Wow. That was a long gap between blog posts. And meanwhile, so many things have been happening - not all of them to do with choc.
I handed Choc Star over to Shrimp & Ben for the summer who took it all over the place, serving up the brown stuff at festivals, parties, markets and film sets. Then they handed the van back and I welcomed him with open arms. It was strange not being at the helm this summer, but more than that it was strange not having all of those chance encounters at the counter. This is the magic of the choc-mobile and which has kept me hooked all these years - it's the opportunity to act as a window into so many different worlds, and to meet all those new smiling, choc-loving people.
There I was this summer, putting a load of extra time into the growth of eat.st, and that meant a whole lot more computer time than I'm used to. The abstract world...electronic communication, copying people in. As soon as I got back in the van it was like a surge of relief as I returned to the primal pleasures of serving someone what they've asked for, receiving the cash, having a chat and then waving them on their way. So simple yet so good.
Now, as I juggle my Masters with running eat.st, Choc Star has taken on more of a hobby-like role. I take Jimmy out about once or twice a week - either a private booking or an event or King's Cross - and after all that abstraction it's like being on holiday when in Jimmy. Something so calming about the mechanics of operating that van. Physical processes, immediate transactions, lots of treats, out in the open air slinging away with the best of them.
But now, each time I steer that old rascal around town, I'm drinking it in, knowing that our time is fading. Yes friends, Jimmy is about to be put out to pasture. Or, put another way, the new Low Emission Zone looms on 3rd January and he ain't going to pass it. So off he'll go to the countryside, never to be seen within the M25 again...except as signage:
So all of you who have enjoyed your time at the van these past six years, come and find us before Choc Star in this particular guise is no more. We'll be at the Chocolate Festival 9-11 December, King's Cross 25th November and 16th December and the Real Food Market 17th-18th December (see links to the right of this page).
Then off he'll go, to pastures new and I shall knuckle down to completing my Masters and ploughing forward with driving British street food forward.
Play in Choc Star will be suspended until further notice.
But I'll be putting Jimmy - the van - up for sale. Get in touch if you'd like to start your very own food biz on wheels and you think Jimmy could be the one for you. He's a great motor, can travel the length and breadth of this nation and is ready for the next chapter of his rich and interesting life.
The end of my adventure in this van, could be the beginning of yours...what a brilliant time I've had being on the road in the choc-mobile.
Monday, 21 November 2011
Sunday, 12 June 2011
Whilst at Richard Johnson's book launch for his new book, Street Food Revolution last week, I was interviewed (along with Angus and Kitty) by Radio 4. They wanted to know why I thought this shift in mobile outdoor eating was taking place. I waxed long and lyrical on the subject (as it is pretty close to my heart) and a little tiny bit was used.
Good for the Beeb getting to grips with the movement.
Here it is. (Skip to around 40 mins in for a listen).
Thursday, 2 June 2011
So the day has finally arrived. After many amazing sounding applicants for job of Choc Star manager, I came upon this pair. Presenting: Shrimp & Ben!
Both were wilting in their office jobs and longing to get to grips with the Choc Star world. It's really physical, LONG hours, no weekends off, I kept telling them. We're so ready, they said. We want to get stuck in!
Until I starting putting the word out there for a replacement so I could get on and pursue other things, there was one thing about doing Choc Star that had never occurred to me. Yes, it's knackering, yes, you've got to be really on it to do it and yes, you are working while most other people are playing. But there is one thing that has never happened to me once in the van - and that is grappling with the desire for the clock to hurry up until home time. It just isn't like that. The rhythm is different all the time, the punters are often different and the day passes in a blur of nice chats, chocolate offerings, neon lights and music.
I'll miss this. But I'm truly excited that while I am ready to move on, two others are ready to step in. Shrimp and Ben are a delight already - do stop by and say hello if you're near.
Jimmy will be on the Southbank as part of the street food section of the Real Food Market by the Royal Festival Hall, Fridays-Sundays most weekends (but check the blog for more specific details).
Hope to see some of you there at some point - we're under the new industrial commemorative staircase, down form the Hayward Gallery.
For now, here are a few snaps of what we've been up to lately (apologies for the yawning gap between posts - life has been mental).
Book launch of Richard Johnson's Street Food Revolution - this old boy was a devil for the choc!
