. It is a tasty and mindful alternative to other sweet spreads. Currently they come in three flavours – Lemon and Ginger, Apple and Cinnamon, and Orange and Cacao and they will be available through above mentioned channels.
How have you found your experience at Newmarket Kitchen so far?
It has been great! The place has such a nice and friendly atmosphere. It is not only about having a place where you can start your food business, but also it is the place where you meet so many like-minded people, share experiences, get advice and expand your network.