Colombian Street Kitchen is a small catering business which is introducing the flavours and style of Colombian street food to the British market. David Wailing speaks to Esteban Arboleda, chef and owner.
What made you start up Colombian Street Kitchen?
I realised there was a gap in the London street food market when it came to the dishes I love and grew up on. There are only a few traders making Colombian food, and the restaurants mainly focus on serving Spanish speakers. So I decided I want to make Colombian food as popular as Mexican or Peruvian cuisine. I’m on a mission!
What’s your background and where are you currently based?
I am from the city of Medellín in Colombia, and my family are all still there. I came to the UK about 12 years ago and have been living in Wood Green since 2010. My ambition was to become a secondary school Spanish teacher, which I achieved, but before leaving Colombia I trained as a chef specialising in Colombian cuisine. Those are the skills that are now being put to good use, making street food and using my family’s own recipes.
How does living and working in London compare to Colombia?
London is an amazing city and I am still discovering it. Obviously it’s much more expensive than Colombia so you really pay the price for all the benefits of living here. I really enjoy how multicultural London is, and as a food lover it’s great to be able to find almost any type of cuisine in the world. That also means there’s enormous competition when you are selling your own food and it’s a crowded marketplace for entrepreneurs. But at least everyone has a chance to succeed here.
What are your favourite local places?
I love going up to Alexandra Palace, especially in the summer, and looking out over the whole city. There are some great little restaurants such as Le Chamarel in Turnpike Lane which serves Mauritian food, and Gokyuzu & Kervan is my choice when I fancy a Turkish meal. The best-kept secret is Wood Green Market Hall which I discovered entirely by accident – you have to go exploring to find it.
Have you noticed any changes in Wood Green?
I think there have been definite improvements in the Wood Green area over the last couple of years. There are some modern places opening up and a sense that the area is slowly becoming a little more of a trendy location. I know that Haringey Council is putting a lot of money and effort into regenerating the borough, including the upcoming Green Rooms project which I am involved with.
Tell us about Green Rooms.
Green Rooms is an ‘art hotel’ being developed in a lovely old building just opposite Wood Green Underground Station, which will offer affordable accommodation and workspaces for creative people. They are running a kitchen incubator project that offers 12-month residencies to restaurateurs, and have invited Colombian Street Kitchen to be the first resident. So I will hopefully be opening a small Colombian street food restaurant at Green Rooms, and will have the chance to introduce my country’s food to my local area.
Any suggestions for those who want to be a street food trader?
Expect it to be fun but also a lot more work than a normal job. Test your ideas before you start investing any money. Read the guidance provided by NCASS. Do everything by the book and don’t cut any corners as Londoners are knowledgeable when it comes to quality street food. Other traders are allies not enemies so get out to local markets and shops, chat to them and ask for advice. Establish yourself on social media early to build your reputation. Finally, get friends and family to help you out – you will need them.
What’s your favourite food, both British and Colombian?
Nothing beats a full English breakfast, I love a good fry-up. Surprisingly, there is an equivalent Colombian dish called bandeja paisa which is a platter that contains red kidney beans, rice, fried meat, plantain, avocado, black pudding and chicharrones. Both are guilty pleasures.