Shocken Foods At Aldi's Next Big Thing

Shocken Foods in Channel 4 show Aldi’s Next Big Thing

Name:  Emma Bowe

Job title: Co-founder & COO

Company: Shocken Foods

What was your first job? My first taste of professional kitchens was at age 11, working alongside my father and grandmother in our very busy family restaurant and lodgings, in a busy seaside tourist town on Ireland’s west coast.

What’s been your worst job interview? I remember having an interview with a radio station in Dublin called 98FM when I was 23. I walked out thinking the interview went terribly – the questions were really odd, the interviewer was obnoxious and rude, and I felt under pressure throughout. He followed me to the car park and offered me the job on the spot. I realised then he was just being an ass to see how much pressure I could take.

I passed his test but thought, if he can turn that obnoxious in an interview, what’s he like as a colleague or boss? The salary was way above my paygrade, but I turned it down. There’s no excuse for anyone to be rude or unkind. Having had my fair share of toxic work environments, I now focus on creating a positive place of work for my colleagues and employees.

What was the first music single you bought? Living in a small town in Ireland, we didn’t have a music shop when I was growing up in the early 90s. So I didn’t buy a CD until I was a teenager.

It was the Spice Girls, but I was always a major Oasis and Blur fan throughout their reign. Oasis all the way. I’d love to see Noel and Liam get back together again. If they did, I’d be in the front row!

How do you describe your job to your friends? I don’t. It’s too difficult! With new people I meet I usually say I’m a chef, it’s what people instantly understand and can put a label on. My friends know I work with vegan food, I create it and it’s winning awards, but they don’t know how much goes into it behind the scenes. Unless you are a food nerd, you would probably switch off halfway through my explanation, going from recipe development in a manufacturing setting to international IP law and latest trends in anti-nutrient research.

M&S and Waitrose are doing a great job right now with their in-house developed vegan ranges”

What is the most rewarding part of your job? Knowing I’m changing people’s lives by giving them access to healthy food they enjoy eating. People are always shocked how moreish our vegan meats are when they try them and even more shocked when they hear how healthy they are. They’re a great way to sneak veggies into kids’ lunchboxes because they’re made with Whole Foods like beetroot and sweet potato, but taste like ham and beef!

What is the least rewarding part? I honestly love what I do so I don’t see any aspect of the business as unrewarding. If there’s something I’m not over the moon about, it might be learning about pallet dimensions and global logistic channels. Those things are a bit tedious, but part of the remit for what I need to know as we roll out globally. Things you don’t expect you’ll need to know when you start out as a chef!

What is your motto in life? “You don’t ask, you don’t get.” My family would definitely say that rings true about me! I’m not afraid of someone saying “no”. I’m a firm believer in asking for what I want. If you don’t, you won’t ever know if you can get it!

If you were allowed one dream perk, what would it be? If health insurance had not just dental, but things like regular massages and foot reflexology factored in, like once a quarter. That’s maybe asking a bit much! But you did say a dream perk.

Do you have any phobias? I used to be afraid of heights. I forced myself to jump off cliffs into the ocean one summer until I wasn’t afraid any more. The jumps became exhilarating instead of fearful. I realised everything’s in the mind.

Now, I’m such a workaholic that I have a phobia of a wasted day. There’s not a worse feeling for me than if I wasn’t as productive as I could have been over the course of my work day. There has to be a medical name for that condition!

If you could change one thing in grocery, what would it be? Wider vegan sections and more gluten-free options. My partner is coeliac and vegan, so I’m very aware of how restricted he is when we go grocery shopping. M&S and Waitrose are doing a great job right now with their in-house developed vegan ranges, and Aldi aren’t far behind.

The more I travel internationally, the more I see we really have it well in the UK as consumers. We have the best choices and at reasonable prices. Everyone is concerned with price increases and rightly so, but when you go abroad, you see prices are much higher – from everything like tinned tomatoes to a loaf of bread. And forget about grab & go options! In many European and American countries there aren’t grab & go areas at all in supermarkets. No tasty sushi boxes, sandwiches or buddha bowl lunchboxes.

Group At Aldi's Next Big Thing

What luxury would you have on a desert island? I’m more of a practical person than a luxury one. So a luxury item for me wouldn’t be a box of chocolates or fizzy pop. It would be a sharp solid knife so I could hunt, create shelter, or protect myself. Something that has multiple uses.

What animal most reflects your personality? I took part in a shamanic meditation 10 years ago where a black jaguar came through as my spirit animal. But my partner would say I am a bull ant – ants are pretty selfless, they care more about their team than themselves, they’re very hard-working, value loyalty, and can be pretty fierce.

What’s your favourite film and why? Having severe ADHD, I get overstimulated easily and also bored easily, so I don’t enjoy watching horrors or high-octane stuff with bad scripts.

I enjoy the classics like Little Miss Sunshine, Four Weddings and a Funeral, The Godfather trilogy. You can’t go wrong with feelgood movies or classics made well, showing how people lived in a different era. I find stuff like that fascinating.

What has been the most embarrassing moment in your life? I’m sure there have been many over the years! But from recent memory, I’d say it was having to give a speech on a Zoom call, with a selection of accomplished CEOs and the president of a venture capital firm that invested in us all watching me. I was nervous and botched up the whole thing with stutters and pauses. I was embarrassed because I know I can do better. Thankfully the call was just a test run. The main event was to repeat the speech on stage in Singapore, in front of 200 alternative protein experts from around the world. The shock of my poor online performance jolted me into practicing excessively before the big day. In Singapore people were congratulating me for how engaging and funny the speech was, so the extra prep after my cock-up paid off.

Which celebrity would you most like to work with and why? For me, celebrities are superstar chefs instead of actors or musicians. From the food world, I’ve pretty much reached the pinnacle by working with the San Pellegrino Top 50 Best Male & Female Chefs in the World – Heston Blumenthal and Hélène Darroze. And I regard achieving a Great Taste Award for the Shocken meats as high as receiving a Michelin star in a restaurant setting. I’m so thankful for those things, I really couldn’t ask for more!

But if I could think of one celeb to work with, it would be someone like Billie Eilish. She is vegan and genuinely seems like she wants to do good for the world. I’d love her to back our products. I see synergy there, as our meats are healthy and planet-friendly.

What would your death row meal be? Having made the best dishes in the world at Michelin three-star level, I’ve passed the point of thinking of those being the best meals.

I’ve realised, as many veteran head chefs eventually do, that true enjoyment in food comes from the simple things done well – using the finest ingredients and doing very little to them. Forget the foams and micro lovage leaves! For me, great food is baked whole salmon with a punchy caperberry tartare sauce made from scratch using my own homemade mayonnaise. Or our Shocken foie gras (100% vegan!) with fig compote, some frisée leaves and crunchy seeded crackers. Either would be a perfect final meal for me!

Maybe with a cheeky natural wine from some of my favourite producers from the list at Les Caves de Pyrene – they have the best stock of natural wines in the UK.

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