“Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food.” So said food guru Michael Pollan, an inspiration to many of us hoping to resist the wave of “Frankenfoods” with unpronounceable ingredients (tertiary butylhydroquinone, anyone?) that has swept our supermarkets.
Pollan would probably feel right at home in the warehouse of Singapore company Redgum, where shelves are lined with jars of traditionally preserved olives, pickles and jams, artisanal cheeses and box upon box of fresh, crisp salad leaves.
Redgum is run by a dream team of master chef Roland Scherer, his wife Elena, whose mum originally founded the company in 1989, and former head deli buyer for Cold Storage, Ayse Davies.
“When Mum came to Singapore she looked at some of the produce available and said, ‘This is absolute rubbish’,” Elena recalls. “What was exported to Singapore from Australia was only what couldn’t be sold at home, and as a result the country had a bad reputation amongst the mainly European chefs operating at the time.”
All that soon changed when Elena’s mum persuaded just one member of the “Swiss-German chef mafia” to take on board her product. From a couple of boxes of baby courgettes in 1989, the company now brings three to six tonnes of fresh Australian produce to Singapore each week, and making use of Roland’s culinary skills, has launched the Olive Grove line of gourmet antipasto, produced in their own kitchens here in Singapore.
“Although the scale has increased hugely since Roland and I took over the business, we’ve maintained Mum’s belief in quality, and that’s reflected in how selective we are with the brands we bring in, the customers we serve and the freshness of the products,” says Elena. Redgum’s salad leaves, for example, are sourced directly from the farm, where they are picked, cut, washed, shipped via an unbroken cool-chain and on plates within 48 hours.
“I am a big believer in a healthy lifestyle, and that very much impacts how we run our business and how we live our lives,” says Roland.
“If you come for a dinner party at our place, very often the first course is ‘things we sell, on a plate’,” adds Elena. “If we weren’t happy to serve it on its own merits, we wouldn’t be happy to sell it. When my first son was born, I really started to think carefully about what we put in our bodies – when you start to look into what goes into some food it’s scary.”
Redgum’s biggest customer is Cold Storage – look for the Hussey & Co label on packed salad mixes; most of the deli items are also from Redgum. But they also supply gourmet supermarkets like Jones the Grocer and Market Place with foodie favourite brands like Maggie Beer and King Island, and many of Singapore’s top restaurants.
“When an order came through from the Singapore restaurant of Joel Robuchon, a three-star Michelin chef, that was the moment I could say, ‘Well done Roland’,” laughs Roland, who himself trained in classical French cuisine and worked as an executive chef at various five-star hotels.
“I grew up in a small town in Germany, making sausages in my father’s butcher shop. We’ve come a long way and we’ve still got big plans.”