23 Apr The Original LEON – The Pioneering Leon Lewis.
We are delighted to feature the inspirational and pioneering Leon Lewis. The Essex based author and plant based guru who has been feeding 100,000’s of festival goers with his incredible cuisine for over 40 years.
You can pick up his foods right now too! And he also has wonderful vegetables and wholefoods in Brentwood Essex, if heading to a supermarket isn’t your cup of tea at the moment.
We can highly recommend Leons freshly made curries, the tabbouli salad, his marinated aubergines and more!
We asked Leon to spill some beans about his life, his influences and to tell us more about his food…..
I am the ORIGINAL Leon, a name taken over by a chain called Leon (with a similar logo) in 2004, a full 24 years after I first served a standard plateful of pie, quiche or nut roast with 4 amazing salads. I gave up my job attempting to elevate “A” level grades (and below) of clever and (sometimes) privileged boys (and very few girls) at Brentwood Schoool, which I had been privileged to attend, in 1980. I feel so strongly that the world needs to eat better and that white flour is a terrible scourge of our generation and some before us, as bad and as much a gut-rotting influence as is meat and fish. I am, more and more each year, convinced that we need to get back to foraging and so much that can be foraged is infinitely available. Foraging is great for the soul as it gets you out of the house, it is good for the pocket and great for the taste buds and the general health of the human body.
I began to learn my trade as a vegetarian caterer at small events in the 80’s. This included my first Glastonbury in 1982 and most years since-there were one or two fallow years including 2012, 2018 and 2020. I did my first Cropredy Festival in 1981 only because I was rejected in 1980 (still bitter!) and I was happy to stay upright in a terribly windy weekend in 2019. In 2017 we took over £13000 in a day and, if that sounds incredible, two people have told me they have called their sons “Leon” after enjoying my food.
I love serving curries. I learned the art of curry making at Cambridge University when I found out that I could not eat in hall as the catering manager’s idea of vegetarian food was fish. So I began to make my own food to the delight of my friends who used to visit my room and to my delight as I had to discover the secrets of Indian cooking by visiting an Indian deli in Mill Road where I was served by a gorgeous Indian girl. I am now renowned for providing West Indian curries: aubergines in coconut cream, pumpkin curry (from Martinique, flavoured with cloves and fenugreek….poetic, eh?) and plantain curry all of which could have been found in my first book “Vegetarian Dinner Parties” which sold out, 40000 copies, in 2018. Now the recipes can be found freely on my web site www.leonlewis.co.uk.
I love Lebanese food too. I had many a merry and expensive meal with lots of friends and, even, my parents, at the Phoenicia Restaurant in Kensington. The food was superb, the attendance of the manager, Hani, and the waiter, Elie, spectacular. Just great bowls of beautiful cos lettuce, baby cucumbers, chillis, spring onions and tomatoes with olives and then a meze that went on and on and on. Pita bread would accompany mutabbal, hummus, tabbouli, spinach triangles, falafels, green beans, ful beans, mujaddarah, okra, halloumi and stuffed vineleaves. I just wanted to learn how to make it and serve it and so I did. Hani was a great teacher and we served Lebanese food on my stall most successfully in the 90’s. I also did plenty of Lebanese cookery demonstrations and whilst publicising one in Oxford I met some dyslexic girls who thought I was about to perform at a Lesbian cookery demonstration!
To provide Lebanese Food was restrictive to a small degree. Hence the birth of the Leonese Feast in the noughties which allowed us the possibility of many things including the newly invented capriata, described frequently (nay, incessantly) as a cannellini bean dip from Calabria with flecks of wild garlic from the hedgerows of Brentwood (made in my flecking machine) and incorporating nettles in many dishes. For indeed, I go out in March and April with my nettle detector and am usually successful. In fact, the weirdest question I was ever asked was “Where do you get your nettles from then?”
Shorn of my preferred job of being on my feet 16 hours a day for all of June, July and half of August, I am chiselling out a way to help the masses live and eat well. I am adamant that “You are what you eat” and that we should eliminate junk food of every form from our diets. I wake up every morning with a huge energy for the day ahead and this covid19 blip will not distract me from my life’s work to create a just life for our animals and for the health of humans.
I am lucky to have the help of a lovely friend, Francois, who spends the winter in Ecuador, helps me with festivals in the summer and retires to the wilds of France (Auvergne) in Autumn to harvest the edible mycological delights of the many Douglas Pine forests that surround his late parent’s beautiful house. Also, Charlotte who has a rest from her practices in Suffolk to help me similarly. Finally, I would like to thank my dishwasher: a Smeg machine with a two and a half minute cycle.
Leon Lewis really is one of a kind, a super personality who makes you feel welcome and one of his friends. Our favs include:
SINY’ET BEDINGAL (EGYPTIAN MARINATED AUBERGINES) – and Leons curries and you must book in advance for his legendary mushroom walks.