I will be offering a selection of Colombian street food at the StrEAT Party and explaining the history of my country’s exciting and vibrant food culture. I hope to engage bloggers with both the quality of my food and also the enormous potential for Colombian cuisine to become huge in the UK.
What makes Colombian Street Kitchen special is that it produces traditional Colombian dishes using locally sourced ingredients. I am using my own family recipes which have been refined over many years, combined with my experience as a chef in the UK. So the end products are both authentically Colombian and tailored for the British palate.
How did you get started?
My family has always been obsessed about food. My father is a retired maître d’ and a food connoisseur, my mother is an experienced cook and everyone in my family specialises in producing something for the table. As a boy I sold mangoes, sweets and popcorn on the corner of my street so I suppose I was a very young entrepreneur! I trained as a chef in food and beverages and Colombian cuisine, which has always been my focus. In the UK I became a full time secondary school teacher. This taught me I could work long hours and still be passionate about my job, so I decided to start my own business using my skills and background as a chef. What I love most about street food trading is knowing I am introducing the Colombian food I grew up with to Londoners.
I personally feel there is so much to offer that is mostly unknown to the public. There is a challenge there for me in developing Colombian recipes and adapting them to the street food market. I am excited to be representing my country and taking part in putting Colombian cuisine on the radar.
How did you hear about FBC?
I was fortunate enough to be invited to take part in the FBC15 StrEAT Party and I immediately said yes! It was very clear that #FBC15 is an exciting event to be part of and a tremendous opportunity to showcase my business.
What can FBC attendees expect from you at the event and where can we usually find your products?
I offer premium quality Colombian street food tailored for the UK market. All food is gluten-free and there are options for vegans and vegetarians.
#FBC15 #strEATParty Menu:
Beef and onion empanadas // Spiced potato empanadas (vegan) // Chicken tamales // Mushroom and butternut squash tamales (vegan) // Frijolitos – Colombian beans (vegan) // Patacones (vegan) // Homemade salsa and ají (vegan)
My empanadas have been the most popular item with my customers, as they are larger, crispier and tastier than typical empanadas.
I am also very proud to introduce tamales to the UK – these are delicious parcels of goodness wrapped and steamed in banana leaves for a unique flavour. Both empanadas and tamales have meat and vegan varieties.
What other events do you take part in throughout the year?
At present I do not have a permanent home but am trading in various places across London. This includes kitchen takeover pop-ups at pubs and restaurants, as well as street food markets and craft brewery taprooms. I also offer private catering services.
The range of pop-ups and events I have attended has been quite eclectic so there are no regulars as such. However, I have been invited to provide food for Beavertown Brewery’s weekly taproom several times, which has always been fun. During March and April I had a stall at Chestnuts Market in Tottenham, which is a small but family-friendly market. I will be at the new State of Independence Market in Hackney in both June and July, which hopefully will become a new regular home.
If you could cook for anyone, dead or alive, would it be and why?
I would love to cook for Michel Roux Jnr! I am a great fan and have been to Le Gavroche where I was very impressed by both him and his food. It would be amazing to show a French chef how rich and flavoursome Colombian cuisine can be.
Are you a fan of food, travel, lifestyle blogs?
As yet I have not sought out useful blogs to follow other than those of a few fellow street food traders. I am keen to discover new bloggers via FBC, especially those who focus on the practical nature of producing street food and the ever-changing marketplace in London.
How has social media helped you connect and engage more with a wider audience?
Social media has been extremely useful in helping to establish the Colombian Street Kitchen brand. Many months before the business officially started, I set up a Facebook page and started posting images and recipes of my creations, plus reviews of places selling Colombian food both in London and during trips to my home city Medellín. This meant I had an existing audience when my business began, to whom I could advertise pop-ups and market appearances. Over time, my Facebook page has become my online hub, featuring news and events as well as plenty of positive feedback from satisfied customers! I now also rely on my Twitter account to provide even more regular updates and interact directly with past and potential customers. Via Twitter I have stayed in touch with fellow street food traders and kept abreast of developments and opportunities in London.
