Words by Abi Scaife
“This is not about a PR exercise. It's not about a chef or two other people that are doing it for [their] ego. It's about genuinely wanting to help people and genuinely wanting to change people's lives.”
Chef Adam Simmonds, a double Michelin star-winning chef, joined together with Soup Kitchen London to make a huge difference in the lives of people experiencing homelessness.
Home Kitchen, a restaurant with a difference, will be staffed entirely by people experiencing homelessness. The restaurant aims to employ 16 people for its 13-week run, where it will be based at what used to be a Frankie & Benny’s in London Victoria Station.
The staff will be paid a London living wage and provided with a three-week crash course that runs them through the necessary skills to work in hospitality. This includes employment tips, and training in cooking and people skills so that, by the end of the 13 weeks, every staff member has the skills they need to walk into another hospitality job.
Not only that, but all staff members will leave Home Kitchen with a City and Guilds professional qualification, and some will get a job that begins immediately after Home Kitchen closes.
During the pandemic, Soup Kitchen London found itself feeding 160 people a day with a very limited number of staff and volunteers. When the head chef at Soup Kitchen London had to take time off because of burnout caused by the pandemic, Alex turned to Adam for help.
“You’re bringing joy to people [with] a hot meal,” says Adam. “The fact that you can bring something to somebody that's struggling - there's nothing more rewarding than that. It doesn't take much to do something nice for somebody.”
Having spent time working in a soup kitchen before, Adam fell right into step with the work at Soup Kitchen London. It was here, during the crisis of the pandemic, and shuttering of the hospitality industry and the loss of work that came with it, that he had the idea for Home Kitchen.
Open about his own near miss with homelessness, Adam is hugely empathetic towards those who are sleeping rough, or in temporary housing. “Without the support of my family I could have been on the streets myself and that's the harsh reality of it,” Adam says, candidly.
“There's nothing more rewarding [as] a chef to be able to pass on your knowledge. Yes, these guys won't have had anywhere near the training [I have], but to give somebody an opportunity, where society has given [me] one that almost is just, that's so rewarding, in my opinion.”
The aim of Home Kitchen is not only to help people experiencing homelessness into trained employment, but also to help bring workers into the hospitality industry. There are currently 400,000 job vacancies in hospitality, caused by the pandemic, but nobody to fill them.
The chefs hope that one day there could be restaurants all over the country following their lead.
“Because of [your] situation, it doesn't mean that you can't have dreams and aspirations,” says Adam, seriously. “First and foremost it's about belief, and giving these guys and girls, the belief that they can go on and do stuff even though they face adversity.”
You can donate to Home Kitchen's Crowdfunder here.