First things first, I’ve got to apologise to our guests for this long overdue episode of the Hank! Cardiff podcast. Thanks to a long list of incompetencies (mine) and various tech failures, it’s only just ready, despite the fact that we actually recorded these soundbites many months ago.
Well, I say ‘ready’ – two thirds of the episode is. Our chat with the lovely James from pop-up, sell-out success Matsudai Ramen is sorted, as is our chat with Edwina O’Hart of Get Well Fed. Both tell us about how and why they decided to host a ‘kitchen takeover’ – and what it’s like to cook for paying customers, despite having no formal background in cooking.
But we didn’t just want to focus on the newbies in this podcast episode. We also wanted to speak to one of the kitchen takeover OG’s. And that meant catching up with Krish from Keralan Karavan, the Indian street food pop-up that has been moving around the city, taking over kitchens and popping up at festivals since 2016.
Sadly, we chose to record Krish’s audio in a pub beer garden (at the venue where he was cooking that night) but thanks to some loud music and even louder neighbours, the audio we ended up with was unusable. But I really wanted you to see what he had to say – because it’s fascinating and also lovely to hear him talk about growing up in Kerala – so Matt has kindly transcribed it below.
Please give it a read before you listen to the podcast episode with James and Edwina, which I have embedded at the bottom of this post.
THE KERALAN KARAVAN STORY:
As told by founder, chef Krish Pankaj:
“Kerala is one of the biggest exporters of spices from India. So you can imagine the amount of flavours and the food that comes out from Kerala. And the problem with Keralites is that we are very modest. We don’t want to go out screaming and shouting – so there was nobody to shout about the food in Cardiff.
We wanted to do something different, just completely Keralan, and that’s how Spiceberry started. We were on Caroline Street on the first floor. So, you can imagine at 9:30 at night we’ve got a whole queue of big blokes standing waiting for their chicken tikka masala and their chicken jalfrezi! But some people got it, some people really got it.
But from there, we lost the lease (the old Spiceberry restaurant is now Tortilla) and decided to move on – we thought, let’s take it to the street now. So that’s how Keralan Karavan was born – moving around, going to different places, doing kitchen takeovers. The first one we started off was in Truffles (now Santiagos) – we were sitting there one evening over a cup of tea and John (the owner) comes up to us and says that the evening business is not doing very well, so we thought, why don’t we just give it a try? We’ll try our food here and see if it works.
We were on the cusp of, should we do street food or should we do a restaurant? But the overheads on restaurants and all the other things – after just losing our lease, we couldn’t afford a building at that time. So we said no, instead, give us a place in the evening, we’ll sell your booze and we’ll sell our food. We sold a lot of Cobra beers, so he quite enjoyed that – and we did that for five weeks, back in 2016.
We had massive, brilliant support from the Hangfire girls who would drop in on a Sunday night – they gifted me a small hob, one of the first hobs they used for street food, they passed it on to me like a good luck charm. It’s still with me – doesn’t work, trips the whole kitchen! But we keep it around as a mascot now! Then we did Brewdog, Coccorico, Full Moon, Kin + Ilk – we’ve just been taking over kitchens all over Cardiff. I think it’s a brilliant concept because it’s like a symbiotic relationship. Cafes close in the evenings which is a waste. You take it over, you run the place you make some money for them either you pay them a rent or you sell the alcohol, whatever the deal is. It’s win win for both.
Would I go back to the restaurant life?. I’ve been there, I’ve seen it and know how challenging it can be. I wouldn’t jump into it till I’m 100% ready. At the moment, I’m really enjoying being a nomad. The best thing about kitchen takeover is you can bloody-well experiment with whatever you want.
For these things the most important word is passion. I absolutely love food. For me, my mum is responsible for that – she just keeps on pushing me. My mum will never ever be happy with any of the food I’ve ever made. I’m going home in November and I’ll be planning from September to just think at least once, maybe, this time…but no, it won’t happen, ever!
I’ve traveled a lot so I’ve spent a lot of time on the street in India, eating all the junk possible. I left home very young, so to survive I started cooking. The thing about India, was no Google maps, no Insta, no Twitter, no nothing. It’s all word of mouth, you hear somebody talking at the table about a new kebab place down a back alley – next thing you know you’ve got your moped out to go chasing after it.
There’s a masala scrambled egg guy. Right next to the train station and so, after finishing your hotel work you’ve got to go and track down the cart – it’s illegal, so if he sees the police, he’s off with his cart and we’re chasing him round at two in the morning! But that’s what we enjoy, that food experience – I’ll never forget the taste of those eggs. He’s got a proper restaurant now, bang opposite the train station – it’s an egg restaurant, he’s got 50 different egg dishes on the menu. So you don’t have to chase him any more! If this guy can do that, anything is possible.”
HANK! CARDIFF: EPISODE 7 – The Rise of the Kitchen Takeover
I’m hoping that the audio wasn’t too painful to endure and that you enjoyed this episode as much as we loved speaking to Krish, Edwina and James. Please let us know your comments by using #HankCardiff, by tweeting us directly at @hungrycityhippy / @mattappleby or leaving us a comment below 🙂 x