Where do you see it going online?
My aim is to set up a proper blog and website for Colombian Street Kitchen before the end of this year. I hope to use that to provide more information, features and recommendations to my followers, as well as keep track of what’s going on in the street food blogosphere.
Food bloggers are very useful for street food traders as they provide a trustworthy indication of trends and developments. Blog reviews are generally more honest and authentic than those that appear in more conventional media, since they tend to be personal and without a wider agenda. A trader can rely on blog reviews to accurately gauge how well they are doing, where there might be room for improvement, or how their products compare to others in the same field.
I am excited to be showcasing Colombian food to bloggers at FBC15 since it is not well-represented in the UK. I’m keen to interest bloggers in its enormous potential to become a popular new cuisine – Colombian food could have the same broad appeal as Mexican or Peruvian – and explain that they would be ahead of the curve by featuring it and helping to spread the word.
How do you set yourself apart from the growing street food market place and what do you think has helped you or will help you grow more or reach your goals?
As a sole trader, my business is literally my life! Having left a full-time teaching career to put my chef skills to professional use, I invested a lot of time and effort into Colombian Street Kitchen and am absolutely committed to its success. Within the next year, I will continue to be a regular presence at food markets in London. I will also organise new kitchen takeovers and residencies with restaurants, cafes and gastropubs. The focus for the next year is on increasing visibility and exposing foodies to the enormous potential of Colombian cuisine.
One specific goal is to set up a permanent production kitchen employing permanent staff. This will form a base of operations where food can be stored and produced, cookery lessons can be delivered, products can be sold directly to the public and new recipes can be developed. Another goal is to negotiate agreements with food sellers (including supermarket chains) to stock my products. There is a definite gap in the market for authentic Colombian products that can be produced in the UK rather than be imported. Within the next few years, I plan
to have premium quality Colombian food available in high street stores. There are a hundred challenges to setting up a street food business, and that’s on a good day! The obvious major ones are finance, sourcing ingredients, transportation and finding colleagues or staff members to help. In all cases it’s impossible to do it alone – all traders need support.
Social media can be extremely useful to traders but since there are so many of us all doing the same thing, especially in London, it’s easy to get lost in the crowd. It helps if you can offer something distinctive that will stand out and quickly find an audience, even if it is a niche. The street food revolution has been amazing as it offers scope for skilled individuals to get a small business up and running. But that is also the biggest risk – individuals don’t have the money, resources or staff that ‘normal’ businesses rely on.
I think that over time, more support networks will evolve to help keep traders afloat while also retaining their individuality. One noticeable and positive trend is the increase in the number of pubs, cafes and restaurants willing to host a pop-up. Not only does this add some variety for their regular customers but it is a vital opportunity for start-ups to gain experience.
What advice would you give to anyone looking to join the street trader scene?
There are a lot of guidelines and advice available online about becoming a street trader, so that’s where to pick up the basics and learn about legal and practical requirements. From my own experience, I would advise making sure you have a part time job to cover your basic living costs. You cannot assume that your start-up will be earning much money in the early days.
Spend as long as you can making your products distinctive and high quality before you even think about selling them. In order to get ‘proof of concept’, you should run a few small pop-ups and ask for feedback. It’s important to test your products on your audience. I would also advise not being shy about asking places to feature you. Visit your local markets, explain yourself enthusiastically and ask for a trial pitch.
Talk to the owners of your favourite pub or bar about letting you do a pop-up or kitchen takeover. And always offer a taster session to convince them! Starting small is not a bad thing as it allows you to be flexible. Initially you will not make much money, but the experience will be vital. You cannot gain visibility in the marketplace overnight – it only comes with getting out there as often as possible.
If you could tell people to eat one thing more often what would it be and why?
Corn is an amazing, versatile and gluten-free component that adds colour, flavour and texture to a dish, either as a main ingredient or as a side. In Latin America, corn is the equivalent of bread as it is a staple part of our diet and used in many ways. Colombian Street Kitchen continues that tradition by placing corn at the heart of my food business.
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