The vision for my 1-year-old business, The Garden of Eva, was born in the spring of 2012, when I lived in Boston. I was sitting in the parking lot of the pan-Asian supermarket, waiting for it to open so that I could buy unwaxed lemons to preserve for Moroccan tagines. My mind wandered to childhood memories of canning and preserving with my American Southern mother. I reflected on my love of food from different cultures. Making pickles inspired by global flavours came to me in that moment. I spent 2012 making different pickles, jams, and preserves; looking for kitchen space; and going into local shops with samples. But I ended up moving to Liberia, where I lived and worked for two years. Ebola closed my son’s international school. I came to London for another job, which sponsored my visa.
To start a business in the UK as a foreigner, you have to either pay £50,000 or be a permanent resident. This was frustrating, but I did what I could: attend bootcamps that were long on inspiration but short on practicality, blogging, etc. until I received permanent residency in July 2020. That fall, I was selected for Mission Kitchen’s Launch Your Food Hustle accelerator programme. It gave me the practical tools that I needed (go, Amy!). I was the runner-up in the internal pitch competition, which gave me a free month at Mission Kitchen.
In July 2021, MK invited its first cohort of mentors to sample the products made by the Founding Members. I launched The Garden of Eva with American Southern pickles. The night of the showcase, I had my pickled watermelon rind and chow chow on display. I had heard that “Tom, from Honest Burgers” was expected to come but didn’t think much of it, even though I knew that chow chow is made for burgers.
A tall guy came to my station and I made him a plate. It was Tom. He took a bite of the greens and with a flat affect said, “This is good.” He took another bite. “This is fantastic.” I explained that chow chow was made of green tomatoes, green and red bell peppers, onions, vinegar, sugar, and warm spices. I told him my background and he shared his love of Southern food, helped along by a trip to New Orleans. He tasted the pickled watermelon rind and had a similar reaction. But the chow chow! “I’d like to do a collaboration featuring your chow chow.” “How many jars do you need?” I was thinking of the chow chow in one Honest Burgers restaurant, sitting on the table. Tom’s face finally showed an affect – one that suggested that I was clueless. “I need 1500kg. For all my restaurants.” I suppressed my shock and joy and fear and incredulity. It was decided. He would be my mentor and we would work on launching the collaboration.
Moving from making 24 jars at a time to making 1500kg was a daunting task. Identifying a manufacturer was hard. Most work only with very large volumes. I found 3, one of which had a poor reputation. The Facebook Food Hub group rescued me! Simon Ellis, of Hedgerow Preserves, was recommended. The Sheffield-based jam and preserves maker manufactures for small condiments businesses. We first spoke in December. I was fortunate that my friend, Emily, helped vet Hedgerow. She knew what to ask Simon and Honest Burgers’ executive chef, James Garland, who became my main point of contact. Amounts, delivery, spec sheets, and packaging (2 kg, vacuum-sealed packs vs. 3 kg plastic, sealed tubs), all had to be addressed. All, however, were irrelevant unless the chow chow tasted right.
Scaling required converting ingredients to percentages. Then you must test batches as the process needs refining. I went to Sheffield twice to work with Simon in his SALSA-certified facility.
Learning the ins and outs of scaling, in Sheffield:
EVERY detail matters. The cook time changed. Ingredient amounts required adjusting. Mistakes happen. The vinegar we used was wrong, which changed the taste. I didn’t catch it! The chow chow still tasted delicious, but Tom could tell the difference when we met for the taste test in the Honest Burgers kitchen at Liverpool Street.
February 2022: the first batch of The Garden of Eva’s American Southern Chow Chow is taste tested at Honest Burgers, on Liverpool Street, London:
A second test batch corrected things. The New Orleans, buttermilk-brined fried chicken burger (made with lettuce, Bullseye Louisian chipotle hot sauce, ranch mayo, American cheese, and The Garden of Eva’s American Southern chow chow is available until 5 July at all Honest Burgers restaurants.
Garden of Eva is working on getting into high-end delis, scaling the pickled watermelon rind, and hopefully launching into retail within the next 3-6 months.