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Misfits and stories, and sneaking behind bike sheds

Why I love the hospitality industry.

A lot of the love comes from the fact I love to eat and drink. I also believe that food is integral to our identities and that we use food and cooking as a way to build home;  this is particularly important for migrants, but for all who leave home (even if 'home' is down the road) we use food to build a space of belonging.

But a big part of why I love hospitality are the same reasons why I love the theatre and the arts worlds. I think you can change the world through storytelling, and I think that essentially theatre, art and food are storytelling. And, the important part of telling stories is the element of sharing. We share stories to connect with each other. We paint pictures to tell stories, we write poetry to connect emotionally each other, and we share food to feel part of a community. (Food is also emotional).

Through sharing our own stories we are opening ourselves up to hearing other stories. With new stories comes other worlds and new ideas and we can also learn to re-tell stories that we've heard, to share what we've heard. We can share other people's stories (foods, words, ideas) in a kind, caring and gentle way that isn't appropriation, a way that is about emphasising the hearing and the re-telling. The great thing about cooking is that we can be opening about being influenced, we can be transparent about saying that this is something I learnt from somewhere else and this is how I interpreted that flavour. Like storytelling, where you re-tell a story and emphasis the bits that feel important to you.

If I re-told the story of Red Riding Hood, I would spend time talking about her red hood because that is an image that stands out to me. In the same way that when I cook a rendang I make it wetter than most, because I love the sauce to cover my sticky rice. In both instances I can be clear that this is my re-telling of a story, this is how I have heard the original 'story'; they are the bits from the story that get stuck in my mind – the rendang story for me is about that taste of sticky rice and sauce.

The other reason I love the hospitality industry is because it is full of misfits. Just like the theatre and arts world. As a mixed race, dyslexic, who made questionable clothing choices as a child, it was very rare that I felt like I fitted in – and I would often be surprised that I didn't. Hanging out with other misfits in the drama studio was my relief.

After I finished my undergraduate in performance I started a theatre company because I realised that the only way to succeed was if we stuck together and helped each other out. The emphasis on the company was about big casts, lots of different writers and collaborations – make connections and networks with each other; because work creates work. I'm really pleased to say that a lot of people meet at the company and then worked together, and some have formed their own companies together. The theatre company is called 'behind the bikeshed' – because naughty things happen behind bike sheds. Teenage outlaws loiter making big plans - secrets and plots and stolen kisses. And innovation comes from having time and space away from normality, innovation comes from not being part of the status quo, innovation comes from places like behind a bike shed.

Industries are built on creativity and innovation. Industries are pushed forward by all the misfits of the world, trying something different because they hadn't realised there was a 'normal'. But innovation doesn’t survive unless it is nurtured and pushed, and the thinkers are encouraged and given a place to belong.

To me the hospitality world, like the arts, offers a place for kids who don’t suit certain structures. It's a place for those who have drive, ambition and creativity. It is a place that can be a great leveller, as you don’t need to enter FoH or BoH with particular qualifications, so it draws people from all walks of life. It's a place where if you want to, you can really succeed, regardless of your original starting point. It's a place where all stories can be told. And then when you get into this 'place', you all have to work together, be a team, be a community to make it all work. Every one of us are important. 

And so anywhere that there is a story to tell, anywhere that there are people breaking the rules, is a place I feel home is.


Unfortunately the theatre world doesn't offer that same road to success; and it is becoming more and more elite. This is why I have been pulling further and further away from that world. At the grass roots level you get a real mix of people; but there are so many gate keepers and snobbery around the understanding of 'culture' and cultured. Because hospitality is seen as a service industry it allows for more social range, it is more acceptable for working class to succeed, plus it can (or has been) less visual, unlike the celebrity of actors etc - even in this day of celebrity chefs! Although it's not perfect either – the lack of women and poc in positions of power is still unequal, but it is changing, and as concepts around the way we understand working hours and working structures, the more that will change. The more visible diversity there is, which I think things like social media help with, the more this will change for the better.

 And a few links to show how art, storytelling changes narratives, can help the world... When I remember more, I'll add to this!

Can Art Change The World? artist JR "I realised I was giving people a voice"
Anything done by Belarus Free Theatre 
And Bryony Kimmings for that matter... This year she had a show about depression, previously she re-invented the pop star.


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