The very finest takeaway
I first heard of The Feature Kitchen thanks to a social media post by beautiful independent homeware retailer Closet and Botts. There seemed to be a buzz around this new Lewes-based takeaway service so I had to go and check it out. Having the three children at home (our 18 month old being particularly unreliable at sleeping) we don’t tend to go out just the two of us very often – but that doesn’t mean we don’t love a ‘date night’ and a chance to treat ourselves to some good food. There are a few takeaway restaurants that we like and go back to in Lewes however The Feature Kitchen is different.
For a start the menu changes every month, as does the Chef – each Chef is personally selected, fully qualified and an emerging talent. I just love this idea so much as the concept ensures that there is the opportunity to try amazing food from all over the world and that the chef is a total expert in that style of cooking – none of that Jack-of-all-trades business. The food can be ordered in advance during the week and delivered on a Friday or Saturday night, 3 weekends per month. This means there is hardly any waste, the food is made with fresh ingredients and will keep a day or two in the fridge if you can’t quite eat it all!
A menu from Trinidad and Tobago
So when we finally got around to ordering a meal I was excited to see that I would be treated to a Roti made by the brilliant Roti Rascal – information about the menu and ingredients are displayed on the website (which I have often wished a take-away menu would provide). I absolutely love any food with a bit of spice to it and both Will and I went for the meat option – Curry Chicken (we could have chosen Coconut Curry Fish or Curry Mushrooms) and with this we had ‘Dhalpuri Flatbread, Spinach in Coconut, Chickpea and Potato, Mango and Apple Salad, Cut Cucumber, Hot Sauce and Chutney’ – doesn’t that just sound yummy? Well, let me tell you it was absolutely DELICIOUS!
The personal touch
The delivery times on the website are given depending on which area you live in, although it does say to email them if you want to request a different time. Being a bit of a pain in the arse I did email them and asked for an 8.30 delivery, and do you know what? Our food arrived at 8.30 – on the dot! I had also mentioned that it was my birthday in the email and was so touched to find a little extra bit of home made delicious ginger cake in my bag! An impressive start!
As well as receiving the food I had been sent an email with some reheating instructions and a link to a video of Roti Rascal showing how to put the Roti together – great, right? There was enough for two Roti each which was more than enough. Will even put his second Roti aside and smugly ate it the following day. The flavours were just incredible, we both felt like we were really eating the best quality, home-cooked food from Trinidad and Tobago – which of course, we were.
Needless to say we were (and are) pretty excited about this new takeaway option in Lewes and I got in touch with the founder for a quick interview to find out more.
The Feature Kitchen was started by Jacob Fodio Todd.
Jacob was raised in Mozambique, Swaziland and Tanzania. In 1998 he moved to Lewes and attended Priory School and subsequently BHASVIC. After spending time in Paris, London, Norwich and Nairobi Jacob moved back to Lewes with his partner Harriet (also from Lewes) and their daughter Sylvie.
Jacob lives in a lovely garden maisonette in central Lewes, when I arrived to meet him at his home he greeted me warmly and invited me straight in for a cup of tea and a chat. First impressions of Jacob are that he is a gentle and intelligent man with integrity and humility.
He is clearly very relaxed in his kitchen which is stocked with jars of meticulously organised and labelled ingredients. Beautiful vintage furniture as well as prints and paintings fills the rest of this cosy room. Jacob’s desk sits in the alcove next to the fireplace and is surrounded by much-loved photos, cassette tapes and artefacts creating a personal and productive work environment.
Of course I took a bit of time out to ask Jacob some questions for The Lewes Home.
What do you most look forward to when coming home?
An enthusiastic welcome from Sylvie, who is two years old. Always wholehearted.
What is your favourite room in the home, why?
The kitchen is where I spend most of my time at home, it’s spacious, full of food and the corner by the French doors hosts my desk, with quick access to the garden, my second favourite space, even though I don’t spend enough time out there, because, well, sunshine doesn’t either.
What is your favourite place in Lewes and why?
I think the Grange is one of the most tranquil and pleasant looking spots in the world.
Apart from your own home, can you tell me about another Lewes house that always catches your eye – what do you love about it?
