Mission Kitchen, Vauxhall – home to future foodie stars
NOTNecessity was the mother of Mission Kitchen’s invention. Six years ago, co-founder Charlie Gent was developing an artisanal bacon business and concluded that processing pork belly in the kitchen of his shared apartment was not the way to a domestic deal. âI assumed there had to be a place where entrepreneurs in the industry could develop their ideas – and I realized there wasn’t,â he says.
With the germ of an emerging business idea, Gent decided to call a friend – two, in fact. He reached out to Chris Lumsden, who had just quit his hospitality job and was considering starting his own bar, and his colleague Paul Smyth, a public artist interested in food sustainability.
âI sat down with Paul for advice on Mission Kitchen – and found he was working on the exact same idea. In a week or two, we decided to collaborate.
The trio joined forces and, some six years later, Mission Kitchen was the result. The Food Exchange’s 16,000 square foot workspace in the heart of London’s New Covent Garden Market opened in June. Its mission: to find, fund and nurture new food talent and help launch the next wave of food entrepreneurs in London.
Make it happen
âWe want to help independent food companies start and grow, and we want to support them in their ambitions – to do cool things, innovative things, disruptive things,â Lumsden sums up.
Cool, innovative and disruptive doesn’t come cheap, however. âWe faced two initial challenges,â says Smyth. “How do we get the money and how do we get the space?” The Food Exchange space was secured through a partnership with the New Covent Garden Market Authority, and the project got off the ground with funding from the London mayor’s Â£ 70million regeneration program, the Good Growth Fund.
As Gent discovered when looking for kitchen space to start his own business, nothing like Mission Kitchen yet existed in the UK – but there were business models in other countries.
âThe companies that provided the initial inspiration were Union Kitchen in Washington DC and Kitchen Republic in Amsterdam,â says Gent. âThe goal of Union Kitchen is to turn local businesses into national brands. We also visited Kitchen Republic and met the team there. It’s an example of how helping food companies create scalable food products can have a real impact on the food system.
As we speak, one word that comes up over and over again is collaboration. Starting a food business might sound like fun, but it’s not as easy as it first seems. âWhen you start a food business, you spend a lot of time at the sink,â says Chris Lumsden. âThe hours are long and the workforce has always had poor mental health. Mission Kitchen’s goal is to make it fun, to make it collaborative, enjoyable, and to change the way people view a career in food.
How Mission Kitchen works
Mission Kitchen has an allocation policy that grants preferential treatment to certain groups, to help them achieve their goal of making the food ecosystem more inclusive and sustainable.
Gent explains: âWe give priority to companies run by people from disadvantaged backgrounds. . We also prioritize social enterprises and businesses focused on sustainability. ”
After a rigorous selection process, 32 emerging agribusiness companies were selected as founding members. Fifty-four percent of them started their businesses during the lockdown and 70 percent are Bame or headed by women. They include Lune and Wild, which make plant-rich frozen foods for babies and toddlers; Jardin d’Eva, which makes pickles and American-style preserves; and Mama Leys, who cooks meals for low-income families in South London.
When we meet in early fall, the kitchen workspace is bustling with people mixing, kneading, stirring and tasting. I meet Theo Lloyd-Jones of Out of the Box, who marinates chicken in soy and aromatic spices; Kieu-My Pham Thai of 9Kitchens, which makes Vietnamese rice paper rolls for his social catering business; and the people of the FoodCycle association, who put the finishing touches on roasted vegetables with couscous.
âWe have 45 members now, and new members are joining us every week. The hope is that by the end of the year we will have 75 to 80 companies based here, âsays Gent.
Mentorship of new talents
Depending on their business needs, members can use well-equipped shared or private kitchens and shared workspace, part-time or full-time, and can change their needs as their business takes shape and form. developed.
They can also participate in conferences and training workshops on topics such as finance, marketing and food photography – and the new mentoring program. The pilot program has food industry figures such as Petra Barran of street food company Kerb, Tom Barton, co-founder of Honest Burgers, and Tom Elliott, senior director of global strategy at Diageo, as mentors.
âSomeone can be a brilliant leader, but may not have a business background. The support services we provide are as important as the ovens and the kit, âsays Gent.
How will Mission Kitchen rate its own success? âSeeing our members leave Mission Kitchen for the right reasons,â says Gent. âWe would like to see companies evolve to the point of surpassing us. It will be a real sign of success.
Meet the entrepreneurs
Mohammed (Momo) Abu Zard
Business: Momo’s dairy
Makes: âSyrian cousin of Halloumi but less salty and creamier. I have two versions – one has a harder texture and the other is preserved in brine. I have been experimenting for a little over a year but I am not trading yet.
âI grew up in Syria. I am Palestinian-Syrian, so I was born a refugee. I stayed in Syria until I graduated from veterinary school. I left because I didn’t want to be drafted into the military, so I left for Turkey, applied for the UNHCR resettlement program and chose the UK as my resettlement country. The UK welcomed me in 2019.
âMy father had a cheese making business in Syria. When I was in Turkey, I lost my father to cancer. I wanted to follow in his footsteps and finish some of his unfinished business, and stay in touch with him by making cheese.
âIt’s good to work with like-minded people at Mission Kitchen. I love the community aspect of it and the way the members are on the same path and on the same path to starting their own business. My vision is to have a place where I cook Syrian dishes, sell my cheese and give cooking classes in one place.
Business: Eli and Pie
Makes: “Pies without compromise.”
âI was traveling in South America about 15 years ago and I came across empanadas in Argentina, and I was like, ‘This is wild. This sort of thing has been playing in my head for a while. Being Nigerian, we make a lot of pies as street food, but I grew up in London not really enjoying pies or pies. I have an aunt who is a chef and she helped me get started. The empanadas in Argentina were the spur, as was the desire to make a better pie, something unique that I could put my name on.
âI was working as a banker at Black Rock on their graduate program and I was not happy. Someone over there asked me a great question: “Where do you want to be in 10 years?” I said ‘Run my own business.’ It was the trigger point.
âMy mission is to make people ‘eat happy’. To make them smile, and take them around the world in a pie. If I can take you on a journey to your mom’s or dad’s home cooked meal, or spark memories of a place where you cooked well, then I got it.
Business: feathers etc.
Makes: “Snacks recycled from ingredients that would otherwise be thrown away.”
âI grew up between the UK and China and went to college in the US. These experiences taught me a lot about cultural relationships with food, especially food waste. When I returned to Europe, I volunteered at an organic farm in southern Italy. It was a reminder of how we should all cook: no waste, using until the last bite – and it sparked a lot of things for me.
âI was back in the UK, I had an existential crisis and found myself in the kitchen, cooking out of a need for creativity. I loved the challenge of using what was in the closet. This led me to create my blog, my pens, etc.
âBeing at Mission Kitchen has been stimulating and motivating. I love meeting new people and seeing what they’re doing in the kitchen, but I also love getting stuck in my own workspace.
âMy goal is to celebrate misunderstood ingredients and to help people create new eating habits. I want to eliminate the habit of wasting food, redefine what waste is and think about it from our habits, our language and our food systems.