Nothing quite spells despair like a budget mealtime for one. I know this because I’m no stranger to eating my meals straight out of the packet from which it came or from a saucepan over the sink, safe in the comfort of my own company. I seem to have bypassed the stage to adulthood where you learn to adequately feed yourself, so I must admit that I’m easily wooed by a recipe on my Facebook newsfeed promising me that the grass is greener, and that I too can learn to cook and eat well pennilessly.
However, I must add that although I’ve liked many an aesthetically pleasing birds-eye video hoping to coax my lazy bones into sieving and mixing, I rarely take the time to actually make what I’m being shown. I mean, it really is exhausting enough watching someone else cook, isn’t it?
Having already gotten my fill from Buzzfeed’s food channel Tasty, and yet being no closer to learning how to whip up a decent meal, I’ve decided that the time has come to shift my focus toward a cyber-foodie obsession: Introducing, Mob Kitchen.
Set up by Benjamin Lebus, Mob Kitchen is an online publishing company producing one-minute ‘how-to’, food videos. On their website they shout, “WE MAKE FOOD YOU’LL ACTUALLY COOK”! That means, “no food porn. No molten, double deep fried cheese. No triple chocolate brownies drowned in peanut butter”, which did make my heart whimper a little as I read, being the molten fried cheese loving sitophile I am.
Ben tells me that he posts Mob Kitchen videos three times a week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday, as he’s found that his audience – mainly students and young professionals – tend to be too hungover on the weekends to bother cooking (kids, eh?). As we chat, I discover that it’s just Ben running the show. “I say we to make me sounds less lonely” – I can relate, Ben. With just himself and cameraman, they shoot up to ten recipes a weekend, suggesting that Ben doesn’t suffer from hangovers quite like his viewers.
Despite no culinary training, this is his day job, but it’s taken a while to get here. “Mob Kitchen started when I went to the University of Edinburgh. I’ve always been an avid cook.” He explains, “I got into my second year and moved in with four of my best mates”. Two of the guys he was living with, he says, basically just lived off of “scrambled eggs on toast” – which I understand is a staple for most students, but Ben doesn’t believe it has to be. “I wanted to show them that you could cook really healthy food while also being on a budget.”
Every recipe in Mob Kitchen’s first series of videos promises to feed four people for under £10. “Mob Kitchen makes NO ABSURD STORE CUPBOARD ASSUMPTIONS”, the website ‘About’ page shouts again. “We do not assume you have the odd dusting of cumin on this shelf, and the perfect number of bay leaves on that one. All we expect is that you have SALT, PEPPER, OLIVE OIL and a tenner. Nothing more.” As someone who once bought a bucket of Spirulina (costing about £15 a pop) for one green smoothie because a bat-shit healthy eating cookbook once told me to, this is music to my ears.
Speaking of ears, Mob Kitchen isn’t all about food, but it’s the music, too. Music is a huge part of the brand and a “central element of the Mob Kitchen ethos”. A series of playlists have been devised to fit “all your culinary musical needs”, including Afro-beat and jazz. I have a quick scroll through what’s on offer and quickly learn that I’m not as cool as I had originally thought, given I only recognise the name of one artist: Erykah Badu.
Ben interrupts our conversation to inflate my ego by saying that he agrees with and loves the Not Plant Based message, which is that no food is bad food and that you don’t have to be wealthy to live healthily *squeals with pride*. I ask him if he believes that you can be poor and healthy at the same time, and he says, “definitely. I think you have to be clever about the ingredients that you use”. He adds, “I mean, vegetables are cheap and you just need to have creative ways of knowing how to cook them.”
A ramble through the Mob Kitchen Facebook page and you’ll note that the videos showcase a certain formula of familiar ingredients. It’s sweet potatoes, eggs, peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, chicken: All the food I remember growing up with – the good hearty stuff my dad would make us on a low budget, giving me and my brothers the energy to run around like tiny hooligans around the garden. The good stuff.
I ask Ben his thoughts on the current wellness and food industry and he pauses, as though I’ve just burst his sheltered bubble, reminding him that they – the clean eaters – even exist. Being very much a man who sticks to his guns and does his own thing, it’s a refreshing reaction from someone who sticks to cooking the food he loves, and not because he wants to peddle trends. “Kale’s just got a bad name, I love kale!” He makes a point of saying that the green stuff’s not even that expensive, and is similarly priced to spinach, “but no one ever complains about spinach”.
Giving only one more breath to the topic of food elitism, he says: “I think people who don’t have as much disposable cash shouldn’t fear or fret about that because actually there are ways for them to cook equally delicious, equally presentable, equally healthy food.”
Mob Kitchen wasn’t always Mob Kitchen. Ben was originally going to call himself the Z chef, as his plan was to feed the Z generation, but his Mum thought it was a terrible name. Now, Mob Kitchen, is a force to be reckoned with on social media, with 12.4k followers on Instagram and around 39k likes on Facebook, aiming to feed the mob, whether that be your family, mates, or in my case, myself.
“By and large it’s just been organic”, the growth of his social media presence, he means. When he first launched, he began simply with lots of small Facebook private groups to get the word spreading through his friends and family, and “the response was insane”. Since then, he’s spent his time constantly sharing and reaching out to people on Instagram. Whatever he’s doing, it seems to be working.
I finish by asking Ben one self-indulgent question painted as a question for the masses, because that’s the kind of girl I am: “Do you have any advice for people who are scared of cooking?”. “Yes”, he says, “go on Mob Kitchen” (how we laugh!).
“I think the education around food is shocking. The only reason I know how to cook is because I had foodie parents. But for people who don’t have parents that are into food, I don’t know how you would get into cooking at all. But I would just say that it isn’t this big scary thing that people inflate in their heads. You can just put a sweet potato in the oven for an hour and forget about it, then pull out all the filling and mix it with something delicious, and put it all back in the skin. I mean it’s the easiest thing in the entire world.”
I know what I’m having for dinner.
We put a spin on one of Ben’s recipe’s and will be posting the video this Thursday, so keep your blinkers peeled.