Go­ing straight

The cook who is serv­ing up a sec­ond chance to ex-of­fend­ers

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - The Cut / Tasting Notes - Amy Bryant

ALEX HEAD FIRST got a taste for run­ning a food busi­ness while flog­ging sand­wiches from the back of her bike, af­ter she was ex­pelled from school. She was 15. ‘I was so naughty,’ she tells me now, hav­ing just launched Soane’s Kitchen at Pitzhanger Manor & Gallery in Eal­ing, the lat­est out­post of her cater­ing com­pany, So­cial Pantry.

With four per­ma­nent lo­ca­tions and a cal­en­dar packed with events, the busi­ness has been throw­ing par­ties and feed­ing crowds since 2012 – as well as pro­vid­ing work op­por­tu­ni­ties for ex-of­fend­ers. ‘It’s about giv­ing them another chance,’ says Head, who part­ners with Key4life, a char­ity that helps with re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion af­ter prison re­lease, to em­ploy men who are keen to gain ex­pe­ri­ence in the food in­dus­try. Around 10 per cent of her work­force has served jail sen­tences, and many have been with her for years, in­clud­ing Suhail, who joined part-time and now leads a crew. ‘They are trusted mem­bers of my team.’

When Head isn’t serv­ing up veg­gie bar­be­cues or 12ft boards of tapas for 1,200 guests, she talks and as­sists at other re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion or­gan­i­sa­tions and ad­vises fel­low em­ploy­ers about men­tor­ing. ‘Af­ter each suc­cess story, you just want to do it again.’

With more com­mu­nity projects in the pipe­line and the Pitzhanger gar­den to cul­ti­vate, Head’s So­cial Pantry is in full bloom. ‘And we’re still mak­ing sand­wiches like there’s no to­mor­row.’ so­cial­pantry.co.uk

Clock­wise from top right Alex Head, founder of So­cial Pantry; Head with co-worker Suhail; a Cor­nish crab taco, served at a So­cial Pantry event

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