This year, we’re running a monthly feature on one wonderful member. They’ll share what they’ve been getting up to, where their passions lie, and why they decided to join Echo in the first place to trade their skills and services for time, not £s and pence.
This month we shine the spotlight on Mareli Pelzer, founder of The Tastery…
Mareli so lovely to meet you. Tell us a little about yourself
Hi, I am originally from South Africa, where I grew up and did a postgraduate degree in drama. I worked as an actor, producer, and director. The year I finished my studies, was the year all arts councils in South Africa disbanded, so I started an educational theatre company that tours to schools nationally. It’s been 20 years and it’s still going strong.
I also worked a lot in comedy, producing and acting for TV, radio, and festivals and I absolutely loved it.
Before coming to the UK, I lived in Singapore for two years, exploring the region: Malaysia, Thailand, India, Borneo, Bali and all the jungles of Southeast Asia and that’s where my passion for food got ignited.
I have been in London 8 years now and still super happy to be here.
You’re based in Hackney Wick – what drew you to the area?
The culture, the vibe, the people and their innovative spirit. I am so glad I didn’t accidentally land in another area of London because this is where I belong. It’s interesting and vibrant, alive with possibilities. I love Hackney Wick’s waterways and its ever-changing walls filled with Street Art.
I live in a flat with high windows and what attracted me to Hackney Wick was the sky and the water. I love it!
You’ve set up your own catering business called The Tastery – tell us more.
The Tastery is what it says… a place where it’s all about taste! It started out as a supper club in my flat in Hackney Wick and private catering company, and I still happily take commissions for food events when people want something really unique and memorable.
I make everything from scratch and you can taste the difference. Foraging the Hackney Marshes excites me. I steep my own gin and I like working with unusual flavour profiles. Basically exploring taste!
The Tastery’s main business has developed into baking for special occasions. Wedding and celebration cakes, unusual bespoke bakes, high-end cakes and biscuits of any kind. I’ve worked hard at developing most of my cakes to also now be vegan-friendly, and importantly as delicious, moist and yummy as traditional cake.
I love the challenge of bringing people’s dreams to life – literally any design you can think of, I will attempt in cake!
How did you hear about Echo and what attracted you to join?
I saw it advertised in a Hackney themed Facebook group and was immediately drawn to the concept of exchanging time for time with other forward-thinking people. I got excited about the possibility of learning and giving my skills and talents to other people.
How did the Echo++ course help you get your business idea off the ground?
I was on Echo++ course specifically tailored for food entrepreneurs called Food++. The programme really helped me clarify what my business was and where I wanted it to go and I met incredibly interesting people who have since become firm friends.
Food++ gave me the confidence to believe in my idea and the tools I needed to talk confidently about my business, along with the reassurance that comes from learning alongside other food professionals in my field. It felt like we had each other’s backs, I was lucky to meet them all.
After pitching my business at Demo Day I was awarded a ‘prize’ by the guest judges and I received mentoring from a director of a supper club platform and learned so much from the opportunity.
Have you had any lightbulb moments since starting the business?
Yes! It’s okay for your business to change over time. Don’t worry if things change. As long as your principles (your ‘Why am I doing this?) are still the same, you can be flexible and grow in any direction. Evolve.
Always say yes! To new ideas, to new input, to new opportunities. Don’t be afraid of things you don’t know. Other people have incredible insight and knowledge. Share and celebrate the positive insights from both sides.
Very importantly, follow your gut instinct and only work with nice people. You do have a choice.
Finally and probably most importantly, do not waste your time on things you don’t like. Focus all your energy on what you really like and keep on honing your skills. That’s the sure way to succeed.
What kinds of things have you traded on Echo so far?
I’ve baked cakes for the Hackney Wick Silver Surfers’ Tea Party, catered for a community event at Hub 67 for local families in Hackney Wick. Provided catering for several Echo socials, events, and workshops, and I was lucky enough to do work experience with Pratap Chahal (previously chef at Gordon Ramsay Claridges, Chez Bruce, Cinnamon Club) when he did his supper club (That Hungry Chef). He has since opened his own restaurant Flavour Bastard in Soho – well worth a visit.
What’s been your favourite Echo experience so far? You can have more than one.
It would have to be having the opportunity to showcase my work to the CEO of the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC), representing entrepreneurship within the Hackney Wick community, and showcasing the positive impact Echo has had on my business. I baked her one of the cakes from my new signature range and thankfully, she really liked it. And, my next step is that I will now be catering and baking for the LLDC Board next meeting. One good thing leads to the next…I love it!
What advice would you give to someone just joining Echo?
See it as an opportunity to give first of all, rather than to receive. Let me explain what I mean. People only trust other people whose work they’ve seen and who they’ve spent time with. See if you can help someone with their project and the community will reciprocate.
What are you currently offering on the marketplace?
Celebration Cake Consultation: I can help you plan the perfect cake for any occasion, whether I make it or just guide you if you want to make it yourself.
Extraordinary Cake Sculpture: I am looking for someone adventurous, someone who has a big event planned, someone with imagination who wants to intrigue and wow their guests, someone who is willing to take a chance on the beautiful unknown. Together we will create a cake of dreams.
What’s are you focusing your energy on 2018?
I am very excited about my new range of cake sculptures. They’re all white and organic shapes, inspired by porcelain. I call it my Cabinet of Curiosities. I want to challenge the distinction between cake and art and am looking for an open-minded art gallery to exhibit my work – and then we’ll eat it all!
What’s your favourite hidden gem in East London that people might not know about?
You need a bit of luck…but sometimes in the evening, when you’re walking on the canal path in Hackney Wick behind the German Deli, the chefs put out the leftovers from that days’ baking for any lucky souls that happen to pass by. It is the most generous, decadent gift I can think of and it’s always a surprise and just pure enjoyment.
I’ve enjoyed getting to know the guys at Gymbia. It’s a gym in Schwarz Wharf that also donates to the Gambian Maternity Foundation. I like their holistic approach and the classes are really friendly.
You can find more on Mareli and The Tastery: