When I’m at a market, my eyes light up when I see a collection of handmade things in jars, ideally labeled by hand in spidery blue script. I’m a big fan of home cooking, and some of my favourite condiments, jams and pickles have been fringe items that are too labour-intensive or small-run to be commercially feasible. My eyes are always searching for the next cumquat jam, crab apple jelly, or curried cucumber pickle. So my interest was definitely piqued by FoodByUs, which is basically a kind of electronic bridge between tiny artisan food producers who might sell by market stall, and their next level, which might involve some sort of permanent store.
Cleverly, the FoodByUs website focuses most heavily upon items that will travel well – like doughnuts, cupcakes and pies. They also have a strong showing in categories that might be hard to find – like vegan offerings, and products that are gluten-free. I was pleased to see producers on there that I was already familiar with, like Sydney bagel king, Michael Shafran from Brooklyn Boy Bagels. “In a nutshell, I chose them because their platform was the best I've seen (and I've seen a lot of platforms) and their fees and delivery structure are reasonable. Lots of guys are out there charging 30% per delivery, which is most of the margin you get in a food business, which isn't sustainable,” Michael explained.
After spending some time on the FoodByUs website trawling through various tasty options, from South American alfajores and empanadas, to Mexican pan de muerto - Day of the Dead ‘Altar Bread’, I finally settled upon Broomfield’s Pie Co.. Their Tasting Menu ($35) of four seasonal pie selections from UK-trained piemaker, Ryan Broomfield, caught my eye for an unusual ham and black pudding pie varietal. Sadly the menu hadn't been updated, and Ryan had already moved onto his Spring menu, but he replied quickly through the platform, offering me both an explanation, alternative selections and a tantilising promise: “the puddings are from my local butcher in Freshwater. I will let you know when I do them again.”
Luckily for me, Ryan's Lamb, Ale, Lemon and Pea Pie ($10) was a thing of beauty. It encased a generous amount of Cowra spring lamb shoulder braised in Coopers ale with roasted onion, garlic cream, barley, preserved lemons, peas and thyme in a stiff-sided, butter pastry pie firm enough to pick up and eat with my fingers. The four pies arrived to our door well-packaged, with simple heating instructions (bake for 15-20 minutes in an oven pre-heated to 180 degrees Celcius) for an additional five-dollar delivery fee. What I liked most about this seller was his use of fellow market stall holders' products in his pies, like Prickle Hill sugar plums and Worcestershire sauce. You’ll also find Aussie-grown Love Beets baby beetroot in his Feta Beets & Asparagus ($10) pie; and Eden Smokehouse's hot smoked salmon in his creamy Fish Pie ($10). Of course using such high quality ingredients do make these pies a little pricy.
From a consumer's perspective, if you struggle to find time on Saturday mornings to trawl farmers’ markets, you may find FoodByUs worthwhile, because it does gives you the chance to access artisan food makers with food delivered directly to your door. In terms of food safety, FoodByUs Marketing Director Leonardo Wilhelm assured me that all makers “have to provide proof that they have notified their local council and sign a contract that they are responsible to make sure they follow food regulations.” And while this only a new platform with little customer feedback to date, as it grows, repeated negative reviews will likely see any low quality makers removed pretty quick.
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