Geetie Singh of the Duke of Cambridge in North London

"Always stand by your principles - you may be less well off financially, but you will be better off in yourself. Money just buys you the same stuff but at a higher price."

Geetie SinghBetween the ages of two and 17, Geetie grew up in a commune in the Midlands which was self sufficient in organic food. This was the inspiration behind her decision to open an organic gastro pub in 1997, after 10 years of working in restaurants (and a stint training to be an opera singer).

Many awards have followed - starting with Time Out 'Pub of the Year' and more recently the Good Pub Guide's 'London Dining Pub of the Year'. Geetie was winner of Eastern Eye Business Woman of the Year Award 2008 and is a Trustee of the Soil Association.

Geetie was awarded an MBE for Services to the Organic Pub Trade in 2009 and her cookbook, 'Geetie's Cookbook: Recipes from the Duke of Cambridge Organic Pub', came out in May 2010. She had a daughter in May 2009.

Can you give a short history of how you got to where you are now, including why and when you 'went organic'?

Having worked in restaurants for 10 years I was disillusioned by the lack of sustainability. I grew up in a commune in the Midlands, which was politically based and was self sufficient on its own organic food. I felt confident that a restaurant could be run differently, and that consumers wanted food with ethics attached - especially in the light of climate change. Being certified by the Soil Association was the first step in this process.

Can you describe a typical day in your life?

Not really, I don't have a typical day, which is why I love my job so much! I do lots of paper work and press interviews and generally oversee the business from accounts to legalities to shareholders and staffing. I also am involved with many like minded businesses and committees like London Food and London Remade.

Who are your customers and where are they?

Our customers are a huge cross-range from families to businesses. People come as they think it's a great restaurant first and foremost, but see the values of the company as an added bonus.

Organic principles - why do they matter?

To me it's about stewardship, doing minimal harm to the planet with our consumption. Having a lifestyle that is in harmony with our planet, not raping it. It's about treating the planet and all who reside on her with respect.

What does the Soil Association mean to you?

The Soil Association means 'food you can trust', though this is very sketchy with restaurants at the moment, as the law has been reinterpreted. To me the Soil Association has always had an image of striving to do more than is required; they seem to be campaigners far beyond just certifying.

What is your greatest achievement?

Changing the way my staff and customers think. Seeing the team go from great restaurateurs to passionate environmentalists. Seeing some of them open their own places and applying some of the principles that my business has.

How do you plan to progress in the future? What is your vision?

That's for me to know and you to find out!!

If you were starting all over again, what would you do differently?

I would be tougher, less compassionate! There are too many things to say here, most of them I wouldn't want to discuss with you. But mainly I think I would give my team a harder time and myself a less hard time!

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?

Always stand by your principles - you may be less well off financially, but you will be better off in yourself. Money just buys you the same stuff but at a higher price.

Who or what is your biggest inspiration?

Anita Roddick, then she sold out – I don't know now. My parents for living their lives with more truth than anyone I know.

What is the key to your success?

Hard work and communal living.

What do you love most about what you do?

Food, eating, working with brilliant people. Being involved with a team but being detached enough to not be trapped in the politics.

What keeps you awake at night?

Multinationals controlling the world.

What single thing would most improve your life?

Youth centres in Hackney so kids had hope, inspiration and some chance in life (then I, and everyone else, would of course, be less likely to be mugged in the street and could walk around relaxed and happy).

What do you find most frustrating about what you do?

Not having enough local organic produce, having to work so hard with the suppliers to buy just British.

Any unusual hobbies or past careers?

I started life as a failure at school. I was suspended three times, left with four poor grade O levels, but managed to get into university at sixteen to train to be an opera singer! I have spent the rest of my life in restaurants, other than travelling, and loved every minute of it.

How can the organic market be improved?

More local food - bring restaurants under the same rules that govern others.

How can we get more people to buy organic?

Stop the supermarkets putting a premium on it, reduce packaging, teach about food in schools, and how to cook.

What's the main benefit of being organic for you?

Environmental impact and animal welfare.

What other organic ventures do you admire and why?

All our producers and farmers. All the people who have amazing produce like Luscombe. Everyone who is not only organic but going that bit further environmentally.

Supermarkets - good or bad?

Terrible, they are destroying our country.

What is the biggest threat to what you do?

The lack of traceability and monitoring. The lack of supply in times of fuel crisis.

What's the best thing about organic farms?

Wildlife and husbandry.

What's the best thing about organic food?

Taste, and sustainability.

What is your favourite meal?

Spaghetti with clams and chilli - yum yum (home made spaghetti, hand gathered clams and local chilli of course!).

If I was Prime Minister I would...

Introduce youth centres all over the country where kids could be taught cooking, run food co-ops, manage their own smallholdings, etc. They would learn teamwork, business and all about food - the biggest pleasure in life.

The world would be a better place if...

The multinationals were given less power, and smallholders and small businesses were supported. Public transport was reliable and free. Youth centres could give our young, especially the deprived, a chance in life.

I'd like to be remembered for...

Encouraging restaurants to be greener.

When were you happiest?

Cooking and eating a delicious meal with a bottle of fine wine and good friends preferably in Wales after a long mountain walk! Still lots more of it to come!

What is your greatest fear?

That it's all too late, that my nephew's future is grim.

What is your favourite word?

Revolution.

What would be your 'Desert Island' luxury?

A piano, I have always wanted to learn it properly.

Is the customer always right?

Well yes, unless they are rude.

To find out more about the Duke of Cambridge visit www.dukeorganic.co.uk



Bookmark and Share




Meet more heroes...

Tim Deane of Northwood Farm in Devon
"Organic principles have to underpin the practice, and once they are understood and really taken on board most of the rest of it is common sense."
Rhiannon Rowley of Abaca in Carmarthenshire
"I am passionately committed to manufacturing in Wales and to using as much Welsh organic wool as we possibly can."
Vanessa Warn of Little Green Rascals Organic Day Nursery in York
"We need to respect the land in terms of what we put in to be assured of good stuff coming out for our children and their children."
Bob Kennard of Graig Producers in Wales
"Organic is a fiendishly complex message to get over to the consumer when compared with single message foods, such as local, fair trade and free-range yet it has many of the answers to our current difficulties with food production."
Simon Bennett of Riverside Organics in Cheshire
"So many people have no idea what 'organic' means, or they think it is fancy! If they knew how food was produced most people would choose organic."
Victoria Thompson of Green Nippers in Barnsley
"We wanted to make a difference to the world, so the use of organic fabrics was extremely important. Using organic cotton is not only better for the whole supply chain, but for the wearer too."
Jeanette Orrey, School Meals Policy Advisor to the Soil Association
"My vision is that every child has a right to good wholesome school food and that food poverty will be a thing of the past."
Angus and Shoo Oliphant of Miniscoff Organic Children's Meals in Wiltshire
"Natural is good, but organic is natural certified, so it's more controlled. Most other claims are far too prone to abuse and shameless spin."
Andrew Davenport of QR Composting Solutions in Bingfield, Newcastle upon Tyne
"This method of composting completely transformed the compost I made and also my garden. I became hooked and developed a fascination for the method and its history..."
Sebastian Pole of Pukka Herbs in Bristol
"We have always been 100% certified organic with the Soil Association because we felt strongly that we did not want to try and improve people's health but damage the planet's in the process. So an organic business was the only way."