King Cook’s Insider’s Guide to East London

King Cook’s Insider’s Guide to East London
From pie mash to street art and underground boxing, King Cook leads us on a tour of the spots that made him.

I grew up in the nineties, born and raised in East London. It was a lot different back then in terms of style, culture and attitude – it’s what shaped me to become the person I am today. At secondary school in East Ham, I was the only kid from Laos in a secondary school that had a thousand pupils. So, I was a minority in an area that was predominantly Black, White and South Asian. Already knowing that I was different, that set me up – I had to be strong.

 I had friends from all walks of life, White, Black, Asian. So I just took on their cultures as well – and the East London culture. For lunch I would eat Pie Mash and I fell in love with it. At home, my mum would cook me traditional Lao food. My dad would come back from working as a chef in a London hotel, with different cuts of meat: pork chops, lamb chops, you name it. And then obviously growing up in East Ham, I was always around South Asian food: Indian food, Bangladeshi food, Tamil food. So that’s where the food culture came from: I was exposed to different types of cuisines from around the world at an early age.

I’ve always loved the pace of East London, it’s vibrant and it’s alive. There are so many different things you can experience – everything from traditional caffs to fine dining. Within walking distance of my spot King Cookdaily (more on that later) there are five other great vegan spots – I call it The Vegan Mile. But then you go around the corner, you have Bangla Town, where you can experience the food culture of the huge Bangladeshi community. Then in the other direction, you have the design and creative scene.

Sometimes I’ll be walking on the street, there’ll be a wedding or a festival, you’ll see all the Asian sarees, and it’s just so colourful. Or you’ll see shops with the traditional costumes from Nigeria or East Africa, with similar bright colours and textures to the traditional Lao costumes. Fashion isn’t just urban fashion here, it’s traditional – and it’s global, too. The whole world comes to your doorstep, you find everything here in one hub. It’s a big boiling pot of all cultures and that’s what I love. I can appreciate other places but I always feel at home in East London. So, let me show you some spots that are special to me in my very own East London.

1. DAGENHAM AMATEUR BOXING CLUB

Boxing has always been a big tradition in East London. During lockdown, I thought, "What am I going to do with this time?" I decided I was going to fully commit to my kids’ early years through sport. Boxing became another love of my life. I started training my kids with the other coaches at the gym and now I’m a qualified England Boxing coach.

My daughter is ten and she’s elite for her age. Both of my eldest kids want to be professional athletes, boxers. We train together as a family unit. We chose Dagenham ABC because head coach Lewis Passfield is one of the best amateur boxing coaches in the country. My kids feel safe every time they walk into the gym.

We’re there three-to-four times a week and every time I’m buzzing: you smell the sweat, you hear the skipping ropes, you hear the noise of the different ways the kids express themselves, the ways they channel their aggression. It’s a family, it’s a community. We’re all volunteers, we all have jobs but we coach them because you see them progress so much. It’s mental training, not just physical. I wish I had this when I was growing up.

Dagenham Amateur Boxing Club - 222 Heathway, Dagenham RM10 8QS

2. CHROME & BLACK

My next spot, Chrome & Black is an art shop. But really and truly it’s a place to get your graffiti supplies, to get your spray cans. It’s owned by a good friend of mine, who’s a London legend! This is in-house, small, organic growth. A lot of writers and artists from across London go there. It’s a mecca: if you know, you know.

I’ve had a relationship with Chrome & Black since way back, I wouldn’t go anywhere else to get my supplies. I just love the vibe, you feel that London energy there. I used to write a lot of graffiti growing up. It’s still with me, I incorporate little bits of it here and there with Cookdaily.

Chrome & Black – Unit 4, 12 Andre Street, Clapton, E8 2AA

3. ALLEN GARDENS

This is a place where we can write graffiti legally, so that’s why I go there to have a little paint. It’s always nice to just get the spray cans out, without stress. This is a cool spot where you won’t get bothered. There’s always something going on, it’s like a walking art gallery for writers near Brick Lane. every time i pass by on the way to work, I see new pieces and think “Ah, so-and-so was here.” It’s just like that in Shoreditch, it’s mad. I think Shoreditch is the most creative place in London right now.

Path from Allen Gardens to Cheshire Street

4. G KELLY EEL & PIE SHOP

Pie & Mash is traditional London grub, it has always been popular in East London. It’s basically pies and mashed potatoes with a green parsley sauce called liquor, which was originally made with boiled eel juice. When I was growing up, chicken shops weren’t really a thing, so we’d go for Pie & Mash. It’s beloved by generations young and old: you always see young kids banging Pie & Mash, to old people with no teeth.

Sadly, as time has gone on, they’ve started closing or moving further out, so I’ve had to travel. When I became vegetarian and then vegan I thought, “Shit, I can’t have one of my childhood favourites anymore.” But when I found out that G. Kelly’s did a vegan version with soy mince, I connected with the owner Neil and we’ve been friends ever since. It’s a place I can take my kids. Especially on a Sunday after boxing training, we always head up there and just have a hearty Pie & Mash. It’s an East End tradition that I can carry on with my kids. Hopefully they can carry it on because it’s just East London food, it’s East London culture. I still love it.

G Kelly Eel & Pie Shop - 526 Roman Rd, Bow, E3 5ES

5. KING COOKDAILY

East London forces you to be streetwise, so you can always adapt to any situation. After leaving school at 15, I worked my way up from market food stalls, pub kitchens, 5-star hotels to Michelin-starred kitchens but then I hit a wall. After reconnecting with my Buddhist roots, I went meat-free and launched my own vegan operation. Before lockdown I had four Cookdailys running in Hackney and Central London. At first, I thought we could just ride through it all but when I saw my friend’s vegan places closing down, I thought maybe it’s time to take a break, take a breather. In the end, one year away from the vegan scene to spend time with my family became three.

During lockdown, I was doing a lot of research into Japanese food culture, especially small family-run Japanese restaurants. No matter how busy the cities are, or how advanced, there are always these little culinary gems hidden away, working hard, day in, day out. Coming back to the scene, that’s what I wanted to channel. Keeping it simple, it’s just me in the heart of Shoreditch. So, I put my name on the door: it’s King Cookdaily because I promised myself I want to be in the kitchen cooking and overseeing everything every single day for at least a year.

Follow King Cook on Instagram or find out more about King Cookdaily, 10 Hanbury Street, London E1 6QR. Mon-Sat 12-9.

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