Jemima Jones and Lucy Carr-Ellison joined forces three years ago to create TART London, an increasingly multi-faceted and ambitious catering company that has set a new benchmark in on-site catering for fashion shoots and beyond. Their impressively high profile client list (from Gucci and Givenchy to Versace and Vogue) attests to the relish with which the industry was crying out for nourishment that is not only nutritious and freshly cooked but also genuinely enticing and innovative.
When Semaine joins the two London-by-way-of-New-York chefs in Jemima’s kitchen, the pair are in the midst of relaying to the photographer an exhaustive, enthusiastic inventory of the many culinary curios that fill the kitchen (the antique pestle and mortar is a centrepiece; the finest Japanese knives feature prominently, naturally). It is an impressive place of work, one that gleams and bustles in the way that the best creative spaces tend to. Light pours in despite its basement level location and the unforgiving North London weather outside, and the obvious passion that Lucy and Jemima share for their chosen vocation shines throughout the conversation.
Jemima, a former model, knows a thing or two about bad photoshoot catering could be from her pre-TART days… ‘I was always shocked with how bad the catering was, when the money on the shoots was so good and then we’re all sitting around eating cold sandwiches… it’s so sad when you just get a cold sandwich!’ Its a momentary falter however, as the memory triggers a much happier revelation: ‘it just seemed like the coolest and the most amazing thing to realise there was a huge niche in the market for fresh, on-site cooking.’
For Lucy, the seeds of TART were sewn when she returned from studying photography in New York. She was confronted with a sharp realisation no doubt familiar to most new graduates fresh out of art school… She needed to make some money. ‘So I’d help out on shoots at a location house near where I lived in Northumberland,’ she says. ‘I’d end up helping out on the cooking side of things, and [that progressed to] catering by myself, cooking on-site. Lucy attributes her early success to that initial dedication to actual on-site catering - ‘driving around with a very full car of pots and pans’ when most catering companies would, and still do, simply order in. At a prescient point in 2013, Jemima came onboard and, as Lucy phrases it, ‘the TART was born!’
The fact that they prepare everything themselves has leant the pair a much-welcomed adaptability when it comes to the delays and demands inherent to a hectic photoshoot. When asked what the craziest catering request was that they ever received from the multitude of stars they’ve worked with, Jemima counters that its ‘actually the really bland, basic stuff that we find crazy.’ Elaborating in a way that suggests she has a specific moment in mind, yet far too professional to name names, she continues: ‘like, if I were a big movie star I would be asking for something a bit more extravagant than… packeted ham and low fat cottage cheese.’
They have also benefitted from a shift in culture amongst the fashion elite. ‘We find that models are the ones that eat quite well,’ says Jemima. ‘They need to keep feeding the machine and they’re into nutritious food which is great because we put on such healthy, balanced spreads. Models today really want to look after themselves - they’re not starving themselves, living off cigarettes and champagne!’
Having created such a well-received niche for themselves in the catering industry, Jemima and Lucy are inevitably looking to push the boundaries of what they can achieve with TART. Last year they opened a pop-up restaurant in Queen’s Park which was, Lucy says, ‘the most amazing experience. It was just completely different to the way that we normally cook where we’re always putting on spreads. There we could really concentrate on individual plates, we had wonderful fresh ingredients brought in…’ Jemima joins in and the two overlap as they eulogise about the big boxes of delicious-sounding goods that they received each morning for the two month duration of the pop-up.
Alongside plans for another pop-up this year, the pair are also working on their first recipe book and expanding their TART line of products: from jams, chutneys and granolas which they develop themselves to aprons, oven mitts and other products for the kitchen.
If there is one overarching ethos behind the evolution of TART however, it seems to be summed up by a telling moment towards the end of the conversation whilst discussing their love of ‘whipping up the naughtiest macaroni cheese’ at the end of a long day. In true sisterly fashion, they complete each other’s sentence to instinctively concoct the following mission statement:
‘If you take all the joy out of eating…’
‘…then you take all the joy out of life!’
By James Darton for Semaine