The new cooking show Bad Canteen: an interview with Hélène Selam Kleih

Bad Canteen is the newest show coming to us from Kyra TV, (the same channel that gave us streetwear show PAQ), covering the whole eating experience from kitchen to table to tastebuds, a group of young creatives learn to taste and cook together. The Bad Canteen crew is comprised of Shaq, a 20 year old DJ, Jordan, model; Tia, an illustrator studying at Central St Martins; Caleb, a film director who interned for Danny Boyle; Scotty, a stylist, and  model and fellow gal-dem contributor, Hélène who I arranged to meet and chew over the new show with.

“The Bad Canteen episodes will sit alongside other hip cookery shows, for example the popular “Fuck, that’s delicious!” hosted by Action Bronson on the Vice Network”

A far cry from traditional cookery shows, Hélène tells me the episodes aren’t led by “a chef in a very impersonal sterile kitchen teaching you how to cook, it’s about teaching you how to cook in a way that’s relatable. It’s almost like trial and error, you watch us fail and learn from our failures”. And this builds on learning to cook in a world where Deliveroo, UberEATS and other fast-food acquisition constitute an affordable daily choice. The Bad Canteen episodes will sit alongside other hip cookery shows, for example the popular “Fuck, that’s delicious!” hosted by Action Bronson on the Vice Network, yet Helene recognises that Bronson, besides his celebrity, is “still a trained chef”.

We discuss whether Bad Canteen’s approach to accessible, relatable cooking is connecting with our parents’ generation, or whether the approach is newer and fresher. Hélène tells me “I think we’re doing a bit of both – we’re connecting by trying to keep the skill of cooking alive, we’re also trying to put a spin on new recipes, for example we’re learning to make burgers, we’re also learning to make roast dinners from scratch how our parents would, but also moving away from the traditional and getting young people more interested in cooking.” I want to know what Hélène’s parents make of Bad Canteen, and she tells me that they “think it’s jokes”. We speak about what she hopes to make of Bad Canteen on a personal level, she tells me she wants to “go to Japan to learn to make sushi, and I’d really like a Haribo sponsorship too”.

“The variety of crew and tastes makes for an interesting amalgamation of disappointed and joyful reactions to flavours, giving Bad Canteen a reality-show panache”

Cookery aside, Bad Canteen seems to also handle issues of eating as a social experience. A segment has begun within each episode, documenting the hosts introducing stylist Scotty to new flavours and foods, and Hélène tells me “he’s the weirdest one in terms of food, because he’s not actually tried any food. It’s funny, because in our get-to-know-each-other process, first time I ever met him I made him eat a banana – he’d never eaten a banana before”. And mention of the fact that “Shaq didn’t know what a clementine was”  opens up the subject of the Bad Canteen’s vastly varied palates. The variety of crew and tastes makes for an interesting amalgamation of disappointed and joyful reactions to flavours, giving Bad Canteen a reality-show panache that can be recognised by young people on a very personal level.

Hélène continues, “It’s not just about fuelling your body for energy, it’s also about cooking for taste. Off camera we’re all friends and we eat together, and we send each other pictures of things we’ve just made, and also our tastes differ. So I love sweets, I put sweet into savoury, Shaq just loves chicken, the first episode was basically about that”.

I question Hélène about the relationship between the different cultures the group share, and how that translates into their gastro-exploration, and she tells me; “we’re all from completely different backgrounds and cultures. In terms of food, we’re planning on getting Scotty to try jollof rice. We did a shoot in Borough market, and there was an Eritrean food stall and I just got so gassed, and the lady gave me a lot of food for free, and so I got everyone to try it. They’d never had Injera, all these sauces, and Scotty especially was really eager to taste it, to taste something from my culture, so it is also about bridging that gap too.”

And now that the Bad Canteen has a physical space, a location that Hélène describes as “somewhere where we can put our new skills into practice”, it seems that the physicality of the HQ has really turned a house into a home. “We’ve been having banter about Kyra actually hiring us to run this restaurant whilst under the guise of making a show. But it’s good to have a space where we can cook but also invite people in.”

From finding a space and discussing terms with an estate agent, to renovating it from disused chicken shop to fashionable kitchen, the dining space and home to friends learning to cook together, is all documented by Kyra, with viewers coming along for the ride.

 Watch the first episode here

 

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