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Cooking & Caribbean cultures: an interview with Island Social Club

06 Sep 2017

Marie Mitchell and I met in July this summer, over rotis at her latest residency running Rotishop at Styx bar in Tottenham. We danced, drank a rum punch that I thought might be the end of me, and ate a lot of good food. Marie is the founder of Pop’s Kitchen and co-founder of Island Social Club, a collective of Caribbean food and drink creatives making moves in London this year. Under the umbrella brand of Island Social Club, Marie, Joe and Biko run Pop’s Kitchen, Rotishop, Rumshop, and Everybody’s. The brands run relatively independently, but all deal with the same core Caribbean food, drink, and culture.

“Caribbean food has a special place in my heart”

Caribbean food has a special place in my heart. While growing up my only exposure to it was at Carnival or summers with my grandma  learning to cook the meals my dad grew up with became a point of bonding between my grandma, my dad and I. Experimenting with my grandma’s chicken seasonings, trying to perfect that mac & cheese, and failing miserably at making goat water all of these are moments in the last few years that have given me a deeper connection with my family.

For the collective, food and drink are a way of exploring island culture and history celebrating the small differences between island cuisines that aren’t always highlighted when recipes are lumped together under the umbrella term “Caribbean”. Marie’s cooking emphasises this, for her  “food and culture come together through immigration […] Caribbean foods are generally made up of a whole mix of other cultures it’s literally a melting pot.”

It’s funny while Caribbean culture in London often celebrates individual islands, say with floats at Notting Hill Carnival, independence day celebrations, and the nuances in our grandmother’s accents food is often lumped together under an umbrella. While things are changing, with books like Belly Full focussing on the characters behind our nation’s best loved food spots, Marie’s particular inspiration comes from highlighting the little differences in cuisines, and exploring the relationships between different islands.

During a residency this summer at Canvas Cafe in Shoreditch, Marie had the chance to explore different takes on staple dishes. “For instance, we were doing a Cuban week, so we served ‘Moros y Cristianos’ essentially like rice and peas… But it’s got a tomato base, so you can feel the Spanish influence coming through, with the use of oregano and spices… despite the massive similarities, there are subtle differences that have a huge impact.” The differences are there, and are felt keenly by some in the Caribbean food scene, “there are so many factions! We get people coming in like ‘What do Jamaicans know about Roti?!!’ and it’s like, ‘guys! Let’s all be friends?’” she laughs. “It’s funny, but really we want to celebrate the differences in a positive way.”

Where Rotishop focusses only on street food…Pop’s Kitchen is a more formal setting, a sit down supper club”

The brands under Island Social Club deal with food in unique ways. Where Rotishop focusses only on street food (“it’s fritters, fries, rotis you rip it, you eat it with your hands it’s the definition of street food”), Pop’s Kitchen is a more formal setting, a sit down supper club that Marie runs with her family. “Pop’s is more of a formalised setting in the sense of being restaurant based, but it’s still family that’s the heart of it, it’s how it started […] Dad helps cook, mum helps host.” Rumshop is the drinks arm of the collective, “It’s Joe and Biko’s baby they explore different rum punches [and] pair them up with the right foods and the right settings […] when we first started I would do a supper club and the guys would do a curated rum punch menu to go alongside it.”  

The team behind Island Social Club have put real time into ensuring that their recipes and ingredients call out specific island cultures and traditions, a way of paying homage to the vast array of Caribbean foods and flavours. “We started with a lot of research. We spent a lot of time at the British Library, just digging through different island histories and recipe books […] It was for roti, fillings, overall menus […] we were researching everything from history books to cookbooks, then spending a lot of time recipe testing.” The dedication shows in their food.

The team are keen to highlight the many different ways Caribbean food and drink can be enjoyed, for example, pairing popular spice mixes like jerk with Ital recipes a vegetarian diet observed in some Rastafarian practices. I visited Rotishop and tried jerk jackfruit with mango hot sauce and honestly thought I had it in me to go vegan. It all changed once I had a lamb and tamarind variation though, sorry gal-dem.

Marie, Joe, and Biko’s passion for their project shows in all their outputs. The food is incredible, the rum punches are delicious (but slyly lethal), and you can tell that they’re having fun. The three dance, sing, and cook up the best roti I have ever had, and you can literally taste the joy in their food, so please, please, pay them a visit. You’ll have incredible food and so much fun. For the team, the food is as much about the conversations it sparks as the tastes in your mouth. “What’s so nice right now is that we have such a wonderful interaction with our customers, and so it’s important that thats maintained. It makes the exchange intimate, it makes it a ‘social club’.”

Pop’s kitchen’s next supperclub is on September 14th – tickets available here.

Rotishop can be found Thursdays-Sundays 4pm-10pm at Styx Bar in Tottenham, and for all news on Island Social Club visit their website: