In a surprising career twist, rapper Loyle Carner set up a cookery school with Mikey Krzyzanowski from the Goma Collective social enterprise. Five years on, the pair talk food memories, the meditative joys of cooking, and how community is ingrained in mealtimes
Rapper Loyle Carner likes mixing it up. His music blends sparse jazz beats with south London grit, treacle-thick basslines and layers of warm, soulful melody. His stage moniker is a playful take on his real name, Ben Coyle-Larner. 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.
A dab hand in the kitchen since the age of seven, now 26, Coyle-Larner is spreading the word on the therapeutic benefits of cooking, after teaming up with social enterprise the Goma Collective. Their London-based Chilli Con Carner summer school has been teaching cookery to kids with ADHD for the past five years, giving teens accustomed to a diet of failure and anxiety 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. Even as a kid, he loved a crowd.
“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. While setting up a skateboard project in Nepal, Krzyzanowski reached out to the burgeoning musician, asking if he would like to get involved. Coyle-Larner threw back an idea of his own: teaching neurodiverse kids 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.
For a full week over the summer break, they take around a dozen 14- to 16-year-olds and teach them how to make everything from dusty folds of fresh pasta to intricate California sushi rolls.
The course often begins with crowd-pleasing towers of fluffy American-style pancakes, laden with rounds of caramelised banana. The technicality ramps up as the week progresses: beef wellington, salmon en croûte, ravioli.
Over the years, the course has evolved to include field trips to working London restaurants, and the Chilli Con Carner brand has hosted pop-up events catered by 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
While Coyle-Larner and Krzyzanowski have stepped back from their initial teaching roles, they still get involved as classroom assistants. Professional tutors lead the classes, with drop-ins from big names such as chefs Andi Oliver and Jack Stein (the son of fellow chef Rick Stein).
The effect on their young pupils is remarkable. 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 recalls one school-leaver so crippled with shame at his poor GCSE results that he failed to 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 imbued not only its pupils but also its creators with a new can-do mentality. Buoyed by its transformative success, the pair now plan to bring their community spirit to music and poetry projects, too.
“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 cooking up change
Kaleyard is a Glasgow-based non-profit social enterprise cookery school. Founded by Sumayya Usmani, profits from its masterclasses allow it to offer free or subsidised classes to community groups.
Image: Adolfo Felix
‘A cookery school with a conscience’, Leeds Cookery School donates all profits to Zest, a charity that supports people living in disadvantaged areas of the city.
Image: Jonathan Borba
Migrateful, a social enterprise based in London, runs cookery classes led by migrant chefs from more than 30 countries. As well as teaching people about global cuisine, the classes support migrants and refugees to rebuild their lives.
Image: Jason Briscoe
Man With a Pan is just one of the programmes run by the Community Chef CIC, founded by Robin Van Crevald. The classes in Sussex teach older, single and vulnerable men how to cook.
Image: Ivan Lapyrin
Main image: Vicky Grout
Chilli Con Carner is seeking UK-wide partners interested in helping to expand its ADHD cooking school. Get in touch via chilliconcarner.com