Harriet’s parents place is really nice. The bottom floor doubles up as an art school. and the room that the classes are hosted in at the front is massive, with a high ceiling and tall windows that allow light to pour in. When its empty Sylvie runs from end to end, and tests the acoustics. I’ve spent plenty of lovely evenings at the house so I always find it welcoming.
What were you doing before starting up the Feature Kitchen?
I ran an enterprise with two close friends in south London called The Groundnut, which celebrated East and West African cuisine through pop-up restaurants, workshops, events and literature. We published The Groundnut Cookbook in 2015 with Michael Joseph (Penguin), which was a retrospective of much of what we’d done and the recipes we served and developed. Before that I worked as a programme officer at a research organisation, The Rift Valley Institute, in London and Nairobi.
Where did the idea come from for The Feature Kitchen?
I happily cook most days, but I love getting takeaways too. Within a few months, I exhausted all the Lewes based options and I went from over a decade living in places with seemingly endless options, to the choice of a handful of cuisines. Then, through a speculative email to the organisers of a pop-up dinner I saw advertised, I met with Genet, an Ethiopian refugee living in Brighton who dreamed of continuing cooking for the public as she had done before coming to England. I’m very fond of Ethiopian food, and by that time, I’d spent years building an enterprise celebrating food and culture, so I thought I could use the skills I’d acquired to make a platform to support and promote talented people who wanted to cook for wider audiences, and learn from them, all the while adding an constantly evolving takeaway option to Lewes, which thinking as a customer, would attract me. And I thought it could work as a business.
What spurred you on to go for it and start up the business?
I was still uncertain as to what to do once we decided to take a break from The Groundnut. Once I found the perfect kitchen to work out of, the Lewes Community Kitchen, I had the first month’s chefs and cuisine (Ethiopian) lined up and people had expressed interest in the idea, I thought why not, before I began looking for work back in research and project management full-time. It all came about very quickly, from idea to action, which led to some stress, but obviously I came into it with a lot of practice doing something similar, which helped enormously, and it has been a good experience.
How would you describe ‘The Feature Kitchen’ for someone that has never heard of it?
A friend once labelled it a pop-up takeaway, which I thought was gimmicky. But the more I think about it, it’s fairly accurate. It’s a takeaway delivery service operating on Fridays and Saturdays the first three weekends of each month (going forward), where a different local chef is invited to cook a meal of regional cuisine, with genuine knowledge.
What’s next for The Feature Kitchen? What are your hopes for the future of the business?
It’s been really well received in Lewes, it’s surrounding villages and Brighton, but I’d like to see it grow some more in these places. And next month, I’m taking it to Tunbridge Wells to see how it goes there. Without neglecting to thank those friends and family who already have, I’d like to find help with aspects of the operation. At the moment I can just about manage but extra hands and minds would be helpful.
No plans for a major expansion beyond that anytime soon, but I’d like to think it’d be a good addition to anywhere where there are people like me, who would love a greater variety of takeaway options, and people like Genet, local people with great expertise that make exceptional food and want a wider audience. Which, I think, is a fair few places.
A visit to the kitchen
After sipping tea and chatting to Jacob he took me to the kitchen where all the food is prepared. A gleaming, large space called The Community Kitchen, also in Lewes.
Whilst Jacob is an experienced chef himself, he really hands the cooking over to the lead chef of each menu – although he does help out – buying in all the ingredients, helping to chop them up alongside the chef and of course sampling and helping to curate the perfect menu for each month’s food.
After leaving the Community Kitchen and walking back into central Lewes Jacob tells me about his busy schedule for the next few days, I ask him how he fits it all in and he tells me that, although he does have a busy schedule, he also makes sure he looks after Sylvie during the week. It is clear that he cherishes the time he has with his young daughter and no matter how busy his working life is, he will always make sure he spends time just enjoying being a dad.
I am so delighted that Jacob has started up The Feature Kitchen – bringing diversity of food to Lewes and food that is not just delicious – but cooked with pride and love. In my mind it is not just an interesting addition to the Lewes food scene but an absolutely vital one, and I will definitely be ordering from them again and again… and again.
The meal we ordered from The Feature Kitchen is available for one more weekend – 22nd and 23rd September 2017. October’s menu will be announced soon!