Brixton primary school pupils lead the charge on food poverty

Brixton primary school pupils lead the charge on food poverty

It’s all over the news. reliance on food banks in the UK is set to rise in coming years.

Food insecurity is caused by a myriad of triggers: loss of disability entitlements, benefit caps, reduction in tax credits, the rise in the unstable gig economy etc...
Away from the excruciating statistics, we’re inspired to be working the next generation of change makers from Brixton’s Christ Church Primary School, learning to take matters into their own hands.

At a grassroots level, individuals and families frequenting food banks rarely suffer with food shortages alone. It’s usually a noxious cocktail of poverty rendering them unable to pay rent, heat their homes, buy basic clothes and toiletries. The hangover effects, hamper nutrition, mental health and well being in turn fuelling pervasive conditions like depression, anxiety, social dysfunction and isolation. All of these, much harder to recover from in the long term.

Projects like Enterprise Growing Gardens, funded by City Bridge Trust, aim to empower our younger generation to address these systemic issues at the root. The vegan diet is often seen as something exclusive to affluent pockets of society. As a social enterprise vegan cafe, Cafe Van Gogh's aim is to disrupt that myth and drive accessibility to a healthy plant-based diet for all. 

Christ Church Primary School field trip to Cafe Van Gogh

Christ Church Primary School field trip to Cafe Van Gogh

On a superficial level, the programme works in schools to enhance outdoor learning and play for children. With the support of project leaders and teachers, the young people grow, produce and sell vegetables to local food businesses and community markets.

On a deeper level, these pupils simultaneously benefit from food nutrition education, take ownership of the green spaces within their school grounds, exercise enterprising skills like leadership, relationship building and presentations skills. 

When the team here at Cafe Van Gogh heard about the project, of course we jumped at the chance to support as a core part of a social enterprise mission. In addition to haggling over mini courgette prices with the rowdy 9 year olds, we’ve welcomed them into the cafe for tasting workshops so they can see how creative we can get with a plant based diet rich in vegetables, herbs and spices. 

We’re delighted to announce our supplier partnership with the young entrepreneurs of Christ Church School. We hope programmes like this sow the seeds for radical new perspectives and connected relationship with food for upcoming generations. 

Where special needs education meets employment

Where special needs education meets employment

Cafe Van Gogh’s social mission centres around connecting all members of the diverse local community together.

Nurturing marginalised individuals into the workplace with training and employability skills is one of the ways in which we achieve this...

Our partnership with Highshore School, the special needs education state school down the road from from us, gives us the chance to support young people avoid becoming another statistic.

Approximately 1.5 million people in the UK have a learning disability. In 2015 only 6% of people with learning disabilities were in work.

It is estimated that 65% of people with learning disabilities would like a paid job. Unfortunately, those with learning disabilities face a raft of challenges including sustained employer prejudice and lack of awareness and education about how to support employees in the workplace.

Well aware of the realities their students will have to overcome, the team at Highshore school actively seek out opportunities to give their students a taste of working life and support progressive employers integrate work experience students into their workforce.

They lay the groundwork initially within the school environment, with a select number of students helping out within school to prep and deliver lunch service. As these individuals build confidence, they get to test out their new skills in a real world environment.
Where better to get their feet wet but at south London’s finest vegan social enterprise cafe! 

Work experience students, Highshore School
Before starting at the café I felt shy about asking questions, I felt more confident afterwards and I’d like to work there again
— Jamil, year 10

Over the summer term, Jamil, Isaac, Abdee and Mohammed have been polishing up their hospitality skills with our team here at Cafe Van Gogh. You might have seen them front of house on a Friday afternoon, taking your order or clearing tables. 

I felt a bit scared of working with the public. When I started work I felt happy and began to enjoy it
— Isaac, year 10

Much more than the basics of waiting tables, having them as part of our team for a few hours each week provides routine, opportunity for further skills development and contributes to their overall independence as young adults. For example, Abdee progressed in leaps and bounds with personal confidence and resilience after having to take public transport to and from his placement. 

It’s been our pleasure to welcome these students into the cafe over the last few months. We’re very much looking forward to continuing our partnership with Highshore School as the Autumn terms resumes this September!

Happy Summer from #CafeVanGoghLDN

Happy Summer from #CafeVanGoghLDN


It's official, we’re celebrating going 100% vegan with a new summer menu.

We’ve been cooking up a storm over the last few weeks and want to share the fruits of our labour! Whether you’re one of our regulars or are yet to grace our doors, it’s time to tell us what you think. 

