David Foad: What was your reaction when told the University of West London (UWL) had awarded you an honorary doctorate?
Andy Kemp: They said some very kind things, but I’m not Saint Andy. I’ve had my greatest successes working behind the scenes, which is why I was also surprised to get the recent LACA Chair’s Award. I am principled, but the principles are never politically driven; they are about policy. I feel that I sit in such a privileged position that I would be letting everyone in the industry and myself down if I did not use it to try to help.
What is your involvement with UWL?
They asked me to work with them on a number of issues as they saw me as very active in the industry and a well-known face. They had an outline view of where they wanted to take the students of tomorrow today, and asked me how to engage with the industry in areas such as food fraud, supply chain integrity, physical purchasing and the route to market for food. I worked with Professor Alexandros Paraskevas and we started to touch on the sort of subjects that should be further researched via PhD students. About two years ago they pulled together a project team to support student recruitment into the industry, and look at issues like sustainability, supply chain, marketing and sales.
Why have you taken so much time outside your immediate job role to get involved with the industry and its issues?
There are many aspects to it, but I’m appreciative of everything I have in life. If you get so much out you must give a lot back. I can see how to make change with simple things, and that has affected me deeply. It might be kids that have come off the track and just need a chance, that hand, that lift off, that conversation to help them. These kids, teenagers often, are trying to carve their way in life and take their chance and I want to give them a hand. Society spends a lot of time criticising, particularly those that don’t sit in the norm, but it’s tough when you sit outside the norm, which is why I get involved. That might be through Springboard and the great work that Anne Pierce does – that’s an obvious example where they are making a real difference to people’s lives, but it is under-funded and I’m very pleased to be involved.
Why is the subject of school meals so dear to your heart?
I got involved back when Jamie Oliver started and he was genuinely trying to do some good. I don’t agree about the way he did everything. At one point he started using the phrase ‘muck off a truck’ to describe the food school caterers were using, which I thought was appalling. Many operators were trying to produce a good meal with 70p for ingredients in a four-hour window. We’re talking about working mums and they do a fabulous job, and I’ve walked into hundreds of schools and seen a great job being done. I started to talk to Linda Cregan at what was then the School Food Trust, and Jeanette Orrey and people like LACA who provide an excellent service. Unfortunately, the industry around them doesn’t always listen to them, it doesn't recognise what’s being done. We looked at the provision of UIFSM and what was happening. It was fabulous. The first and most important thing you can give children is education about good nutrition.
Another issue you have spoken about is good farming practice and sustainability in the food chain.
It’s the next big issue. When you look at what’s going to affect the food industry, a major factor will be the cost of food as a result of Brexit. We can only produce 58% of our food so we need to source from somewhere else. Meat and food from the US could expose the British public to pesticides, growth hormones and antibiotics and this will have an effect on the health of future generations going forward. The other question is, what does sustainable food and farming look like? The Soil Association has done some brilliant work on this. I recognise that we can start to review this, herald the issue, lead in the understanding of it.
Obesity and healthy eating are another area you’ve been involved in.
I genuinely believe people want good clean food and to feed it to their children, but they all need a bit of help. I see us moving towards an eating culture that includes reducing the amount of meat we consume, becoming more vegetarian as a matter of choice, adopting a more Mediterranean-style diet and having a growing awareness of foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar. But this will only happen when it is driven by knowledge, so it’s all about education.
How do you see youngsters of Generation Y shaping the industry as customers and workers?
They are waking up to the sort of opportunities available to them and are much more opinionated too. I gave a lecture at UWL, and it was great to see how many students hung back afterwards, saying they wanted to go into catering and asking how to do it. They didn't just want to be the next Jason Atherton, but become managers. At this level young people are well catered for, but below that there is less awareness of the training and opportunities available. Putting stuff into schools works – Chefs Adopt A School by the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts and that kind of thing. From a distributor’s point of view, do people see you as a load of trucks that just move boxes? We need to show them the chances to be creative. The talent we have is incredibly capable of making decisions, and doing a damn sight better job than we could ever imagine. I think today’s generation are more inquisitive and as for being the snowflake generation, don’t forget the snowflake sits higher in the tree.