Rosie French is a chef and food stylist in Herne Hill, who thought the work from home routine needed a shake up. Thus her brainchild delivery lunch business was born: WFH Canteen. She chats about feeding local Londoners outstanding lunches, and keeping a positive, creative outlook in the kitchen.
Local Greens: How did you start working in food?
Rosie French: I began my food career in 2009, when I launched a food blog and supper club with a friend in Brixton. Our food writing won an Observer Food Monthly award in 2010 and we went on to publish a cookbook and open a tiny restaurant – French & Grace – in Brixton Village (2012-2017). It was a hugely formative, rewarding and challenging experience. I loved the community we were part of in Brixton, and many of those people remain dear friends. When we opened we used mostly local suppliers but that became harder and harder as many of them were forced out of the area by increasingly extortionate rents. That eventually forced us out too, but we had five very happy years in our little corner of the market. I now work as a food stylist, freelance recipe writer and chef.
LG: How and why did you create WFH Canteen?
RF: In the first lockdown, I started doing evening meal deliveries for locals, which proved really popular. I loved the creative process and the feeling of making someone's evening special. I was also really lifted by our friends in the community dropping off thoughtful packages of food they'd cooked, cakes their kids had made or a four-pack of beers from the local brewery. I saw that these doorstep surprises were a big source of joy for so many. This is why I keep my menus changing as I think that element of surprise with each delivery is a nice bit of dopamine that we are all quite deprived of right now!
In lockdown, I also got really into trying out and perfecting new styles of food and I wanted a reason to keep creating new recipes. In lockdown 2, I set up a basic Shopify website, bought a second hand delivery bike and decided to put my idea into action with WFH CANTEEN. It’s a local lunch subscription service that runs two days a week. I do that while continuing to work as a recipe developer and juggling home school alongside.
LG: What's the inspiration for your recipes?
RF: The weather, my mood and what's in season. The contents of my Local Greens bag is often a good starting point, as the dishes are predominantly vegetarian.
LG: How do you keep cooking fun and interesting in the kitchen, especially if you’re doing it every day?
RF: I find cooking very meditative at the moment because at a time when I'm being pulled in lots of directions, I can't be distracted by anything else. It's my favourite time to listen to loud music and be creative. I've stopped watching the news while I cook and I just get into the zone. I also quite enjoy the time pressure - it takes me back to my restaurant days and the adrenaline of service!
LG: You are, amazingly, using veg from your own Local Greens bag in some recipes. How do you make it go so far or become so many meals?
RF: The flavour of good veg can carry a dish far. I'll often pick a star ingredient and then make some complimentary sides to help it sing. A lovely coconut dahl can be the background for some crisp, curried veg or some cheesy polenta topped with a deep mushroom ragù – that hopefully transports my customers to the Italian mountains.
LG: What’s your favourite meal to cook or favourite veg to use?
RF: I'm really hooked on Indian cookery at the moment and love to add textures and colours to lunches with homemade pickles and chutneys. Forced rhubarb season is also upon us and I made some delicious little lemon, polenta & rhubarb cakes last week. Celeriac, leeks and beetroot are three of my favourite veggies. Celeriac is the root ingredient in lots of my veggie ragù and stews, as it adds such depth and a nutty sweetness. I'm planning a delicious beetroot gratin this week with sage and rye crumbs, and a zingy sprout, cabbage, sultana and red onion slaw - everything shredded super fine and dressed with a sharp mustard, sour cream dressing.
LG: How did you become a Local Greens customer? What do you enjoy about the scheme?
RF: Our lovely neighbours offered me their bags while they were away and I didn't want them to stop, so I signed up! I love the quality and variety. It feels great to ignore the imported, over-packaged veg in the supermarket and walk up the road to the Local Greens locker instead.
LG: What are your post-lockdown plans for the WFH Canteen and what are you most looking forward to when we can all go out again?
RF: I'm not sure if WFH CANTEEN will be in demand post-lockdown if people start going back to their offices. I hope I can continue to feed the community in some capacity! We'll see. I'm most looking forward to lunch at Duck Soup in Soho with dear friends, and finally being able to people watch again in the city that I love and no longer recognise. Also, local, spontaneous pints at Bullfinch and Canopy and not freezing in the park with a thermos!
LG: Tell us more about how to order, where you deliver, and all those other details.
RF: You can order a lunch subscription on my WFH Canteen website for as short as a week, or as long as you like. The usual delivery days are Wednesdays & Thursdays, but I confirm this by email early in the week. Customers are welcome to opt-out of deliveries if they won't be at home or something comes up and the order gets deferred to the next delivery date. Currently we deliver to SE21, SE24 and some of SW2.
Local Greens customers can get 10% off any lunch subscription by using the code LOCALGREENS at checkout. Follow WFH Canteen on Instagram where you can find past menus, customer feedback, retro photos and hilarious (!) captions.