Just use the hashtag: #CafeVanGoghLDN and you might be surprised by a little gift.

How can I get involved? 

You’ve got 3 options to join the conversation across Facebook, Twitter or Instagram:

  • Peruse our new menu & tell us what dishes on you’re most looking forward to sampling. 
  • When you visit us - snap a picture of your order and tell us how you liked it.
  • Tell us your inspirational ideas about what you’d like to see on our menu in future. 

What’s in it for me?

Like some kinda weird vegan santa come 7 months too late, we have a lucky bag of gifts to give away each week over July. Any of the following take your fancy?

  • Eat free for 30 days at Cafe Van Gogh (subject to fair usage t's & c's - if you’re showing up after hours with nothing but a fork and a smile, we’re going to have to cut you off). 
  • Consultancy position at the chef’s table (your chance to work with our cordon bleu trained Head Chef to magic up some new vegan delights).
  • Free lunch for 2 (imagine the scene, you and your beau, basking in the sunshine of our hidden courtyard, sharing a courgette spaghetti kiss…)
  • Complimentary sides / desserts / drinks (our desserts are so damn good, it’s like a XXX version of one of those M&S adverts).
  • Complimentary coffee (a steaming cup of aromatic freshly ground coffee for the price of a hashtag?? It’s social media gone mad!).

How can I be sure I won’t miss out?

To participate, just make sure you use the #CafeVanGoghLDN hashtag on your post. 
This is running across Facebook, Instagram, & Twitter from 1st — 31st July so no excuse not to get involved. 

Check out the menu & get posting from the 1st July!
Follow on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram to join the conversation. 

Cauliflower & Kidney Bean Curry

Cauliflower & Kidney Bean Curry

Another delectable vegan recipe from steve clarke

Cauliflowers are really cheap at the moment, and on my way to the boat, I picked up a football sized one that would barely fit into a  carrier bag. 

The weather has turned wintery, and I’ve decided to start to run down and replenish the stock of tins in my cupboards. The following recipe works especially well with chickpeas, but I hadn’t got any in tins, and hadn’t got the time to soak them. I used kidney beans instead. Worryingly, I’ve got 16 tins of them on my boat.. it must be some unconscious siege mentality. I’ll use them all up, and create space for more..


A masala is a spice mix, made and ground from fresh spices, toasted in a wok, and added as a base to curries.

This is my basic masala mix. You can keep it for a couple of weeks in an air tight jar – i always make plenty at a time, so I’ve always got some on the go. The beauty of getting to grips with a basic masala is that you can personalise it to your own taste.There are plenty of other spices that you can add, or subtract depending on your palette. To make a masala more suited to Sri Lankan dishes, I add cinnamon, and fresh chilli, to make a slightly wet paste. It’s up to you, and it’s fun to experiment.

  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon ginger powder
  • 1 teaspoon of turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 4 dried chillies (seeds in, or out dependent on your tolerance)
  • 1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
  • Good pinch of salt
  • 4 cardamom pods.

Toast all of the above in a dry wok, and once it starts to smoke, remove from the heat, and grind up to a fine powder in a pestle and mortar.


  • 1 large cauliflower
  • 2 large brown onions
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tins of kidney beans
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • Organic coconut oil
  • 1 lemon

Blanch the cauliflower in boiling water for about 7 minutes. Make sure it’s all cooked and then drain in a colander.

Take your largest pan, and heat up a desert spoon of coconut oil, until it begins to bubble. Don’t allow it to go to the smoke point. Add the onions and garlic, and fry until they become translucent. Once this occurs, add approx half the masala mix, and stir well, to coat all the cauliflower in the spice mix. (the other half of the masala mix will keep for another meal) Place the lid on the pan, and reduce the heat.

Rinse the two tins of kidney beans in a colander, and throw these into the pan, along with the chopped tomatoes. Give everything a good stir, and leave covered on a low heat for approx 30 mins. I’m always tempted to taste my food, all the way through the process of cooking. It might be that you want to add salt (try melting a teaspoon of marmite into the sauce) or if it’s not hot enough split a couple of fresh chillies and add them to the pan.

Squeeze the lemon juice all over, and leave to cool. I always find anything using a spice blend tastes better on reheating.. I think it must activate the spices anew.. If you are really organised, cook your curry dishes the day before you intend to eat them

- Archive post from Steve Clarke's blog

North African Stew with Harrissa

North African Stew with Harrissa

A warm-hearted vegan recipe from steve clarke

This dish was introduced to me by my close friend Fliss. She learnt it when she lived in Paris, making a living as a busker with her violin, and living in a series of squats with a varied bunch of performers and artists from around the world.. Very La Boheme, and at the same time, very rich in life.

