James Ellis and Jason Shaw, both based in the Yorkshire Dales, have set up a healthy eating online subscription service called Elevated Food For Life. The former tells us all about it
What’s your background in nutrition?
I was born in a pub in a South Yorkshire mining village – literally, in the rooms above the pub – so I’ve been around food, cooking and the hospitality business since day one. My mum loves food and is a pretty decent cook, so I was always interested in it, then, when I was about 10-years-old my world changed radically. Mum and dad got divorced and my mum took my sister and I off to live in Greece, pre-empting Shirley Valentine by about 10 years! She still jokes to this day that when I was 13 I asked for a food mixer for my birthday… so that an interest in food and cooking has always been there. Fast forward a number of years and I was working as a journalist on national newspapers in London. After many years, I’d re-kindled my relationship with my dad – but not for long as he ended up dying far too young after complications following an operation. They were complications exacerbated by a lifestyle that included heavy drinking and smoking, little exercise and a pretty poor diet. His passing prompted me to look at my own lifestyle – and I realised I was following suit. After a few aborted attempts, I quit smoking, cut down on booze and got back into the gym. The transformation was quite literally life changing. Not only did I lose a tonne of weight and looked a decade younger, but I also changed careers, becoming first a personal trainer, and then a nutritionist and health coach.
When did you first meet Jason Shaw and why do you work well together?
Jason and I met at the school gates. We live in a small village near Otley, which has a surprising number of creative people in it. Our children became part of a wider group of friends and we also all connected as parents and became firm friends. Within that, I was a nutritionist and a keen amateur cook, Jason was a professional chef who wanted to know more about nutrition, and so we’d share a lot of information and do experimental cooking sessions together. One Easter we even (to my wife Laura’s annoyance) dug a pit in our back garden, built a fire in it, then when it was down to the embers put a whole lamb in and buried it to slow cook overnight… Just because we wanted to see if we could do a Greek-style kleftiko lamb in the way it was originally done by rustlers in the Greek mountains.
What inspired you to launch Elevated?
We’ve got children the same age and both of us aim to be around for them for as long as possible. Jason won’t mind me saying that his son Christian is on the spectrum, and he asked me a lot about foods that might help Christian. We started playing around, developing some recipes and we kept coming back to this idea of elevating food – on my side asking ‘how nutritious is this?’ and from Jason’s keeping his core cheffing principles, that food has to have three Ts and a P to be successful: taste, temperature, texture and presentation. We thought it could work as a concept: food that is cooked from scratch, designed to give as many nutrients as possible, reducing common allergens so accessible to all, simple to cook and tasty. So we tried it out on some friends for about 4-5 months, they loved it and so we decided to launch it as a service.
In a nutshell, what do you offer?
We describe ourselves as a Netflix of health-giving video recipes. When you sign up, you get access to all the back catalogue, but we add new recipes each month, almost in a magazine-like way so everything is seasonal or hooked on something in the calendar. You also get what we call Brilliant Bases that allow you to spin off lots of other dishes quickly from one core recipe. Then there are skills tips videos to teach you how to cook like a boss, articles that demystify nutrition and offer lifestyle tips, a private Facebook group and a monthly ‘ask us anything’ Q&A. Oh, and people get two e-books when they sign up: The Foodies Guide to Vitamins and Minerals and The High Protein Playbook.
Why do you think this service is different from anything else out there?
We don’t think anyone is offering the recipes we do with that amount of thought into how nutritious the food is. Everything is minimally processed, cooked from scratch, nutrient dense… We provide video instruction to reduce the eff-up factor and we film everything in a home kitchen – so you can see what it really looks like rather than some glitzy studio setting. We also give subscribers tips on substitutions and licence to make the recipes their own (we positively encourage the latter). Baking is a science – you have to stick to the recipe or the science doesn’t work – cooking is a lot more flexible so you can play around with it. People also have this idea of healthy food as being forced to eat kale and brazil nuts or some such. On the site we have burgers, pizza, spag bol… just all cooked more nutritiously. We’re not daft, we know busy people with young kids want something that is simple, healthy and that the whole family can eat.
The Brilliant Bases we think are a real selling point for us too. At the moment, we have 11 of them. These are recipes that you might spend a bit more time cooking at the weekend, but that can then spin-off into other recipes really quickly and easily in the week. I’m a big fan of batch cooking, but who wants to eat lasagna every night for a week? The Brilliant Bases allow you to break past that. Our Tomato Fondue for instance can create a Bolognese, ketchup, chill con carne, pizza sauce, be used for baked eggs, as part of our tikka masala… I think there are 20 or so spin offs from it to date, with more to come.
How do you select the recipes to feature?
We work on themes around three months at a time. We look at what’s seasonal and what’s happening in general. Then we come up with some ideas about what recipes might fit in with that and play around with them. They’re all taste tested on our own families, so we know we get buy in from the most demanding critics out there – our kids!
How do you get across the nutritional information?
Each video recipe is introduced by James who gives some basic nutrition information. Then in the written recipe we go into that in more depth. Plus we have articles that are a bit more in depth: ‘what are the pros and cons of going vegan?’ or ‘should I try paleo?’ These are all evidence based. We aren’t calorie counters, but we also include a rough breakdown of calorific content and the macronutrients – protein, fats, carbs – for each dish.
Do you offer any other health-related advice?
In my personal clinic yes, but not so much for Elevated. It’s not really the platform for addressing specific health concerns, although we do mention things in a broader sense. What we do try and offer is lifestyle advice. Everyone is so stressed and time poor these days. So we run articles on lifestyle management: how to time block your week so you can cook better, what kind of containers to use for batch cooking, money saving ideas, tips on how to get better sleep…
Who is Elevated aimed at?
Everyone really – but more than anything, it works for people like us. Busy parents who want to give their family the best nutrition we can afford in the least time possible. If we can take the stress out of meal times, help people reduce the amount of processed food they eat and, perhaps, let them fall in love with food again, we’ll have done a job to be proud of.
Where do you hope to take it in the future?
For now, our key aim is to get as many people on board as possible. We’re still a young company with somewhat limited resources beyond our time, enthusiasm and knowledge – but we’ve decades of experience in food, hospitality, nutrition, fitness and lifestyle medicine. We’re already creating partnerships with organisations such as the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity (CIMSPA) and we’d like to get some kind of government approval to help provide the best advice to people who might not have the resources to sign up. Later this year we’re hoping to offer annual and lifetime membership packages, a hard copy book including some of the recipes for those people who like a more traditional cookbook, and some masterclasses and live events.