Loyle Carner, a rapper, established a cookery school in partnership with Mikey Krzyzanowski of the Goma Collective social venture. Five years later, the two talk about food memories, how cooking can bring out the best in us and how we can all be part of a community.
Loyle Carner is a rapper who loves mixing it up. His music combines sparse jazz beats and south London grit, treacle thick basslines, and layers of warm, soulful melodies. Ben CoyleLarner, his stage name, is a playful play on his real identity. And when he’s not writing rhymes or performing, he finds solace and mindfulness in his kitchen, or among the pages of a Yotam Ottolenghi cookery book.
“There’s a monk from Korea, and her whole thing is about meditation – but meditation through cooking,” he says. “She believes your whole body is taken over by what you’re doing, so there’s no way to get distracted from the food.”
He’s referencing Jeong Kwan, a Seon Buddhist chef and one of the stars of Netflix’s Chef’s Table. But while Kwan pursues spirituality through her temple cuisine, Coyle-Larner uses his kitchen exploits as a salve for his lifelong neurodiversity – the attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) that diverted his concentration and led him into fights and mischief as a child.
Coyle-Larner has been cooking since she was seven years of age. Now 26, she is spreading the word about the therapeutic benefits that cooking can have on her health and wellbeing. After partnering with social enterprise The Goma Collective, Coyle -Larner is now 26. Their London-based Chilli Con CarnerSummer school has been teaching cooking to ADHD kids for five years. It gives teens who are used to eating a diet of anxiety and failure their first taste of sweet success.
“They get factual praise – they’re tasting the food and they know it’s good,” says Goma’s Mikey Krzyzanowski. “We tell them they’ve done something great and they can taste for themselves that we really mean it. It undoes loads of the pain and negative wiring that some of their schooling and even the people around them have been subjecting them to for a long time.”
Loyle Carner’s 2017 debut LP Yesterday’s Gone was nominated for the Mercury prize. He’s played Latitude, Glastonbury and Lovebox festivals. He loved crowds as a child.
“It was just me and my mum for a lot of my childhood, so being around a table with loads of people – that was somewhere I wanted to be,” he says. “It came from there, a love of community. The more I could keep people at the table talking about food… I’d cook everything, whatever people wanted: I was a people-pleaser.”
Meanwhile Krzyzanowski, 24, was reluctantly indulging his father Michael’s love of Japanese cooking. “I’d go to school and be mortified because he’d made me sushi,” Krzyzanowski recalls. “In hindsight, I just think, ‘Wow! How lucky was I to have a parent who was expanding my comfort zone?’”
The pair met five years ago, when Krzyzanowski sensed a kindred spirit in Coyle-Larner’s lyrics and his outspoken stance on community and relationships. Krzyzanowski approached the young musician to ask if he would be interested in joining the skateboard project in Nepal. Coyle-Larner had a different idea: teaching neurodivers how to cook.
“Mikey is the person I look up to the most now, so it [just] goes to show: maybe our ideas aligned even back then,” says Coyle-Larner.
They teach a group of 14-16-year-olds how to make everything from simple California sushi rolls to dusty pasta shapes, for a week.
Many courses begin with towers of fluffy American-style pancakes topped with caramelised banana rounds. The technicality ramps up as the week progresses: beef wellington, salmon en croûte, ravioli.
Over the years, the course has expanded to include field trips to London restaurants and Chilli Con Carner has hosted pop up events catered to alumni.
It was just me and my mum for a lot of my childhood, so being around a table with loads of people – that was somewhere I wanted to be
Krzyzanowski, Coyle and Larson have retired from their original teaching roles but still work as classroom assistants. The classes are taught by professional tutors, with drop-ins from famous chefs like Jack Stein (the son and daughter of Rick Stein).
Their young students are amazed at their impact. Says Krzyzanowski: “It’s so difficult to feel self- confidence as a kid: it’s always about these small increments of success. But with cooking, they start out thinking they can’t do it – and by the end of the day, they’re eating it.”
Coyle-Larner recalled a school-leaver who was so ashamed of his GCSE results that he didn’t show up for the day. “But he was probably the most gifted chef in the room,” he says. “At the end of the week, Jack Stein gave him an internship at the restaurant in Cornwall. He’d been told he wouldn’t amount to anything, because he didn’t have the grades to get him there, and the next thing – he’s working in probably the best fish restaurant in the UK. That’s the real travesty: he’s so incredible at cooking, but in the first 16 years of his life, nobody found that out.”
Chilli Con Carner has instilled a new mindset in its students and creators. The pair are now inspired by their transformative success and plan to bring their community spirit into music and poetry projects.
“It’s set the precedent,” says Coyle-Larner, now based in east London and father to a nine-month- old son, Sunra. “I look at every project, and my first thought is: ‘Cool, how can we make this a community project?’
“The world is sadly based around corporate settings, but there is no reason why you can’t just manipulate it to bend to the desires of your community. Yeah, we could put on a show and get paid – or we can take something that would simply be hedonistic and instead make it beneficial for everyone around us.”
Four other UK projects are working towards change
KaleyardGlasgow-based non profit social enterprise cookery school. Sumayya Usmani founded it. Profits from its masterclasses enable it to offer classes free of charge or subsidised to community groups.
Image by Adolfo Felix
‘A cookery school with a conscience’, Leeds Cookery SchoolAll profits donated to Zest charity, which supports people living in the most vulnerable areas of the city.
Image: Jonathan Borba
MigratefulThe London-based social enterprise, based in London, runs cookery courses led by migrant chef from more than 30 countries. The classes teach people about global cuisine and help refugees and migrants rebuild their lives.
Image by Jason Briscoe
Man With a Pan, is just one example of the many programmes that the Community Chef CICRobin Van Crevald founded. The classes in Sussex teach vulnerable older men how to cook.
Image: Ivan Lapyrin
Main image: Vicky Grout
Chilli Con Carner is looking for UK-wide partners to help expand its ADHD cooking school. Send an email to chilliconcarner.com