Yaya’s Kitchen is not your average dining establishment. Located in the London Food Incubator at 630 Dundas, this local gem is a commercial kitchen that hosts monthly pop-ups and supper clubs.
Malvin Wright and his wife Maryam, who's dubbed "the face of the organization," opened Yaya’s Kitchen last year after their at-home supper clubs were growing so much in popularity, they decided to take the next step. Starting off as celebrations of African culture and particularly the Sahel (the geographic region which transitions from the Sahara Desert), Yaya’s has come to welcome all cultures and cuisines making their monthly meals an unmatched illustration of diversity in this urban core.
“Wherever we’ve been, we’re always cooking, we’re always having people over. We were originally doing this in our backyard, which spilled over to our living room, which spilled over to our kitchen, and then we were like “hey, we can’t do this anymore” Malvin told us. That was until they walked into the London Food Incubator and found the perfect home for their vision.
Now, Yaya’s Kitchen hosts one supper club each month and one pop-up eatery. The clubs are made up of roughly 40 strangers, sat family-style in order to encourage communication and engagement with one another.
The meals are served tapas-style with five to six courses prepared by a local individual who has come to share their food, their culture, and their stories with the group.
Malvin, a chef himself, said “we remind people it’s a long distance race, not a sprint, pace yourselves.”
Yaya’s Kitchen is meant to celebrate all cultures but, as Malvin noted, it’s about showcasing the global Black experience of food by introducing people to brand new flavour profiles they likely haven’t encountered before.
Currently the available options when it comes to Black cultural cuisine in urban areas and in Canada generally, Malvin noted “they tend to be very limited to specific countries, specific places, specific people. Typically you find a Jamican restaurant, a Trinidadian restaurant, and an Ethiopian restaurant but that tends to be as far as the palette goes.”
It’s certainly not to say that those countries and those restaurants aren’t gems in their own rights but this is where Yaya’s Kitchen, as a project, flourishes.
“We wanted to explore or provide an opportunity to [showcase] those other 40-50 plus countries globally along with what they cook, the preparation, the presentation, the flavours and so on. So we wanted to do the food we know but be inspired by all these other countries.”
Now, each course at the supper club is served to you from a variety of different countries and from a wide range of people. The goal is to use traditional foods, spices, and flavours, but make dishes as familiar as possible while preserving authenticity. The other facet to this project is to bring people in from these different communities and have them prepare and share what it is that defines their culture through food and storytelling.
“We think that London has enough diversity that somebody from a specific community can actually come in and prepare that meal for the people that are here.”
Once a course has been eaten, the supper club then discusses it, sometimes bringing out raw ingredients and asking diners to touch, smell, and engage with what they’re eating. It’s about helping people have brand new experiences, with the food, with each other, and with the space around them. According to Malvin, this is the best part of it, seeing strangers getting to know each other, shaking hands, sharing thoughts, and understanding that they’re “all in this together for the next two hours.”
It’s clear that Yaya’s Kitchen is breathing new life into the common dining approach while adding brand new and exciting flavour (...literally) to the diversity and options in Old East Village. When asked how he feels about OEV after several months of business operations, Malvin told us:
“I love this neighbourhood. I grew up in Regent Park in Toronto and I loved seeing it transform. When we came here, this neighbourhood has that same energy. This neighbourhood is changing each and every single day and that’s what attracted us to this part of town because there’s so much potential for growth.”
According to Malvin, although there can be a mentality that OEV is a “rough neck of the woods,” we need to “stop being afraid of such neighbourhoods, we need to see how we can make a difference and make a contribution. Everybody’s got to do something. If you pitch in, that’s the only way things are going to happen.”
It’s safe to say that Yaya’s Kitchen is doing more than their fair share to make OEV an increasingly vibrant place to eat, shop, and play. So make the trip down to 630 Dundas for a monthly supper club or check them out on Sat. Feb. 22 and find your tickets right here.
Check out Yayaskitchen.ca for more information and their Facebook page for a full list of programming!