Being vegan does not mean you’ll miss out on indulgent desserts. A pioneer of the ‘no-cheese’ cheesecake is Elspeth from Elspeth’s Kitchen and Norty. She shares her story behind her stunning, delicious and healthy sweet treats.
Elspeth has been making vegan, free-from desserts and puddings since 2016, after leaving her career in London to focus on something that she is truly passionate about. She has a commercial kitchen in Bristol, where every dessert, pudding, nut butter and drink blend are lovingly hand-crafted, prepared and packaged. Elspeth wants to bring fun, guilt free food to everyone, and she believes in the power of colourful and nutritious food to heal and promote wellness, whilst also looking after our planet. When she is not in the kitchen, you’ll find her at markets and festivals sharing her passion with others.
Tell us a bit about Elspeth’s Kitchen desserts – what are they?
Elspeth’s Kitchen create delicious raw vegan cakes that are gluten-free, refined sugar-free and soya free allowing for all the indulgence without any feelings of guilt. Elspeth’s Kitchen create a number of satisfying desserts from Banoffee Cheesecake to Triple Chocolate Torte to a Chocolate Hazelnut ‘Nutella’ Slice and Salted Date Caramel Slices, there is always something for everyone! The No-Cheese Cheesecakes are made using cashew nuts which give an amazing soft, smooth, creamy texture which literally melts in your mouth. The flavours are mostly inspired from Elspeth’s travels abroad whilst working on superyachts as a private chef, taking her inspiration from different cultures, creating colourful layers and pretty decorations. Each cake is lovingly handmade by Elspeth and her team at their kitchen in Bristol.
What inspired you to start Elspeth’s Kitchen and then Norty?
In 2012 I discovered I had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome which was a huge shock to me, as like a lot of people, I had always considered myself pretty fit and healthy. Discovering that I had lots of small cysts on my ovaries and a lack of my monthly cycle I suddenly felt like a bit of a stranger in my own body. I felt vulnerable and disempowered as I wasn’t equipped with any knowledge on how to help myself, just my doctor telling me to go back on the contraceptive pill which I didn’t really feel was the long term solution. That year was really tough because at the same time my dad was been diagnosed with kidney disease and told to go on medication for the rest of his life.
He refused the medication and instead looked to plant based food as medicine, standing in his own power and taking the situation into his own hands. I followed in his footsteps.
We went on a journey and along the way discovered the health benefits of a plant-based diet. My father and I both knew this natural approach was the right one for us. We saw the great benefits it had on both our physical and mental health and I ended up being vegan without realising it! At the time, I was living in Croatia working as a private chef. I started to feel really bad about cooking foods for people that I felt were slowly eroding their bodies and so I stopped without really any idea of what I was going to do!
I moved back to England and started teaching yoga whilst making some raw vegan cakes on the side. One day, on a whim, I took some cakes into a local restaurant and cafe and they both rang me up the next day saying that they hold sold out! That was when Elspeth’s Kitchen was born! No business plan, no finances, no professional kitchen, just me, one Magimix and my tiny little home kitchen! From here, I started stocking into more places and attending lots of events and festivals all over the south of England. I loved sharing my treats with others and seeing the smiles on peoples faces when they tried my desserts and cakes for the first time.
This gave me the idea for creating the desserts in jars. I knew that this way I would be able to share my treats with more people. I took the best selling flavours of desserts from Elspeth’s Kitchen and launched Norty in 2018.
These pudding pots are made of a delicious crumbly oat base, layered with a plant-based cheesecake and a gooey date caramel, finished with a yummy superfood topping. Every pud is lovingly handmade at The Norty Kitchen and comes in a cute glass jar with a lid so that you can re-use or upcycle it at home.
What skills did you come to the business with already and how has this helped grow your business?
I studied Law at University and practiced for a while in London. This taught me how to be organised, how to prioritise and how to keep my paperwork in good order, all great skills when running your own business. I worked for two entrepreneurs before leaving London and helped set-up and run two food related businesses so this also gave me a good idea of the work involved including back-end operations, building my own website and registering a company and also taught me how things can take so much longer than you think!
I trained as a chef in Florence in Italy so a good background knowledge of different food ingredients and flavour combinations has given me huge confidence when creating new flavours.
Ultimately I grew up in a very foodie family, and have always loved food so that definitely helped! I suppose I came with an idea of what I wanted to bring, which was a fun and guilt-free attitude to indulgence, that is good for you and for the environment! I think you just have to be willing to put all of your time, energy and money into something at the beginning, if you have a vision then it is worth going for!
How have bloggers and online influencers helped you grow your brand?
I get people emailing me all of the time asking to collaborate which is great fun and it’s so nice to build a network of like-minded people around you. My theory is that whatever you gives comes back twofold so be open to new ideas and relationships.
What’s the most challenging thing about setting up your own Vegan Dessert business?
Honestly, it’s instant dismissal of the fact that the products are vegan. Obviously people who follow a vegan diet, are free-from or health focused are into it, but those who don’t are often very sceptical and hesitate to even try a sample simply because they are afraid they won’t like it. Challenging the perception that a vegan diet is restrictive is difficult, hence why I wanted to make my desserts and puddings as delicious and indulgent as possible so that whoever you are or whatever your diet you will not feel like you are missing out.
What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before you started?
Running your own business can definitely feel pretty tough at times. The thing that I would say I have struggled with the most is doing it on my own. I would be lying if I said that there aren’t highs and lows and often no one to share it with or no-one that really ‘gets it’. My advice would be to get a business partner from the start, someone that will share the journey with you and who complements your strengths.
What is the most worthwhile investment (time, energy, money) that you have made?
The most important part of the business this year has been the staff around me. Having a great and supportive team around you who love to come to work in the morning is hugely important. Selecting a team that have different strengths to you really means that you have a better chance at moving forwards and being successful.
What one failure are you glad you experienced.
I wouldn’t say that any one error or disaster has stood out particularly, it’s more that we take chances and we aren’t afraid to try things that might not work out. It’s all about learning from small mistakes so that the big ones don’t happen!
What one piece of advice would you give to someone who is thinking about starting their own business?
Do it! And don’t question yourself or your reasonings when things get a bit difficult. It’s okay to have no idea what you’re doing, I don’t think many people do when they’re first starting out.
What are you most excited by?
I am most excited by the growing vegan and free-from community! Already around Bristol we are seeing so many more vegetarian and vegan restaurants opening, so it’s reassuring to know that more and more people are open to change and trying something a bit different. It’s a necessary thing as our planet changes, so I’m excited to see where the vegan food industry goes over the next five years!