Cast and crew for Ridley Scott's prequel to Alien. Charlize Theron wanted to give them all a treat so we hot-footed it over to Pinewood. (Sadly no pics of CT scooping in the van).
A wedding in Somerset - this guest loved Jimmy so much he was behind that counter faster than all hell. I hit the dance floor while I had the chance....
Some of my Friday regulars on the Southbank. These two are hilarious and demons for the shakes.
Under the new stairs for the Festival of Britain celebrations. It's becoming a real chow and hang zone...
Another wedding down in the countryside. We take in large lungfuls of sweet, balmy air while we can - suck it up and save it for London.
Two of our most regular customers - Anne and Manny. She likes cupcakes, he likes death metal. Always a pleasure to see.
By the bandstand for the Royal Street Food Festival that eat.st showed out for. Great group of traders, we had a ball.
Another choc fiend...
And here is Jimmy nuzzling up to The Rye as part of the #16days event that eat.st and The Meatwagon put on. Peckham, we love you!
More soon. Enjoy the sun y'all!
Friday, 18 March 2011
Hey all - know a great person to fill my boots?
FULL-TIME SUPER-STAR MANAGER NEEDED FOR THE CHOC STAR VAN
Switch things up this summer and see what life is like at the wheel of a choc-mobile!
April/May – September (and beyond if the right person found)
Must be 25 or over (for insurance purposes)
Good salary – to discuss at interview.
Choc Star, Britain’s one and only chocolate van, needs a new shaker, baker and foot behind the pedal.
I have been running the business for the last five years and it’s been one hell of a ride.
In this time I have driven ‘Jimmy’ all over Britain, taking him to festivals, weddings, parties, fetes, markets, film sets, TV studios….all in the name of spreading the good word of CHOCOLATE.
The delightful combination of chocolate + travels has won us fans far and wide – from the national media (C4, Vogue, The Times, Telegraph, Guardian, TimeOut, Delicious, Olive, House & Garden), to random passers-by. People from all walks of life come up to the counter and we make it our business to send them on their way with delicious treats and a smile on their face.
As I continue studying for my Masters and pursuing the wider British street food cause I now need a fantastic person to hand the reins over to.
COULD THIS BE THE CHANGE YOU’RE LOOKING FOR??
JOB ROLE INCLUDES:
Lots of travel * Lots of driving * Preparation of van treats – from milkshakes to sundaes to hot chocolates to truffles * Lots of ice cream scooping * Being GREAT with people (Customers and events organisers especially) * Baking (and/or organising of baking) * Event negotiations * Staffing jobs * Stock ordering/taking * Tweeting * Working at weekends *…and being an all-round ambassador for Choc Star which believes in:
The job starts in April/May 2011 and runs until the end of September 2011. Ideally I would like to take someone on who is interested in the more long-term prospects of running a mobile chocolate business.
The world of Choc Star is a whole new way of life to the 9-5 and I cannot emphasise enough the need for LOVE OF TRAVEL AND MEETING NEW PEOPLE.
Does this sound like your kind of thing?
Or do you know someone who should hear about this?
Looking forward to hearing from you!
Please email Petra: firstname.lastname@example.org for further details.
Thursday, 17 February 2011
The snow took the first bites then the Masters gobbled up the rest. Time has not been a friend of mine of late.
Please rest assured that plans for Jimmy's winter coat shedding are under way. We have a few outings planned over the next month or so - but our next official public engagement will be on April Fool's day (for reals). From there on in it'll be high-hitting choc van action right the way through to September - including a weekly spot at the Southbank from May.
In the meantime, if yearning, you can enjoy our brownies and truffles at Wild Caper in Brixton Market and our brownie fudge sundaes at Yianni's chop-up dive bar the Meateasy in New Cross Gate (open until April).
If that still doesn't cut the mustard then get in touch!
Monday, 1 November 2010
My life is now a curious mix of deeply rigorous academic study and a never-ending popping up at different London spots in the choc van. The two could seem far removed from each other but what I love is how well they feed into one another.
Studying cities is what my Msc is all about - how we all negotiate and interpret our urban space, despite of/because of our apparent differences and how we claim ownership of those spaces and through doing so help contribute to the health and well-being of the city.