We were both at university, I was 18 at the time, and Fliss was 32. I’d never travelled at that point, and lived vicariously through the stories of her adventures. We’d spread out a newspaper on her living room floor as a tablecloth, and feast and drink, talk, laugh and philosophise.During these evenings, she introduced me to classical music, Bowie and perhaps most importantly an appreciation of spicy foods. I learned more about life in her living room than you ever could on any degree course.

Fliss and I used to make a large bowl of harrissa, and spread it on pizza bases, sandwiches, crackers – pretty much anything really, and sit and scoff them gleefully in the lecture hall. I think we developed a reputation for it. I never met any vampires when I was at University anyway, mind you, having said that…

The stew

I love how this recipe has been passed on, probably influenced from the Moroccan diaspora in Paris, to me, via a kitchen in West Yorkshire. Be liberal with everything in life, including your spices, and if you need to add some later on in the cooking, be sure to dry roast them first to activate their essential oils. One of the beauties of this dish is how quick and cheap it is to make. This recipe is going to make you a lot of food, so half the quantities if you want less, or make some space in your freezer.

I took the slow approach to this meal, and soaked and cooked my own dried chickpeas.

  • 2 cans, or equivalent of chickpeas 
  • Half a large swede chopped
  • 4 carrots chopped 
  • 2 onions chopped a good scoop of cumin an equally good scoop of coriander.
  • Veggie stock cubes x 2
  • 2 tins of tomatoes
  • 2 courgettes chopped

Dry roast the spices in the bottom of a large pan, and pre their smoke point, add a splash of oil, and the chopped onions. Fry until they soften, and are coated in the spices. Throw in all the root vegetables and chick peas, but omit the courgettes for now. Add the tomatoes, and give it all a stir. Add the stock cubes. Give it all a good stir around, and top up with boiled water until the food is covered by approx an inch of liquid. Allow it to boil, add the courgettes and then turn down to a simmer, for approx 30 mins (until the swede is fully cooked) Keep an eye on the liquidity.. I like to keep it reduced, and stew like, as opposed to a soup.

Serve this up on a bowl of steaming couscous.


If you want it to, the harrissa can blow your socks off. I’ll leave it up to you to perfect your own heat by playing around with the amounts. The caraway and mint provide an analgesic effect on your tongue into which you can smuggle more (and more) chilli and garlic. Challenge yourself to up the ante with the ingredients.

I’m particularly enjoying this batch I’ve recently made, because the chillies were grown by Fliss herself, on her small-hold in rural Ireland. A chief component is raw garlic, which has antibacterial properties and is good for your whole cardiovascular system. I’ve never trusted anyone who doesn’t like the smell of garlic, certainly not enough to want to kiss them, or be hired by them, so eat it with gay abandon, and live a little (bit longer?).

  • Heaped tablespoon of carraway seeds
  • Heaped tablespoon of dried mint 
  • A whole bulb of garlic diced
  • Pinch of salt
  • Tiny splash of oil

This dish is really simple. Mix all of the above ingredients together in a bowl, or mug. Leave it in the fridge overnight to steep. The harrissa is blobbed liberally onto the stew, and mixed in to provide heat.

- Archive post from Steve Clarke's blog

Summer Flower Salad

Summer Flower Salad

A "grow your own" vegan recipe from Steve Clarke

This one is a visual delight. I’ve had mates over for lunch before who thought it was an inedible table decoration. It involves a little bit of planning, i.e. I try and plant mostly edible flowers and vegetables on the roof of my boat, so I can both enjoy the taste and look of my garden.

All of these ingredients are grown on board, there’s nothing to stop a trip to the shops though..

  • Nasturtiums, flowers and torn leaves. Calendular petals
  • Pansy flowers
  • Mixed salad leaves.
  • Torn mint leaves
  • Courgette, sliced into ribbons using a potato peeler.

Give everything a rinse, and check that there are no insect hitch-hikers in the flower petals.

I always have this with a cider vinegar, honey and olive oil dressing, but i prefer people to dress the salad on their plate, it means any left overs last until the next meal time.

Throw it all together in a wooden salad bowl, that you’ve grazed a fresh clove of garlic around the inside.

- Archive post from Steve Clarke's blog