can be a banal, everyday necessity. Yet it can also inspire
and bring people together. Food can spark conversations, encourage
new ideas, the sharing of knowledge and, in its own way, make us
feel connected. For many, little spells happiness more than
gathering around a table, passing dishes around, talking, laughing,
eating and swapping stories with friends old and new.
It’s fitting, then, that a creative platform dedicated to both
exploring and celebrating British food culture should be called
At The Table. Through print, online, film and its live
event, Voices At The Table, the initiative unites people from
different industries and backgrounds – chefs, producers, writers,
historians, scientists, artists, filmmakers, entrepreneurs – as
they each offering a deliciously fresh perspective on food.
There’s little emphasis on the celebrity, no trend items, no
recipes. Instead, pages and stages are filled with memoirs, poetry,
art and photography. At The
Table focuses on the stories around food and the way this
intersects with other forms of culture. In many ways, food is
merely a conduit for wider discussions.
At The Table serves a literary salon, except somewhat more
mouthwatering. It’s an event as much about good literature as it is
about good grub; as much for fans of
Elena Ferrante as those of Nigel Slater.
SUITCASE pulled up a seat with At The Table founder Miranda
York, writer Rebecca May Johnson and poet Anna Sulan Masing to find
out how they are putting “art” back into the culinary arts.
How did the idea for At The Table come about?
Miranda: In 2012, a chance conversation with a
friend led to our first event. The street-food scene was starting
to really buzz in London, but we craved a
space where we could delve behind what we ate. So in 2013 we
founded TOAST Festival, a two-day event featuring 40 speakers
across 15 events, as well as a pop-up shop, bespoke coffee bar and
art exhibition, creating space for people to discuss food culture.
Since then, we’ve held events all over London, from debates on the
future of meat and the role of women in the food industry, to
dinners showcasing British produce, workshops, brunches, wine talks
and dessert parties. But we wanted to create something more
permanent, where food could be discussed in an intelligent,
creative way, so we founded an annual food magazine. Last year we
rebranded from TOAST to At the Table to reflect how the company has
evolved over the last few years.
Why is the focus on British food culture in particular?
Miranda: British food is often underrated,
especially by British people. Our food culture is deep-rooted,
eclectic and ever-evolving. We embrace and absorb influences from
around the world, yet still enjoy the simplicity of good
ingredients. Plus, we have great puddings.
Poetry about food doesn’t often get much traction. Why does it
play such a central role in At The Table?
Anna: Food is visceral, personal and emotional,
which is why I think poetry is a perfect form to talk about food;
it can de-intellectualise it. Poetry is not something you need to
understand word for word, you can let sentences wash over you. Food
is sight, smell, touch and taste, and as I write for performance I
am already thinking about the senses, how things sound and how they
make people feel, as performance is so responsive.
… and what about Voices At The Table? What impact do you hope
it will have?
Rebecca: I’m hoping to make a space that causes
pause for thought about what food writing is, and what it can be.
You don’t have to be a “foodie” to read about food – in fact, quite
the opposite. For me, Voices At The Table is about representing,
exploring and challenging the intersection of life and eating
through words, brilliant words.
As three women, how do you feel about sexism within the food
Rebecca: I’m not really in a position to
comment on the industry as a whole, other than to say that it’s a
reflection of the racist, neoliberal, patriarchal society in which
we live. But people in hospitality and food are often on low-paid,
zero hours contracts that make their lives precarious and
difficult. In terms of the media, the food books that get
published, while representing a good number of women, remain very
white. The writers we invited to speak at Voices at the Table, many
of whom were women (with a few men reading women’s writing too)
give an indication of what we seek to represent.
Anna: The more varied stories around food and
what the industry means that are told, the more diverse the
industry becomes. Stories are powerful tools of change, they
provide inspiration and identity. At The Table provides a platform
for these stories and hopefully will change perceptions.
What’s the next big thing when it comes to food?
Miranda: The future of food – essentially the
sustainably, healthily and equitably feeding a growing global
population – should be something everyone is talking about.
Anna: A recent study showed that Londoners ate
two-thirds less meat in 2016 than in 2015. There is a real push to
understand what you’re eating, where it came from, and to value the
impact on environment.
What are your favourite restaurants in London?
Anna: For overall deliciousness and comfort
it’s go to be The Quality Chop House; great
wine list, great service, great food. Rebecca: I love to go for
lunch at Italia Uno on Charlotte Street and have a plate of hot
parmigiana di melanzane with a little basket of bread and extra
parmesan. Felice, who runs the place with his family, makes fresh
ciabatta sandwiches everyday with an unrelenting care for detail.
Heaps of pink Italian newspapers are piled up, TVs showing
different Italian channels blare all day and his children play in
the café like it’s their home. Once, a long time ago I watched a
football match in the basement with a beer, a parma-ham sandwich
and 30 or so chain-smoking Italians. The room was chokingly thick
with smoke and loud shouts of “vaffanculo” at the ref – it was
Miranda: I live in Bermondsey and am spoilt for
choice when it comes to restaurants. There’s José for tapas, Padella for pasta, Casse-Croute for
classic French fare and 40 Maltby Street for perfect
pared-down cooking with interesting wine. You can’t beat the warmth
you feel when you enter a local and the owners greet you with a
For upcoming events and more, visit atthetable.co.uk.