In the heart of East London a diverse group of women, passionate about bringing people together and sharing their childhood flavours, have followed their dreams.
Despite a full blown pandemic, these women have managed to build their business and create a delicious menu that not only represents their culture, but also elements of their upbringing and their passion to nurture others.
Lady Lane Catering Co was set up in 2020 bringing together six chefs from mixed backgrounds ranging from Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Middle East and the Caribbean.
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Now five of them are sharing their 100 per cent vegan food at a pop up store near Brick Lane, at The Canvas in Hanbury Street, each with a story to share.
Founder of The Canvas, Ruth Rogers, 40, has dubbed these women an inspiration: “They are juggling their home lives as homemakers, partners and mums, while doing the school run, putting dinner on the table at home, then doing their admin and ordering in the day, as well as cooking.
“As a mother myself I know it’s really flipping hard!”
I was privileged enough to visit and speak to some of the ladies about the inspiring work they’re doing that has turned their passion for cooking into a business.
First introduced to the owner of Dadu’s Kitchen LDN, a superwoman mum-of-six and grandmother, I knew I had come across a group of women extremely determined to communicate with food.
Syeda Hussain, 59, turned her passion into a business in 2019 after cooking for her family for over 40 years.
Talking about her roots back home, it was clear to understand she uses food as a means to teach her own children about their culture.
She said: “Making food is telling your story – my kids have only been to Bangladesh a few times and it’s difficult to explain certain foods I grew up with, so I try my best to explain and create dishes to teach them about their culture.”
Syeda arrived to the UK in 1986 after getting married, and had kept herself busy with jobs ever since then.
She’s worked as a social worker and even dabbled in politics over the years – and despite having a bad leg and walking with a stick, this resilient woman shows no signs of stopping, because when the opportunity came to start her own business, she jumped on it.
Single parent Leila Dunsie, a 33-year-old mum-of-four shared her journey about how her interests in bringing cultures together led her towards a love for cooking.
As she entered the cafe I got a glimpse into her personality, I recall her excitedly saying: “I just made this sauce but I was like a mad scientist putting different ingredients together so I need to try and remember what I put in.”
The mixed race – half Jamaican and half white – mum-of-four said she has a great interest in the history of cultures, revealing how excited she got when she found out her grandmother’s mum was half Chinese and half Indian.
“I think that’s why I have a love for cooking and experimenting with different sorts of food, it’s in my genetics,” she said.
Clearly passionate about bringing people of different backgrounds together through food, she added: “I have a fascination with breaking down cultural barriers through food, because we are more similar than we think and it’s apparent in the foods we cook across the continents.”
Opening up about her journey, she explained her difficult childhood led her to wanting to help others: “My main interest and motivation is being able to help others, in some way, especially people who seem to be forgotten about – food is a nurturing thing and gives a sense of home comfort, or the feeling of a nuclear family.”
Leila started off her food business in 2016 and has since been juggling it on and off while caring for her young kids.
While cooking at home for her family she realised her potential further when people came knocking on her door, intrigued by the aromatic smells to ask what she was cooking.
That’s when she decided to monetize her talent and has created a Caribbean inspired menu.
I was lucky enough to try two of the ladies’ meals available on the menu at the venue – Woin’s Ethiopic Kitchen presented me with Kei miser wot – lentil spice stew, Alicha kil – split chickpeas, Gomen – green cabbage and beetroot stew all paired with Ethiopian Injera – flatbread.
My immediate response was, “it tastes like home”, despite being from a south Asian background myself, the familiarity of the lentils and flatbread reminded me of the food we were brought up on.
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From Sophia, Aseel’s Kitchen I tried a Middle Eastern platter which included stuffed vine leaves, Falafel, Tabbouleh, Hummus and Batata Hara, as well as a main of Moroccan vegetable tagine.
It’s clear these strong women have a passion and a love for creating delicious flavours, and more so, feeding others!
Founder Ruth explained her reason for jumping on the opportunity to give these women a space.
She said: “I just believe humans are amazing and they need a space to be amazing.”
Talking about the impact of the pop up restaurant, she said: “This represents everything that my business stands for, empowering women, taking food made with love and presenting it to London.
“It’s women coming together in a cooperative, helping one another – and that’s everything for me.”
The Lady Lane Catering pop up at The Canvas is available throughout October, and November – December dates are to be confirmed.
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