The Spitalfields Business Series: Punk Chef

The Spitalfields Business Series: Punk Chef
Credit Brendan Bell Photography

In this series, we speak to business owners in Spitalfields Market about the work they are doing, their hopes for 2024 and what they love about the City.

Q. Talk us through your business.

A. Punk Chef was an idea to bring employment opportunities for deaf people to operate with food, it was supposed to happen during Covid but the pandemic put everything on hold, until recently, when Spitalfields Market welcomed us in May 2023, and that is when I started to get everything ready towards the launch. At the very beginning I employed 3 deaf people to start with me that have no culinary training. I had to mentor them and guide them to learn how to operate properly. Recently we were awarded 5 stars in Hygiene and Food rating which was a proud moment knowing the team is achieving something slowly.

Q. What was the inspiration behind it?

A. BSL Act 2022 officially adopted as a language in its own rights, BSL GCSE is happening in 2025, plus recently, Frank Barnes Deaf School in London have officially launch the BSL Curriculum to be taught in schools across the country. We as a community are pushing to be inclusive in mainstream society so what about food? There are many talented deaf people in the UK that have not been recognised for their talents – that is what inspired the idea of Punk Trucks. I wanted to offer something different and bring a fusion of sign language and food onto the vibrant food truck scene. We are not only celebrating Deaf culture, but also creating employment opportunities and empowering Deaf individuals in the culinary world.

This initiative stands as a shining example of inclusivity, breaking down barriers, and showcasing the rich talents of the Deaf community.

Our ‘Punk Trucks’ brand has been awarded a finalist spot in the 2023 ‘Street Food Championship’ showcasing culinary excellence and innovation.

Q. You’ve received fame as a sign language TV presenter of cookery programmes. How does that confidence help with your business in the City?

A. I started my TV series back in 2012, ‘Punk Chef’ and recently ‘Punk Chef on the Road with Hungry Gap Production’ for BSLBT (British Sign Language Broadcast Trust). The programs have not only entertained but also educated viewers about sign language and cooking. My ground-breaking achievement have paved the way for a new era of inclusivity and inspired countless deaf individuals by proving that deaf chefs can not only cook but also shine on mainstream television. My presence on TV with the pink mohawk becomes an iconic symbol in the deaf community and people recognised the hairstyle and my personality, my programs broadcast around the world, so it helps with the business in Spitalfields, by attracting the deaf community to the landmark market of Spitalfields and Here East. The food trucks reflex my personality because of the pink and black, our food trucks have the mohawk on these trucks and it stands out, it’s unique because it not something you see every day! Just driving around, that’s an iconic image and people will notice it.

Q. You’ve set up the Punk Chef food truck at London’s famous Spitalfields Market employing three deaf staff. Talk to us about the concept behind this?

A. So far to date we have 8 staff for 2 trucks, Spitalfields have been amazing so far, the staff love working there interacting with the customers. Also, the customers love coming to the truck and do some signs like ‘thank you’ or the ‘Food is delicious’ it about breaking boundaries and giving the customers the whole experience of being included in our world. Communication shouldn’t be a barrier to learn a new skill in their lives every day.

The concept behind this is to bring a unique flair to the food trucks scene, offering a fusion of sign language and DEAFlicious street food. It’s a way to celebrate diversity and creativity in London’s vibrant food scenes through the universal love of food. It’s all about infusing rebellious spirit, creativity into the culinary world and a powerful way to promote understanding and unity among diverse communities.

Q. What challenges do you face and how do you overcome them?

A. Food Trucks is a completely different scene to working in Michelin Restaurants. It all about speed, also people are looking to eat on the go so things need to adapt around these customers; small selection of food as limited storage and be delicious of course. Its about repetition of the menu but in different ways to save costing. I have never worked in street food so it is a learning process for me and a whole new ball game.

So far in 7 months I have changed my menu 3 times because I had to assess the market and see what people like to eat. On top of that is I have a team of deaf staff that never worked in food industry before so that is another pressure on top of me to teach them and mentor them. When I first started 7 month ago I had 3 staff and 2 of these staff have never been employed for 8 years because of their disability and barriers that makes it hard for them to get a job.

Q. What has been your biggest achievement so far?

A. One of my significant accomplishments was second-place finish at the International Gastronomy Deaf Chef competition in Copenhagen, also recently proud of the deaf team behind the food trucks to get a 5-star rating in Food and Hygiene and it shows that we are heading in the right directions.

Q. What’s the best dish on your menu?

A. So far the Japanese Parmo, I come from Teesside and that’s something North-East are famous for. Normally it a breaded chicken with some bechamel sauce and loads of melted cheese, people at Spitalfields don’t have the time to sit down so I adopted into a burger, and it works well. I have travelled the world in my career and Japan is a country I fell in love with. I would like to incorporate this into my food with the use on Tonkatsu, Togarashi seasoning so it becomes a different experience and a new twist to the Parmo.

Q. What’s in the pipeline for 2024?

A. We are looking to spread out across London, by March 2024 we are aiming to have 10 trucks in place and employ many deaf talents from the community to operate the trucks, for every truck we have we can employ up to 4 deaf staff. We are currently working with councils and landlords to find spaces to make this happen. If you have a space or would like to see something different to your market by giving deaf people employment and inclusivity into the food truck scenes, please do contact us. Providing food is not only a platform for people to connect but a universal language that’s inclusive.

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