Chefs Jonathan Hawthorne and Luke Downing on their new venture, Feed in Leeds

The Staff Canteen

Leeds can expect an exciting new restaurant this summer when chefs Jono Hawthorne and Luke Downing open the doors to Feed.

Jono currently runs pop-up XO supper club having previously worked at The Man Behind the Curtain and Luke has several eateries and bars in the city already including Vice and Virtue. The Staff Canteen spoke to the pair about the new venture, the struggles a chef faces when they want to go it alone and why chain restaurants are suffocating independents in Leeds city centre.

feed low res

Luke Downing, Laura MacLeod and

Jonathan Hawthorne

Jono Hawthorne has worked in some outstanding kitchens but he has struggled to find the support, encouragement and backing to evolve as a chef, find his own style and head up his own place.

“Opportunities like this don’t happen very often,” he explained. “Someone coming to me with an idea for a restaurant where I can have free rein is a one in a million chance. Normally people want a structure, there are boundaries or set cuisines. At Feed I can do whatever style of food I want.”

Jono believes there are a lot of chefs out there, who can cook but they have nowhere to go to step up to the next level.

“There are hundreds of talented young chefs who have nowhere to go so they just end up working for an agency. There aren’t many restaurants or hotels which will allow them to express themselves.”

Restaurateur and chef Luke Downing and director of operations at Vice and  Virtue Laura MacLeod are backing Jono by giving him free rein at their new site. Luke agrees with Jono when it comes to chefs being able to spread their wings saying: “There are two choices, if you want to earn good money you need to work for a big company where you don’t have a say or you can work for an independent, not earn much money and have a say.

“The chef shortage is the middle ground – the real shortage is in the 18 to 25-year-olds and it’s to do with how the government has been undertaking apprenticeships and how apprentices are being used by businesses. Used is the key word, they may get taught a bit of prep but then the end of the year comes and they must be paid a proper wage so they are let go and a new batch of apprentices comes in.

feed dish 1 low res
Broccoli, black garlic, Pecorino, breadcrumbs

“Those companies and colleges involved in the running of the apprenticeships should be doing more to make sure these young people are trained and inspired to stay on a career path in hospitality. There should be a syllabus (a scheme I’m currently working) created by chefs and run by chefs to make sure the next generation not only get the training they deserve but employers know they are getting a chef with the right training.”

Despite the knock backs Jono has persevered, he continues to run his pop-up XO Supper club monthly and he will soon be opening the permanent Feed site thanks to Luke.

Jono has previously worked at The Box Tree, Quay, Noma and Man Behind The Curtain and his supper club already has

a following so guests at feed will no doubt be expecting some of his signature dishes such as the ‘Hangover Cone’, to be on the menu.

This dish is an attack on the senses in terms of presentation and ingredients which includes bacon, ready salted crisps, Nutella and cookie dough to name just a few. So, given the last kitchen he worked in, is he worried that people may think he is trying to be the next Michael O’Hare?

“We are two different people, with two different styles.”

cone dish
Hangover Cone

Feed is set to be an all-day eatery, bar and coffee shop, the name choice is sharp and to the point which the pair say reflects the venue.

“There’s no messing about, it’s not pretentious and of all the names we were coming up with this one seemed the most fitting to the environment.”

They met after Luke who has been in the industry for 12 years and is self-taught, read an article about Jono and in the piece he said he was looking for backers so he could open his own place.

Leeds born and bred, Luke saw the potential and he was already on a mission to get out of the kitchen, meet more chefs and break down the barriers that competing restaurants can sometimes have.

He already owns a number of businesses in Leeds including restaurant and bar Vice and Virtue where he spends most of his time.

“I’d seen Jono’s food, heard good things about him and he’s a character in the industry so I wanted to get to know him,” said Luke.

He added: “I felt like I was at a point in my career where I had plateaued creatively, the food at Vice is superb and I’ve got a good, solid young team but I wanted someone to push me. Meeting with Jono I wasn’t sure what I wanted to happen whether we started a new project or maybe he came and replaced me at Vice and I stepped down.”

He laughed: “I don’t consider this a career because I feel like I still don’t know what I want to do with my life!”

feed dish 2 low res
Crab tartine, togarashi, soft herbs 

Luke realised he and Jono were not like-minded but that was what he was looking for, someone he could help but who could help and challenge him too. He doesn’t want to give Jono boundaries when it comes to his dishes and he wants to support him in learning the management side of a business.

“Jono’s outlook on food is completely different to mine,” explained Luke. “But in the most positive way. I’m very refined and scientific about flavours but Jono has experienced very different methods and is more maverick when it comes to combinations of food.”

He believes this contrast will create something great and he is excited for this next project which will be in Pudsey, just fifteen minutes out of the city centre. He admits there are not many ‘go-to’ restaurants in that area but it has a catchment area of 40,000 people so from a business perspective he says ’it made it sense to try something different’ there.

“I like to think Feed is going to be ahead of what’s currently going on in the food scene in Leeds. We’ve already got quite a buzz about the place and we haven’t even opened yet. It’s an unusual but good match us two coming together.”

Leeds has a lot of chain restaurants, what is that doing to independents?

“It’s saturated,” explained Luke. “It’s saturated by corporate companies masquerading as independents. They can throw a lot of money at it and it doesn’t matter if they make it back. So the aesthetics are great, the kitchen is great, they have a lot of staff who are paid good money but the end product isn’t great. People go there because it looks good and it’s Instagram-able.

feed dish 3 low res

Chicken liver

crumpet, pickles, raisin, chicken skin

“They are killing the independent sector and it’s very difficult, the little man gets forgotten about and it’s impossible to compete.”

He added: “One of the reasons I’m looking forward to opening in the suburbs is you have loyalty and you build a rapport.”

Due to open in August, at Feed you can expect to get a hipster breakfast brunch during the day and of course great coffee, plus sharing plates on an evening, where Jono suggests there are no holds barred, as he says there will be influences from all cuisines.

Following the current restaurant trend, it will be fine-dining food in a casual environment.

Luke said: “We want to take away that starch formality which is associated with good food. We want to make it fun.”

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 23rd July 2018

Chefs Jonathan Hawthorne and Luke Downing on their new venture, Feed in Leeds