I love that Choc Star takes me here:
Choc Star + friends were invited to trade in the Jubilee Gardens as part of the Thames Festival in September. It was a great opportunity to show off eat.st's wares in one spot - a whole strip of high-energy, high-quality, flavour and personality driven food stalls/vans lined up, shimmering.
The '80s style Fashion Fete at Covent Garden found us back on familiar territory - except with a doggy catwalk show. And an Anna Wintour coconut shy opportunity.
Oh, and with us serving Elvis Sundaes (choc ice cream, vanilla ice cream, brownie bites, banana, hot fudge sauce, salted peanuts and gold dust). Here's one happy partaker:
Then there was the Warwick Wingding. This is an interesting one. Over in Peckham there's a whole scene going on. People tend to think of Peckham as crawling with miscreants where every step is a run of the gauntlet through gnarled chicken bones and eyeballing pitballs. But what about the quaint village life that exists alongside it?
A whole community of arty folk keep the area around Warwick Gardens ticking along with a real homespun, homemade, DIY kind of lilt. Every year they hold the Wingding for the people of the area to come and sell their creations, listen to local musicians, eat well, dance, drink and so on. I was lucky enough to be invited, despite the SW9 postcode. Everyone was extremely friendly, interesting and interested. I just felt a bit sad for the small number of quite-clearly-not-part-of-the-scene kids who strayed over for an ice cream, £1 coins clasped in their mitts, and looking nervous and like real fish out of water amidst all the folksy reverie.
There was nothing stopping these two though - all the way from Canada they came (they said) to visit us!
Back on the Southbank for the Real Food Festival market. I love seeing our vehicles nestled in amongst all those clean lines and imposing edifices.
Down at the Deptford Project for a food night with The Meatwagon. This bloke turned up and started asking me lots of questions...
We bonded over the fact that one of my old friends had her first ever snog with him in a bus stop in Essex.
Then the Towpath event took on a further lease of life as we staged a two day event down by the river there - all in aid of War Child and brimming with East Londoners all looking for a bit of edge to their outdoor dining that weekend.
More of these to come as the Waterways people are excited by the possibilities that putting on events like these - self-organised, grass-roots, fabulous food, nice music, better vibes - can create. And what a wonderful opportunity to re-animate the dead zones of the canal in this way - the place was heaving! (Not in this pic - this was early).
I loved this Mad Max themed party we catered for in an old warehouse in Battersea the other day. The costumes were outrageous - but this guy trumped them all for all round squishability (little smorgasbord of choc treats for his table):
And this dude did stunts that were eye-popping:
And then there was Brent Cross. Britain's first stand-alone shopping mall - a 1970s powerhouse of hardcore consumerism. Despite seeming a little dated and past its best now, its postcode guarantees a huge number of avid, high-spending shoppers every week.
The Centre decided that the recent interest in curbside eating should be realised in their carpark every month in the form of a mini-food festival.
I actually loved being there and think it looked great. Not only our strip - which included eat.st stalwarts Churros Brothers, Brewed Boy, Healthy Yummies, The Meatwagon, Bhangra Burger and Ca Phe VN - but the contrast of that bleak, almost Brutalist facade as a backdrop to the informal, quirky arrangement of food traders who couldn't be further from your typical Nandos-fest usually associated with the mall experience.
This could have potential for real growth but it's going to require a bit of a re-think on many matters - not least of which being, how do you divert indoor mall mentality to outdoor ad-hoc style street food eating?
The good news is that pondering exactly these kinds of questions is all good for my course. Now I just have to remember how to write an essay...
Thursday, 7 October 2010
This weekend sees another, more expanded DIY event at the Towpath in Hackney. We're all really excited to be involved with what we hope will become a continued theme in the trading habits of the eat.st crew.
The summer has confirmed a lot of things that we already suspected: that many of the events we've traditionally attended are going in a direction that is rather lacking in the original festival spirit from which they first sprung. This is a shame because what's so special about the food traders who have joined eat.st is that we are, by our natures, still full of mad love for our customers and the food we serve. It's difficult to do what we do when confronted with exorbitant pitch fees, heavy-handed sponsors, excessive amounts of traders for too few punters and a general sense of disconnect from the good, wholesome and happy vibes.
Let me say that there are still exceptions and we love them for remaining true. And we understand that everybody needs to make money and we wish them well. But Choc Star and many of the other great people of eat.st have other ideas up our sleeves...
