Since I have grown up in Chester, I feel I may have take in for granted how brilliant the zoo was when I was younger. Now I have a young family, Chester Zoo is a cornerstone in the handful of places we consistently go, year in, year out.
No matter where I go in the world, when you say you’re from Chester, people always mention “we love the Zoo there!”. As a born and bred Cestrian, I wear my city’s famous zoo badge with honour.
When we came up with the concept of doing our popups in increasingly amazing venues as we grow this sector of our business, the Zoo has always been on my radar as a ‘MUST’ to host one of these very special evenings.
We have been friends with the guys and gals at the Chef’s Table for some time. Having been a patron of their restaurant and also doing a brief stint in the kitchen there, I hold their ethics and professionalism in very high regard. In a passing conversation with them last year, it was suggested that we should try and do something together. A meeting was penned and over a coffee I put forward we should do a popup in Chester Zoo that pushed not only our own boundaries but those of anything like this that has ever happened before.
The planning for this has been ongoing since November 2017. Meeting up once a month to share menu concepts, ideas, logistics and also how to implement a restaurant in a place that houses endangered species of all varieties, it turns out its quite difficult!
Since our popup in a WWII bunker, I now felt nothing could phase me. Since planning one in the centre of a zoo, I have felt humbled at the growth our company has made since then!
When we approached the zoo with our idea, I thought we would be met with either a cold “NO WAY” or it would just fizzle out as an idea that would just be not feasible in the slightest. Instead, we met with the team that heads up the zoo with a matched enthusiasm and passion to create an amazing guest experience like nothing that has gone before. Throughout this whole process, they have been so accommodating and have encouraged us to really elevate our imaginations of what we originally envisaged for this set of evenings at the Zoo.
When going through the concept process, I really had to delve into the inner-workings of the Zoo along with the rich history. I have been really left in awe of not only George Mottershead and his determination of preservation of the highest order, but how that has been carried through the ages and is still upheld by the team that drives the globally recognised conservation work that is carried out by one of our city’s most loved icons.
We wanted to honour this in a culinary journey through the history of the zoo, the work they do and also to the amazing surroundings our guests will be seated. The ‘Botanists Lab’ is a new area to the zoo which encourages guests to get hands on with edible plans and herbs and how they are a vital part of the habitat of many insects as well as animals and humans alike. It is this harmony that we are also going to celebrate in our unique menu.
Another reason why we wanted to do this at Chester Zoo is the link we have to them via their ‘Sustainable Palm Oil’ project. As someone who is acutely aware of the impact we as humans have on our planet, anything we can do to make a better future for generations to come is a problem we all face now. Being invited by the Zoo to attend a summit on how to make the food industry palm oil sustainable was such an amazing experience that really hit home the damage that is done by using unsustainable palm oil sources and what this causes to animal habitats.
Cat Barton, who is part of the ‘Palm Oil Sustainability Project’ at the Zoo said
“We launched our Sustainable Palm Oil Challenge in 2014 as a response to this problem, working with consumers, manufacturers, businesses and the palm oil industry to increase the demand for sustainable palm oil. We started small within the zoo and audited our own supply chain, ensuring that food products we stock in our shops and restaurants containing palm oil were from sustainable sources.
As part of a wider community behaviour change campaign, we are now bringing other businesses in the city on-board, working together to overcome barriers to adopting sustainable palm oil.
Sustainable Palm Oil City is an initiative led by Chester Zoo alongside key conservation and industry partners, supported by a host of advisors and endorsed by conservation colleagues. This project is about collaboration and creating a pride in our community, aiming to create a community of businesses in Chester who all use and promote sustainable palm oil. It’s maybe not realistic at this stage to expect every single organisation in Chester to use sustainable palm oil but it is our ultimate long-term goal!
To start us off on the journey we identified five target areas in the food and hospitality industry which we and experts in the field felt would have an impact on suppliers in the local area.
These include restaurants, cafes, schools and local authority catering providers. We’re asking businesses to make a pledge and use our freely available resources to make a change. Importantly, we’re asking them to make their pledge public and spread the word in the goal to make Chester a sustainable palm oil city.”
It is this level of enthusiasm and commitment to work together with likeminded businesses that, for me, has truly represented this popup project. To all stand together to present an unforgettable set of evenings that brings together a city to present a menu that represents the start of the Zoo’s early life, the amazing conservation work they have done and continue to do, the beautiful botanist garden but also the team there today that welcomed our ‘off the wall’ idea and what a privilege it is to welcome Chester’s citizens into what will be one of the most unique restaurant settings in the world!