The food you eat doesn’t need a label: just eat food that’s good for you and good for the planet.
It’s this thinking that underscores Total BS, a catering and consulting business formed in 2015 by Stephanie Vass and her chef partner, Benjamin Anthony. The business’s name refers to the couple’s first names and their no-nonsense approach to food.
The couple met at Fremantle’s Raw Kitchen. Anthony, who is from the UK, was used to cooking healthy, nourishing food. Vass, though, worked at The Precinct where she cooked lamb sous-vide and broke down 30 chickens a day. Her move to “vegetable land” had a beautiful outcome.
“I did a tea cleanse and went pure for a month and never felt better,” she says. “My good friend worked at Raw, so I spoke to her about a job. The head chef was leaving The Precinct so I had a decision to make: do I follow my heart or do I follow the ladder? I followed my heart and it turned out nicely with meeting Ben, too.”
Since establishing Total BS the couple has consulted for venues such as The Tenth State and High Street Dispensary. They also ran a pop-up restaurant at Elizabeth Quay’s Embargo Bar and X-Wray in Fremantle. Vass and Anthony talk to Broadsheet about their food and their aspirations for Total BS.
Broadsheet: What made you decided to establish Total BS?
Stephanie Vass: We wanted more creativity and freedom. I always want to share everything I learn. We want to feed people and have them understand why they’re eating a certain food, or why we put those ingredients together. We are what we eat. Why not eat the best version of what we can be?
Benjamin Anthony: Knowledge and information about food has been lost over time. We have handed over the catering of food for our lives to corporate entities. And those entities exist solely to make money. That’s the main reason we are where we are now with Total BS. It’s our way of connecting to humanity through food.
BS: How would you describe the food you focus on with Total BS?
SV: Total BS is not restricted to any label. We just want to serve healthy food. Our passion is vegetables, but if we use animals we want to know where they came from and how they were farmed.
BA: When we were running our pop-up at X-Wray, our food was for everyone, but we made meat a side. We don’t believe in the politics that comes with some labels. No one should feel uncomfortable for having a food choice.
BS: So people should be eating less meat?
BA: Nowadays, people are eating three serves of meat a day. It’s too much. I love curing meat. Serving thinly shaved prosciutto with some fermented vegetables or pickles can be a meal. You’ve hardly consumed any meat compared to going out for a 200-gram steak. That was the way we used to produce food. We would find ingenious ways to preserve it, stretch it and share it with more people. In doing so, we’d consume less of it.
BS: You’re both passionate about zero-waste cooking. Tell us more about that.
SV: I love the cookbook The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating by Fergus Henderson. Why should anything be wasted? I don’t believe we should disrespect an animal that was killed so we can eat it by throwing half of it away.
BA: We have to close the loop with food. For example, if we’re spiralling zucchini, we can use the end bits for something like dehydrating into crackers. We can use a lot in compost, too.
SV: Everything can be something, or we can put it back into the earth.
BS: You’ve just started to focus on the Blue Zones way of eating. What’s that about?
BA: We came across the idea of the Blue Zones from the guys at Matcha Mylkbar in Melbourne. Blue Zones are the areas in the world where locals have the longest and happiest lives. Areas such as Sardinia in Italy.
SV: We think Fremantle can be one. It would be such a nice place to start that.
BA: After working with Ricky Mandozzi from Strange Company, we realised there is so much Sicilian- and Mediterranean-style produce in Fremantle.
SV: There’s great seafood and fresh local produce like olives, lemons and honey. It’s a no-brainer.
BS: How do you handle being partners in both life and work?
BA: We have an intuitive way of working with each other. It’s easy for us to start something and for the other to carry it on. We take our job seriously and want to keep a level of professionalism, but at the same time we’re like two little kids creating things. Sometimes we don’t know what’s going to happen. We want to keep that silly, playful attitude with our work.
SV: Ben and I have this crazy energy that we’ve connected on. And with this beautiful love we’ve created food we care and are passionate about.
BS: What’s on the cards for Total BS?
SV: We want to start focusing on workshops based on our philosophy of food. Maybe start with teaching people how to make their own nut milks. We don’t want it to be an intimidating situation. We want it to be approachable. We don’t want the industry to be arrogant; food is about community.
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