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A conversation with Sophie Wyburd, head of food at MOB Kitchen

Credits: MOB Kitchen

In the last couple of years, the popularity of MOB Kitchen seems to have exploded. It holds a unique position within the online community and in the food world. I spoke with MOB Kitchen’s Head of Food, Sophie Wyburd, to discuss MOB’s insane success and the behind the scenes action at the MOB studio.

How did MOB Kitchen start and what is its goal?

Ben, our founder, was watching all his housemates unable to cook properly and a lot of the online food recipes at the time were very inaccessible. He thought it would be great to set up a recipe platform catered to teaching young people how to cook real meals. He was a Deliveroo driver when he left Edinburgh University in 2016 and he would put leaflets for MOB Kitchen in the Deliveroo packs to get people’s attention. He eventually moved into a studio, and the team has just been growing from there! The mission statement is definitely creating food that is delicious, affordable and accessible for young people.

Do you think originality has been the key to MOB’s success? What has been the driving force behind the success of MOB Kitchen?

You’re right, there really isn’t a similar platform out there. When MOB came about, it was as an antidote to some of the food pages about silly, over the top, viral foods. Ben was keen for MOB to be something more every day and something that people would want to use all the time. I think that has really resonated with young people in particular.

Also, it seems boring to talk about now, but a year and a half into Covid-19 no one has ever cooked as much as they have now. It’s been a challenge for other businesses not being able to run as normal, but for companies like MOB, it’s been crazily beneficial. Everyone wants to cook; everyone is on their phones looking for inspiration and we’re there to help them. I’m really proud that we might have had some input in that.

It really does feel like the recipes on MOB kitchen have a different take on classics; it’s still food that people want to eat but it doesn’t feel boring.

We know that the audience is really into classic comfort foods as a general centre point; we always try and put our own little stamp on it. We know the particular ingredients which our audience really responds to and we try to incorporate these into as many recipes as possible - chorizo features a lot!

How do you think MOB as a brand tries to connect with students and promote healthy, sustainable living in particular?

We have conversations about sustainability all the time, and we’re far from perfect, but we try to encourage people to consume in a responsible way. We keep a balance of meat recipes, veggie recipes, vegan recipes and gluten-free recipes. We don’t want to be preachy about it and we want to appeal to as many people as possible which is why we haven’t gone down a specific plant-based route. I would love if there were a house of students - three are veggie, one is vegan and two eat meat —all of them were able to log onto the website and find something that works for them.

But it is important to us that we educate people to reduce meat and dairy consumption by creating fun veggie recipes. It’s so important in the years to come that people have the knowledge to create food that isn’t damaging to the environment. We try and cut down on things like avocado as well; we still use it sometimes but it's all about making the small changes to eating food that, for example, has fewer air miles.

As a student, what were your go-to meals?

I cooked loads at uni! I ate a lot of pasta, still do. A lot of satay noodles, chickpea curries, Thai green curries with tofu and green beans, butternut squash risottos. The stuff I used to make.

was all quite MOBy!

How did you get into cooking and what was the route that took you to be on the MOB Kitchen team?

I’ve always been obsessed with food, and when I was a student, I really got into it. We cooked big student meals and would host themed meals each month. I realised sometime in my third year that I was keen on going into cooking as a career, but I didn’t really know what that would look like - companies like MOB didn’t even exist back then!

I did internships in food PR in London, then did restaurant work in Soho, and then trained professionally at Leith’s Cookery School. I worked at Twisted—the big viral food producers, which was a lot of fun. And then I got scouted to join MOB! That was almost exactly a year ago now. When I joined MOB we were a team of seven people; now we’re a team of 25! There’s been a huge boom this year.

MOB Kitchen seems very fun and creative to the outside world! What does a typical day with the MOB Kitchen team look like?

It’s so much fun! It changes day to day a lot, but we get into the studio typically at about 8:45 am and someone will make a batch of iced coffees. Seema, Jordan and I will sit and talk about what we’re going to do that day. It may be recipe testing, filming recipes tested the week before (maybe two a day) which is mostly done on our phones or researching online and through cookbooks for great new ideas.

Does the creation of new recipes largely come from cookbook inspiration and trial and error? What does the process of creating a new recipe look like?

Sometimes I’ll eat out somewhere, taste something and think ‘why have I never thought of putting peach and olive together, why don’t I do something with that?’. Especially if they’re ingredients MOB really likes and I haven’t thought of putting them together before, I try to work it into a recipe. Also, pretty much every week I look at what vegetables are in season and what I can do with them. I take inspiration from literally everywhere all the time - it’s a dream job to fall into because that’s literally what I do every day anyway! Now I get paid to think about food all the time!

Where does the food waste go from all the experimentation at the MOB Studio?

A lot of the MOB Team either eat it or take it home to eat later. Sometimes we can’t keep up with the supply, so we’ve put food on Olio. The most effective way to get rid of food is actually on Insta Stories - we do a post saying, “we have lots of extra food, is anyone in the area” and it goes in an instant!

My personal favourite recipe on the MOB Kitchen website is the Spicy Nduja Burrata Pasta. What would you say is your go-to?

Probably a curried cauliflower cheese that is coming on the website soon. I also love the pulled mushroom ragu that I created which has a really yummy pasta sauce.

Your latest release Comfort Mob is now out! What inspired this release and what’s the process behind creating such an amazing book? What is the process of curating a larger cookbook such as this?

It’s such a large project with so many moving parts, we first started talking about it when I joined MOB and we’ve turned it around in just less than a year. Ben and I had a lot of conversations about what appealed most to us and to our MOB community, and we both agreed that delicious comfort food was the obvious answer. Sophie Godwin developed the recipe ideas that we suggested, and principal photography was done in January. The book is amazing and I’m so excited about it, I think it’s the best one that MOB has ever done.

Do you have any more exciting projects coming up? How do you anticipate MOB Kitchen growing even more than it’s already done?

I think it’s just about to explode. We’re hitting new highs every day. We’re setting out to work building an amazing new studio where we can create beautiful content. For the future, look out for a presence on YouTube where we can create longer-form content in our new space. We also want to revamp our GuestMob to make it more exciting and relevant; it’s such an important platform as it gives people with different backgrounds a space to talk about why their food is so amazing and teach the MOB audience something different. Hopefully, more pop up and real-life events can happen as well! Our MOB Truck is going on a Uni tour in the Autumn.

What is the best part about working at MOB Kitchen?

The people! The team that I work with most closely are so incredible, dynamic, fun and hardworking. I learn stuff from them all the time, especially the rest of the food team. We feed off of each other and it's really inspiring. The best part is just hanging out with them!

Edited by Hanna Pham, Food and Drink editor