Photo Essay: Tess, Box-E And Cabbage Pancakes

MAZI founder Melanie chats to Tess. A local lockdown hero who, with her husband, owns Michelin starred restaurant BOX - E.

When the world stopped and the hospitality industry faced unprecedented challenges in March last year, Tess took on a mammoth task – to provide roughly 200 Bristol care leavers with emergency food boxes each week.  With ingredients donated by Total Bristol, FareShare and other generous contributors, Tess, her husband and their two lovely daughters took over a space at Ashton Gate Stadium and started packing over 200 boxes a week.

But Tess wanted to do more. She added one of her own delicious recipes into each box with online tutorials and worked with the Bristol Independent food scene to add any tasty treats she knew would make the boxes extra special.

Fast forward a year and Tess has delivered over:

2,700 boxes to Bristol’s care leavers – incredible and inspiring!

I first met Tess, in February, when I had my initial idea for MAZI. I knew she would be a great person to talk to about her own experiences and for advice on getting started. I met her and the family on a day they were packing. It was incredible to see the love and care that went into each box. I knew straight away their values aligned with my own, and what I envisioned for MAZI. I asked Tess to donate a recipe to MAZI and she chose cabbage pancakes; a recipe that went down a treat with the care leavers. I was lucky enough to photograph her cooking the recipe in the BOX – E kitchen – a cosy and welcoming space that matched the kind characteristics of the couple.

Although her husband Elliot is the chef at BOX – E, his and Tess’s love of cooking is mutual. 

She remembers coming home from school to instructions left by her dad for her and her brother, who is now a professional chef, on how to cook lasagne. It’s memories such as these that ignited her passion for food – lasagne is still a family favourite!

“Dinner is time for family”, Tess says. Whether the couple is at home or at the restaurant, they always eat all together.

“Food shouldn’t be a privilege. It’s a right we have as humans and, as a mum myself, I can’t imagine the pain so many parents who face food poverty must feel not being able to afford food for their children.”
Like me, Tess is driven by her love for food and its power. Her favorite part of working in the hospitality industry has been the people she’s met. Since opening BOX – E four years ago, she still can’t believe how much people care about the restaurant. It isn’t solely about the food, but the relationships her customers create within the restaurant and with the staff that make it so special.
“Don’t stuff it up now Elliot,” says Tess, just before the be-all or end-all pancake flip. Flipped and ready to go, I ask Tess the big question, what she believes is the power of food.
“The power of food is connecting people. It’s more than love. It’s building a relationship with others. There are so many barriers to people having access to the right food, to good food. But actually, it’s so easy to connect through food. Even if that’s like ‘what’s your favourite flavour crisps’, it’s a conversation starter and that’s its power.”
Together, the MAZI Project and BOX – E hope to challenge our cities food disparity and make tasty and sustainable food accessible and affordable to all. With events for young people, possible career opportunities and so much more, I can’t wait for this aMAZIng collaboration to grow.
As we wrap up our conversation, Tess is pouring the soy sauce on the side and passes me the cutlery… I dig in.  Of course, it’s delicious. A perfect, quick and easy recipe that opens up a new world to traditional pancakes.

Tess’s story is just one of how food can connect and inspire everyone

These are the people and stories behind MAZI

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