The Wilderness Chef: Mastering Covid Sustainably

delicious food in a packaging container

Cooper Thomas, the man behind catering business Anteloping also known as The Wilderness Chef, is passionate about creating restaurant-quality dining experiences for people in unimaginable locations such as waterfalls, mountain tops, lookouts, sand dunes, ski fields & deserts. We’ve reached out to him to learn more about his COVID strategy and why he chose BioPak to support his food packaging needs during this time.

catering in the wildcatering in the wild

We’ve come across The Wilderness Chef first when we received a tag on our Insta and quickly fell in love with the concept of dining in the wild, creating incredible food, produced in a sustainable and ethical manner.

As a multi-award winning catering company specialised in providing restaurant-quality dining experiences anywhere, anytime, Cooper had never considered packaged meals or prepared meals for that matter…until COVID.

Who is the man behind The Wilderness Chef, how and when did the concept of ‘catering in the wild’ come to life?

2 people catering in the dessert2 people catering in the dessert

In late 2016 when Cooper (23 at the time) was Executive Chef of two Newcastle based restaurant/cafes, his partner (Ash, Film & Foliage) and a collection of Newcastle based wedding vendors came up with the idea of creating a one-stop elopement collaborative that specialised in creating bespoke destination elopements in epic locations…internationally!

And that is when Anteloping was born.

From there, Cooper started the social media account ‘The Wilderness Chef’ as a way of showing a form of alter ego, a young, passionate chef with a desire to travel & explore the outdoors! Anteloping elopements were unique in many ways including the ability to get married & then dine in any location…anywhere!

I (Cooper) began catering all events on gas stoves, charcoal fire pit & oven open flame, hence The Wilderness Chef.

I began sharing the dining experience I had created, whether that was in the comfort of someone’s own home or the side of a 100m cliff!! (literally)

I began receiving organic enquiries for wedding & event catering and as a young man with a passion to keep busy & continue to challenge myself, I said yes to everything. Not out of a desire for maximum revenue but to achieve the accomplishment of providing restaurant-quality dining experiences in any location. ‘Any location, any occasion, any number of guests’ quickly became a phrase often used.

What sustainability initiatives do you have in your business and how easy or difficult are they to meet?

cooked fish in a compostable containercooked fish in a compostable container

Sustainability for not only the environment but for ourselves and those around us is very important to me & our team. We obviously take all measures to recycle and compost and always endeavour to reduce landfill in whatever way possible.

We purchase cartons/loose items instead of packaged items and continue to research and innovate in ways to try and reduce our footprint as a company.

Where does BioPak fit into your business offering? How did you hear about us and what motivated you to switch to home compostable, rapidly-renewable sugarcane packaging?

I have always been a close follower of BioPak and similar green-based brands. Your neutral carbon footprint and incredibly versatile packaging made it a no brainer when it came to choosing a company to not only use their products but ultimately to support their brand and their mission as a whole.

The highlight: the ability to provide restaurant-quality meals in biodegradable packaging WHICH CAN GO STRAIGHT INTO THE OVEN & MICROWAVE…..WOW!!

Are you new to take away as part of navigating through COVID-19?

OH YES!! The Wilderness Chef is a multi-award winning catering company specialising in providing restaurant-quality dining experiences anywhere, anytime. We had never considered packages meals or prepared meals for that matter…until COVID.

“After having all of our weddings and events for the next 6 months postponed, we were faced with no revenue and the decision to shut the shop for the time being or to pivot, push, grind and fight the situation head-on. We chose option two!”

Within 2 weeks we had hired two apprentices who had lost their jobs as a result of COVID whilst keeping myself & my only other full-time staff member employed.

How important is sustainable packaging to your business?

a person pouring a sauce in an sugarcane containera person pouring a sauce in an sugarcane container

For me personally and the company it is a non-negotiable!! Unfortunately, I think it is something that is often overlooked by consumers & they are often driven by convenience & value for money over quality of the product & sustainability.

Education is really important to us too. It’s one of our huge market points. It is also one of the main reasons we continue to tag, link and share your incredible product with our clientele and online with a following of more than 15,000 users.

“The versatility of your product is a huge selling point for us. We are able to provide a chef-prepared, restaurant-quality product which can be extremely easily heated.”

We also find the sugarcane lids can create different heating environments for certain meals. For example, lid on to slowly warm through certain curries and meals whereas lid off for our pasta dishes and meat-based dishes to encourage caramelisation and texture!”

Not only am I looking to share this knowledge with our clientele but also with other chefs, restaurants and meal producers as I believe BioPak is the best option & most sustainable option I have found. The more people who jump on this the better and I am here to help in whatever way possible!

In our first month we were selling approximately 750 packaged meals every week (750 BioPak containers and the same number of lids). This has slowed slightly but we have also added other menu items such as packaged banquets and multi-package meals so I believe this number will remain fairly constant through the coming months.

I have various concepts that I believe could really compliment the BioPak packaging. I am hoping to launch some various options to the public and would love to partner with BioPak to make that happen!

What other qualities or certifications do you look out for in a supplier?

Prior to committing to working with any brand/product (whether that be a local producer or supplier or a large company/brand that we access via distributors (ie BioPak) I always research the company/brand, their location, reviews, company structure and set up, production location, turnaround time, availability, etc.

“Whilst doing this diligence I found out that you were BCorp certified. I currently work with another BCorp company so am familiar with the criteria to qualify. This is an incredible accomplishment and a badge of honour that should be worn with pride.”

What challenges and opportunities in your business currently facing and has sustainable packaging contributed to any of these in a positive way?

Our business has gone from a brand that charges anywhere from $45-$450 per person for dining experiences to a company which is charging $15-$20 for the average meal. At this price point, the economy of scale becomes crucial!

By the time compulsory charges are applied, price point and therefore food cost and fixed expenses are difficult to manage during this unprecedented period. Cash flow becomes difficult to manage when items need to be purchased in advance or in bulk. We are also constantly facing the choice of holding firm or adapting and changing with the times. As restaurants begin to open and restrictions begin to lift we are beginning to cater to private events and provide chefs to cater to people’s homes any night of the week!

What feedback would you give to fellow businesses in the foodservice industry during these uncertain times?

chef happily caters in the wildernesschef happily caters in the wilderness

Monitor your expenses as closely as possible. Cut costs where possible but NEVER sacrifice quality! MARKETING, MARKETING, MARKETING!! There are SO MANY free marketing strategies available. Instagram, Facebook, door knocking!! If you are proud of your brand and your product then you should never be ashamed to share it with others or to tell others about it.

If you could leave a short review for BioPak, what would it be?

By using BioPak packaging we not only have the confidence that our packaged meals will remain fresh for multiple days but also that the integrity of the packaging will never be compromised!

When we first started using BioPak we did an experiment. How long can hot water sit in a sugarcane container for before it goes soggy? After a few days, we were convinced that the packaging would outlast our food so we had nothing to worry about!

“As a professional chef, I find the heating and storage capabilities of BioPak to be truly astounding. Items can be stored for multiple days without the packaging becoming soft or damaged and can then go directly into the oven or microwave; it’s even freezer-proof!”

Classy, sustainable, afford to package…nothing compares!

We would love to thank Cooper for talking to us so honestly and can’t wait to see where The Wilderness Chef and his team will cook up a storm next!

Looking to switch from conventional plastic? Take a look out our range of compostable BioCane takeaway containers.