As I press pause on the road-tripping for a while and turn my mind to my studies, it is also London that I want to focus on more closely for the Choc Star ramblings and adventures. Full of opportunities to bring great food to its streets and public spaces - many of them disused or under-used.
We tried it a few weeks ago and now we're off again - Right opposite the canal from Jason Lowe and Lori De Mori's wonderful Towpath Cafe lies a piece of land that shouts DIY micro-festival like you wouldn't believe.
Alongside the choc-mobile will be super-proactive eat.st member Yianni of the Meatwagon, Portobello favourites Jamon Jamon, Mongo Denoon and the OK Catering Success (or The Everybody Love Love Express, depending on how you're feeling) and ruffneck coffee supremo Brewed Boy with his cart of joy.
There'll be music, fire, edible magic and sunshine. Or, in the words of Mongo Denoon:
The LoveLove Express happily heads East to be part of a one off weekend in an exclusive waterside location for a do with some of the finest street food wagons, dj's, bands, top hat cocktails and side stepping possiblities - and all blessed and bathed in the last golden days of summer. Its free if you are. Come and remind yourself why you love London.Hope to see you there for a milkshake/chaat/espresso/burger/paella...
Thursday, 30 September 2010
We'll be back on the Southbank this Saturday for one day only.
As it's sunny and rainy and windy and all we'll be selling all sorts: ice creams, milkshakesm hot chocolates, sundaes, truffs, brownies, Willie's Cacao...
10am-6pm, Belvedere Road side of the Southbank Centre.
Tuesday, 21 September 2010
We're so excited because this weekend we barely have to leave our neighbourhood. To some people the differences between Peckham and Brixton are massive - even the way a person walks can denote SW9 or SE15 - but when it comes down to me and Jimmy it's well local.
The Warwick Wingding is a one day urban fete kind of affair - the result of all those who know and love the green space of Warwick Garden coming together to have a bit of a late summer shin-dig.
Alongside us will be the properly local likes of The Meatwagon, Ganapati, Helen Graves serving up mezze and some storming music and fabulous japes from all manner of others.
It runs from 12-7pm and is followed by an after-party. So if you're coming from North you'd better pack an overnighter.
Friday, 10 September 2010
This year the Thames Festival have been really keen to make collectives a key part of its trader presence. The idea being that if groups of like minded operations can come together to double up on deliveries, space, power, etc, then there is an overall reduction in the environmental and administerial burden on the Southbank - along whose shores will gather hundreds of different stalls for the coming weekend.
We at eat.st were thrilled to be given our first official opportunity to gather together in one spot and do what we do as a group. It's a rare thing to be working with such progressively minded events organisers as well - and we have the super-conscientious market trading stalwart Barny Copford and his team to thank for this.
eat.st have been allocated the most incredible pitch - right in the middle of Jubilee Gardens, under the London Eye. Together with Choc Star will be some of our crew favourites: Bhangra Burger, The Everybody Love Love Express, Eggonomics, Churros Brothers, Spinach & Agushi, Bean & Gone coffee and the new Jamon Jamon off-shoot - slinging hot, buttery garlic bread.
Looking forward to seeing you down there!
Monday, 6 September 2010
...or at least any hope of wearing summer clothing again this year. The blueness of the sky was incredible. I would wander around San Francisco's audacious slopes fairly pinching myself to be there, in it, amongst it - revelling in having suddenly transported myself to one of my favourite cities in the world - all on a stomach pulsing whim.
They catch you sometimes, these gut-fuelled desires. Whether it's sensible or feasible or not, that part of your instinct will not hush up until you obey it. I like obeying it. Makes me feel like I'm on course. Keeps me alert.
The last one I had was on a rock in India where I became consumed by the need to return to Uni and study Urbanism. I'm fascinated by how cities work, by how we all negotiate the space that we occupy within them. How every city has a different personality, like people, and functionality akin to the human body. And how public spaces, with a little imagination and vision, can provide a city and its people with a vital aspect to this personality.
So it is that Choc Star + eat.st + my upcoming Masters amounts to a deep interest in the question of how instrumental street food is to the animation and integration of urban public space. When I heard that over in Fog City La Cocina were holding a street food festival and two day conference on this very subject I got all hot under the collar and was on a flight in a matter of days.
You can read about the festival here and I'll be writing about the conference shortly but, for now, here's a little round-up of the sweetness coming my way during my San Fran Express trip.
