We take a peek through the keyhole at the Abel & Cole buying den. Each week we'll collar one of our buying boffins for a chat to see what makes them tick and what they love about food. This week we meet Ilyas, our Dairy & Deli devotee.
Ask a buyer: dairy and delicatessen
Tell us a little bit about how you
got started working with food
I have always had this passion, coming mainly from my father who is an exceptional cook. While studying something quite unrelated at university (politics), I helped out on a friend’s market stall smoke-roasting beef. We ended up meeting with the buyer from Fortnum’s and Selfridges and getting listings in both stores. When my degree finished and I quickly ran out of money, I called this buyer and asked for a job. Roughly six years later and here we are.
What do you love about
working at Abel & Cole?
It's really great to work for a business with ethics at its heart. It has been a revelation for me learning about the organic market and the state of food production, not just globally, but here in the UK. It is quite humbling to realise how little you actually know about the industry in which you have been operating, and the impact it is having on the planet. Each day is a school day and both my colleagues and suppliers have so much information to share; I’m incredibly lucky.
What you love most about
looking after cheese & deli?
I am from farming stock. My mother’s side of the family have historically worked as dairy farmers in Northern Holland, so much of my childhood was spent in the milking parlour of my uncle’s organic dairy farm. It’s been a joy to re-discover that connection, and support small scale, often family run, farms and dairies. There’s also a real opportunity within my categories to be creative, be that through product or range development. The exciting thing about organic is that there’s so much to do – the UK market is far behind that of America and Western Europe, so there are regular opportunities to show genuine innovation. Also, I buy cheese for a living, and get to eat a lot of it, so that’s great too.
What's your most memorable
working day so far?
Unsurprisingly, the most memorable days tend to be the ones out of the office. It’s not always easy but I try to visit a supplier at least once a week, and I’ve had some amazing days out in the countryside learning about food production from genuinely passionate farmers, growers, and makers. Last autumn I had the opportunity to visit a bio-dynamic farm in West Wales, run by a woman called Liz. Spending a couple of days with her on her farm, learning about bio-dynamic farming, was a real eye opener. The nature of these farming systems mean that they are difficult to scale commercially, so having the opportunity to work with her and bring her products to a wider audience, through Abel & Cole, is a rare pleasure.
What else do you think
Abel & Colers should know?
They probably already know it, but just the amount of hard work put in by our farmers. Obviously everyone’s got to earn a living, but more often than not the work being done is fuelled by a genuine desire to look after our planet.