Shout Out to FICO
Updated: Jul 16, 2020
Feast your eyes on FICO – the London-based catering company tantalising our taste buds with the flavours of the Mediterranean. Cooking up a Sicilian storm through sensational event catering, supper clubs and Cretan cookery retreats, FICO is also spritzing our kitchens with the vibrant splatterware glaze of Italian ceramics...
A scroll through FICO’s website is a true multi-sensory experience: pictures of drunken figs and piled-high platters of pasta so evocative of holidays long gone and longed for, of white-washed walls and Ionian seas..
But while La Dolce Vita might be feeling a little less sweet right now, it has made Betty – FICO's Creator and Head-Chef – even more determined to feed her following. Quickly adapting to this year’s events, she has transformed her catering business into a much-needed food delivery service, her notoriety as a feeder quite evident as she zooms around the South-East with 12 hour beef-shin lasagnes, Sicilian stews and fresh veggie boxes; a contagious enthusiasm for cooking driving her all the way…
We wanted to shout out to FICO, and in our efforts to do so, ended up with an ever-so-moreish interview with Betty, where she gives us a wonderfully colourful insight into FICO’s journey so far. It really is stuffed with the tastiest morsels (gem that she is, she even shares a Burrata-based bomb of a recipe with us), so, Buon Appetito, let's tuck in!
Tell us about Fico's journey and what makes it unique.
FICO has grown from a lifelong love of Italy, eating and collecting beautiful things. I never started out with a set vision of exactly what it would be, but I knew that it should encapsulate those three passions. The pathway to what it is now has been quite organic- the ceramics for example I just stumbled upon when I rented a car and drove around the southernmost tip of Italy scouting for sun-dried tomatoes and found a wonderful man named Romu selling handmade crockery.
How big a part does content play in FBB success?
A massive one! I use Instagram as my main marketing tool and it accounts for 60% of my supper club, cookery class and cooking retreat sales and most of my wedding referrals. It’s the first thing agents will look at before they refer me to a private client, the first port of call for a bride looking for wedding food before they email, and the best visual platform for showcasing food. The captions help reassure people about the provenance of my ingredients and my approach to seasonality, and allow me to witter on about how much I love Puglia...
What prompted you to take the plunge and start a business?
I tinkered with private catering throughout university and as a side hustle for 2 years alongside my job after graduating, but never really considered it working as a stand-alone business- probably because I’d only ever seen management consulting, accountancy, law or recruitment advertised as an undergrad. I’d always been interested in Italian food, especially having gorged my way around Sicily as a student. I found myself managing a restaurant in London 5 days a week, and cooking for clients in the evenings and any spare time I could grab, then flying to Switzerland every weekend to cook for a catering contract in Geneva Science Park. I soon realised this wasn’t a sustainable way of living and, having run out of holiday days from my day job, was pretty much forced to go it alone! I had saved some money from my multiple jobs and enrolled at Leiths School of Food and Wine which gave me the classical basis for professional cooking. The lightbulb moment was catering for a group of private clients in Menorca. I had total freedom to choose the menu, cook it exactly as I wanted, according to a budget I had set, and take 100% of the profits and recognition. I think you can cope with the exhaustion of hospitality if you’re the one invoicing at the end of the week! It was the culmination of everything I had learnt working for other people coupled with the confidence to fly solo.
What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
My mum’s motto of ‘deferred gratification’ resonated when I was counting jars of pesto in my first job. ‘Work hard and be the best you can be’- my Dad used to say it to us when he dropped us off at school. A bit cringe but it stuck with me!
What are the biggest things you've learnt about yourself since starting a business?
I’m wildly disorganised in my personal life (we have a ‘cupboard of hell’ full of all my assorted tupperware) but I’m surprisingly good at making things come together in a business which relies heavily on logistics and planning.
I am quite analogue! I love a Filofax and all my menus and ideas come from scribbling them on paper. How anyone can be creative staring at a screen I don’t know.
I used to find the prospect of an empty diary at the beginning of the year absolutely terrifying, but now I back myself that it will fill up, and it does if you put the effort in.
I am also pretty good at hoarding attractive cookware- I think I have three Italian egg coddlers and I’m trying to convince my boyfriend to buy me a Sicilian donkey cart for my birthday. I saw one in a market in Puglia and have never forgotten it- bright yellow with little white flowers and huge red wheels. They used to be used as marital carts to transport the newlyweds to the reception but when I buy it it’s going to be filled with ice and piled high with blood orange & dark chocolate cannoli as a dessert station at a wedding. YES?!
Who or what do you want to give a shout out to?
My boyfriend, Sam, the silent hero in this whole operation. He’ll get up at 4am to help me load food into vans, sticker takeaway boxes, shift ceramics across London and feed me soup when I haven’t eaten for hours. Last year I was prepping for a wedding, my van rental had cancelled at the last minute, and he left his Christmas party early to come and drunkenly deep-fry struffoli for 6 hours. I often think his life could be a lot easier if I’d taken that ‘executive search’ job I was offered, but he might not be as well fed.
What should we know about what's hot in the world of food and catering right now?
The shift towards sharing style and more relaxed catering is a welcome change (I always think starters get a bit eclipsed at large events). I also think, especially since COVID has hung us all out to dry, people are starting to question where their food comes from and pay more attention to why you should be paying more than 3 quid for a whole chicken. I live in Bermondsey in London, a short walk from Spa Terminus, where there are so many fantastic suppliers and producers who have set up shop in the railway arches leading the change. Small piece of advice: when summer comes, save up a small mortgage, buy some Volpedo yellow peaches from Natoora, grill them and top with burrata, mint, sea salt flakes, Parma ham and decent extra virgin olive oil. Thank me later.
Something else very hot and exciting: I am setting up a cafe with my new business partner Lucy, called ‘The Allotment Kitchen’ at Stepney City Farm. It will open this summer and will have seasonality as its core focus. The Head Farmer, Billy, has already started growing me a crop of aubergines, tomatoes, herbs and edible flowers which will all find their way onto people’s plates once I’ve finalised the menu. Check out our instagram and sign up on the website to hear about our launch! @allotment_kitchen // www.allotmentkitchen.com
When has been a time you've been glad you used your voice in a business setting?
It can be quite easy to be taken for a ride if you’re perceived as a young, inexperienced female, especially when negotiating with wholesalers, kitchen rental companies etc. I’ve always been like a hawk when it comes to checking invoices and it’s served me well!
Can you sum up your FICO journey in three words?
So. Many. Aubergines.
When it comes to your approach to life, are you a big mouth or prone to being tightlipped?
Someone once said my mouth looks like Babs from Chicken Run so… big?!
To speak to Betty about all your catering needs (we're shotgunning that Sicilian donkey cart for our end of isolation party) you can find her directly on instagram!
Thank you so much to Betty and FICO! Boca Grande x