Pud number 1 in La Dunya on Polk St. Settled into my hotel and then headed straight out in pursuit of my first glass or two of some really good zinfandel. I love a cheeky zin. And they always give you the most enormous glass to quaff it from in Cali. For fear of falling off my perch I ordered some food, culminating in the owner wheeling out three different puddings for me to try. The brownie was perfectly fine, the Tiramisu nice enough, but this lemon situation above had me all up in my clover. A great buttery layer of tangy lemon curd atop a crunchy base of ginger biscuit. It worked for me - I felt perfectly normal the next morning, like I'd been on Pacific Time for weeks.
Soon turned to this:
and I was off into those streets like four dogs on a three-legged cat.
Bi-Rite Creamery ice cream (Salted Caramel and Malted Vanilla for me).
Tartine friand, cacao nib rocher and Mexican sugar cookie (there was something else in there which was way too good to wait for its pic to be taken). I love Tartine. There's something almost apothecal about imbibing from it. Feels like it'll help you to live a long and prosperous life.
Equadorian, hi-camp jellies at the street food festival. I've never seen anything like it. Reminded me of those T-shirts you grow in water.
I'd heard so much about the Creme Brulee Cart and was devastated not to be able to try the Mexican Chocolate. They were dishing out frozen ones to the people a few in front and then torches down, party over.
But I did get to have this as consolation...
Hot off the press, slippy-slidey, melting choc/mallow, squidgeable, crunchable hot mess. Thanks to Kika's Treats for the light relief!
Then someone hawked me this Alfajore (Peruvian dulce de leche cookie) for $2, which I ploughed into before remembering to snap. That keeps happening to me lately.
Oh, and these cheeky little Madeleines were sat winking at me - all sassy and keen - as I passed by Delfina on my way out of there. When it comes to pure comfort cake this has to be up there. And you just feel so damn special with one of those in your hand/mouth/tummy.
Speaking of Delfina, if there was one thing I needed from my San Francisco express visit it was meatballs, California style. I took myself off for a cosy dinner a une (such a luxury) to the Pacific Heights branch and got well stuck into those polpette. I mean seriously stuck in - to the point that, along with a dozen or so other memorables, I swear I'll be recalling them well into my granny years. Anyway, of course I needed dolce after and opted for a moreno cherry sundae with bitter chocolate sauce and toasted pistachios. I did have something of a waddle to my walk home that night.
Brunch at Americano the next day - ahead of the conference - was knock-out. Along with empenadas, panzanella, corn frittata, beef satay, a whole world of Bloody Marys and other deliciousness, they hit us with some sweetness too.
This was a Malaysian porridge:
Nice but perhaps a little too wholesome for me.
More up my strada were the homemade 'pop tarts' - ricotta and blackberry compote:
and the mini cupcakes:
Pink lemonade, Guinness, spiced and Red Velvet. I banded around the idea of the 'cupcake backlash' to the people I was sitting with and they thought it was the most hilarious thing ever. No visible signs of this phenomenon hitting US shores as far as they were concerned.
Later I hit the Humphry Slocombe/Big Gay Ice Cream truck party in the Mission (but not before getting an education in real bourbon from a ripped guy in a low-down dive bar round the corner). What a contrast it was between that and this:
The cake was fine but what really got me inspecting the back of my head was the much raved about Humphry Slocombe ice cream. Hot diggity. My eyes pulsed with fever as I surveyed the list. The queue was ridiculous, I had to be ready with my order. In the end, despite stiff competition from the Salt & Pepper and Balsamic Caramel flavours, I went for Malted Milk Chocolate and Secret Breakfast with hot fudge sauce and frosted peanuts.
I nearly keeled over, straight into the arms of an enormous Tranny. People - it was that good. Not French cleverness, nor Italian velvet, but a pure creamy, delicious pleasure with an almighty flavour that I haven't experienced in London so far.
The next day my hangover (after a heavy duty session with Southern food legend John T Edge) prevented me from exploring sweetness much further. It was all about the tacos, the Po'boys and the empenadas. Except these did catch my eye and I did have to try.
Organic doughnuts. Who knew? This vanilla cookie one did actually feel like it was doing me good in a fairly wholesome way. Not wholesome green pulsey porridge, more soulfood wholesome - my favourite kind.