Leon’s earliest memories are centred around food, a buzz of energy, everyone gathered around the table with big sharing plates in the middle. Even when the budget was stretched, the family ethos was there is always enough to share and the first question, to any guest, was always: would you like something to eat?
Born in Maastricht in the Netherlands, Leon loved to eat (his mother is an amazing cook). Initially, he was less than enthusiastic about cooking. However, he surprised himself when, on a hotel management course, despite dreading the cooking module, it ignited him. In the end he stayed for over 15 years!
At only 26, Leon had his own fine dining restaurant. Two years later, world leading chefs came to eat at his place. Still only 28, the chefs unanimously agreed that Leon was better than them (at that age). After Leon sold the business, he went on to become executive chef at the Dutch equivalent of the Ivy, owned by the celebrated Dutch chef, Joop Braakhekke.
Drawn to England and married to an English woman, Leon built his food sourcing business in the UK from just a suitcase, and a storage unit, to being the number one sourcer of quality food products - a very niche industry. From zero Leon had grown to a team to 25 and a turnover of over £3m in just 5 years.
In 2007, Leon was 41 years old evolving business ethics at the time clashed with Leon's core values leaving him feeling unfulfilled. He decided to close the business. In 2009, he launched a charity helping children in developing countries, through a scheme of matching, so every time someone in the UK bought a meal, they’d be providing one to somebody in a developing country too.
Leon also continued consulting, until in 2015, he saw on TV the number of refugees showing up on the Greek islands. He knew immediately that he would help. The next month, Leon found himself standing in ‘The Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais (France) supporting his friend Jonathan, for what he assumed would be for a period of two to three weeks. They started cooking a few hundred meals every day, within a week, they were cooking 1,100 meals, every day. In April 2016, half the camp was demolished and Leon handed the venture over and was ready for a new venture.
[WATCH Leon's TEDx: The Power of Sharing a Meal - insights from Calais Refugee Camp]
“Sharing a meal, bringing people around a table, has the potential to create better understanding and break down barriers.”
With the pandemic looming, Leon felt compelled to do in London what he had done in Calais. Leon reached out on Facebook and a kitchen was found a few days later on the first day of lockdown. They started cooking on the 25th. Two weeks later, they were cooking 2,500 meals a day with a team of volunteers, many of whom were chefs. In May 2021 until March 2023, Leon joined The Felix Project, building a permanent kitchen in Poplar, east London. They cooked 3,500 - 4,000 meals a day, around 100,000 meals in one month, with surplus food and no menu during the pandemic.
Leon has current launched a new business called Sur+. Saving the millions of tons of farm surplus we have in the UK every year and turn that into perfectly good, nutritious and delicious foods. Have a look at our website.
Leon’s belief is a spiritual one underpinned by intuition. His life has been peppered with many fruitful success storied and challenges which created a constant desire to learn and grow. Leon understands to have a vision so big, it inspires others. With good reason people trust Leon.
The years following Leon’s enlightenment, when he found his true self and became a Philanthropist. He fully understood the power and value of giving back. Having identified his niche as filling the cup for others, he knows that happiness is not what is on your business card or in your bank account, rather it is within - inner peace is more important.
To learn more about Leon's Services & Case Studies (click HERE) and to contact Leon or download the Leon Aarts Media Kit (click HERE).
Leon's new project is Sur+, making great foods from farm suplus, ensuring farmers get paid, at the same time reducing our impact on the environment. (click HERE).
“Good food is the foundation of genuine happiness” Auguste Escoffier
Leon's 10-min challenge to create a meal from zero-waste food
When Leon was head chef at The Felix Project, he joined another zero-waste chef to accept the challenge of making delicious dishes in 10 minutes! Both dishes were made from food rescued from the food industry that would have otherwise gone to waste. (Credit: The Felix Project)