Working in the city, achieving a stable career with a bright prospects for the future, only to throw in the towel and call it quits. Few people would dare to relinquish so much potential gain in walking away from their daily grind in order to create something they could truly find joy in.
Gabriel, co-founder of Laffa Street Food, happens to be one of those few. Laffa Street Food is a stall featuring a Levant-inspired menu, offering customers a selection of around 5 unique and constantly changing dishes to choose from on a daily basis. It isn’t the process of finally pursuing a personal passion that I find intriguing, though that definitely contributes to my interest, but that by building a mini-truck stall it also allows for the business to be easily relocated anywhere by road. From afar, the stall appears as a bright blue rectangle surrounded by buzzing customers, smokey activity and smiling well-trimmed staff. Yes, you will want to order everything they offer, but you’ll be sensible enough to choose wisely. Their sapphire truck has been firmly cemented as a culinary destination through appearances at several London food events, and it’s no surprise that restaurant openings are now on the cards. Over a cold beer, Gabriel reveals how his Mediterranean dream was catapulted into a serious food business.
Hello Gabriel how are you today?
Very well thanks, just back from a weekend in Mallorca.
Where are you from?
I was born in Argentina and have lived all over the world with my family now based in south-west Scotland. My parents are British but also grew up abroad!
What did you have for dinner last night?
I went to Kiln in Soho – modern thai food cooked in clay pots over coals – delicious!
What’s your favourite dish to eat?
Having lived in Italy growing up, I love a good pizza.
What do you like to cook on a Sunday?
When I’m with my family a roast lamb with all the trimmings.
Whats the first thing you do when you arrive in a coffee shop?
Order a flat white.
Tube or walk?
Favourite day of the week?
Tahini which is sesame seed paste, – it’s a main ingredient in hummus but you don’t see it used that much on its own over here, it can add a lot to a dish.
What’s your favourite drink (alc and non-alc)?
A cold beer or cup of tea.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
Ben (other co-founder) used to work in the kitchen – which cuisine was he cooking?
Gabriel – office clerk, how was life in the white collared world?
I worked in consulting which was varied but I got tired of looking at a screen all day.
Laffa (Flat Bread) – very cool. Why this name?
We started off by making flatbreads, simple but tasty and versatile- I even used to make them while living in the jungle of Borneo over a camp fire.
We love your truck, especially the inviting colour. How did you go about building it and choosing the theme?
Ben and I studied architecture at university so we were up for the challenge of doing it all ourselves – the idea was to evoke the sunshine of the eastern Mediterranean.
You guys fell in love with cuisines by the coast of Eastern Mediterranean, when was the exact turning point when you guys thought that this was the cuisine you wanted to specialise in?
When we decided to quit our jobs and start a food truck we knew we both loved the cooking from that region – the beautiful colours and flavours are really exciting.
Did you guys do some travelling around the countries of your food?
Yes, we travelled around Israel and brought back lots of ideas. Jerusalem is a melting pot of cultures with a very rich history and Tel Aviv is really exploring new boundaries in Middle Eastern cuisine.
Were there any other secondary cuisine options you had considered?
You don’t have much on the menu, which is good! How did you make the decision of what to include and exclude?
With the things we’ve picked hopefully you will find something you like or be willing to try! We like to put on occasional specials so keep an eye out.
You guys only serve in the day, will you be launching for dinner too?
Possibly in the summer. And for supper clubs.
Do you think Levant food in the UK is very different to food in which they originally come from?
There are differences, particular ingredients are used in abundance over there but here are toned down a bit for British tastes. We like to mix it up and experiment with different combinations.
Which day of the week do you most enjoy opening your stall and why?
Friday is always fun as it’s the busiest for us and people make the most of their lunch break.
Flat Iron Square is the perfect location for your stall – how did you go about with location picking?
The opportunity came up and we got on well with the owners and their vision for Flat Iron Square.
What are the challenges of creating authentic levant dishes in the UK?
Exposing people to things that they haven’t heard of before can be a challenge.
What characteristic do you most admire in other chefs?
On a day-to-day basis, what are the responsibilities of your job?
Planning events, dealing with bookings, organizing staff, despairing about the weather forecast!
What are the challenges of your job?
Rain – street food its very weather dependent. Also being your own boss!
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Serving happy customers.
Can you tell us something interesting that goes on behind the stall that we don’t see?
There is lots of food prep that goes on in our prep kitchen before we can open up the food truck to serve.
The food you cook is healthy and wholesome – something Mulgaro truly loves. What are your thoughts on the current trend of clean eating?
I think there is lots of food that is delicious and naturally healthy without compromising on flavor which some of the clean eating trends do. Levantine food is a good example – packed full of vegetables, grain, herbs, and spices it is good for you without trying too hard.
How long does it take to open your stall before serving?
2-3 hours, the meat we marinate overnight but most other things are made fresh in the morning.
In your opinion, what are the top 3 things someone should consider before pursuing their own stall/pop-up?
You’ve got to be fully committed to it, be adaptable with your concept/plan, have fun with it.
What are your top 3 activities/things that draw inspiration for your food?
Travel, talking to other cooks and the brilliant London food scene.
Name the biggest overall lesson you’ve learned in the kitchen?
It’s not hells kitchen, chefs don’t have to shout at each other to be successful!
Aside from food, what is your side passion?
I love design and art.
How often do you spend time on it?
Running a business there’s lots of ways I can use it from designing branding to marketing material.
How do you balance work/leisure?
I love live music so go our to gigs a lot with friends.
Best place to chill in London?
Would you guys like to have more stalls or a restaurant?
Yes we are our second food truck should be ready next week which is exciting! It’s going to be roaming London mostly but also at Festivals such as Wilderness and Field Day.
Eating IN at someones home or OUT in restaurants?
I like both but probably out at restaurants is a real treat and I love trying new places.
What is your perfect weekend?
My perfect weekend is at a musical festival – it combines hanging out with friends, trying some great street food and listening to music.
What is your favourite thing about your workspace?
Being outdoors and not stuck inside an office, on a sunny day this is a dream. On a cold windy day in February less so but that’s part of the fun!
How much do you value home cooking and why?
I value it highly because my mother is an excellent home cook and taught me most of what I know. Being resourceful with ingredients is a great skill and I like the joy it brings to produce a lovely home cooked meal for other people.
What is the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in your career/line of work?
Being my own boss, the security of a regular income is a sacrifice and the disposable income that comes with it but it’s not such a bid deal to me.
What would you tell yourself 10 years ago that you wish you knew then?
I don’t know! I’m not much wiser now. (Perfect answer!)
What is your personal motto?
Be an enthusiast in life. There’s no point doing something half hearted. If you’re interested in something embrace it fully.
Best life advice you’ve been given?
You never know.
What’s your favourite thing to come home to after a long day of work?
A cup of tea and a biscuit.
One thing you love about Mulgaro?
Finding out about new places, I haven’t been to.
Where are you going now?
Honey and Spice deli to get some lunch.
Keep up with Laffa Street Food – www.laffafood.com | @laffastreetfood