Ben Lebus on food, music and the story behind MOB Kitchen
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The National Student catches up with the man behind the brand, Ben Lebus, to hear more about the rise of this student foodie favourite.
Ben Lebus. Image: HaaralaHamilton
Ben’s love of food started early. Working as a waiter in his dad’s Italian restaurant as a teenager, he grew up surrounded by food lovers and great-quality cooking.
‘My dad’s Italian restaurant definitely was a very important influence for me growing up with food,’ he says. As a perk of the job, Ben adds with a laugh, ‘I’d always sort of eat half a pizza if it was left behind while running back to the kitchen with it.’
When Ben started at Edinburgh University, he quickly realised that not all of his friends shared his passion for food. Recognising that they lacked, not only confidence in cooking, but also resources for recipes that they could use and relate to as students on a budget, he spotted a hole in the online-cooking market - and he became determined to fix it.
MOB Kitchen was born and, with the brand’s awareness of what it’s truly like to cook as a student on a budget, it has quickly become an essential channel to follow for young people at university.
‘There’s a really positive uptake from students which is wonderful,’ Ben says. ‘It’s ultimately why I created this channel in the first place.’
Social media channels like MOB Kitchen have helped shaped our relationship to food and cooking in the visual, digital age.
‘Social media as a whole in the food industry has had a really big impact on showing people how things are made,’ says Ben. ‘All of the imagery and the video content really gives people a belief that they can do it themselves.’
MOB Kitchen - Feed 4 or more for under £10 by Ben Lebus, published by Pavilion Books
From the success of the online channel came their book, 'MOB Kitchen: Feed 4 or more for under £10'. Ben describes the moment he first saw the book as ‘unbelievable’.
‘Having something physical that you can hold – it’s difficult to put it into words really,’ he says. ‘It was quite a special feeling.’
The stunning hardback has the appearance of a luxurious coffee-table book, quite unlike the typical budget cookbooks many students will be used to. As Ben was keen to highlight with this book, low-cost cooking does not have to mean low quality.
Within the book and across their social media is a close link between music and cooking; the songs which are played in their 1-minute recipe videos are promoted and detailed in captions, and the book includes Spotify codes alongside recipes to suggest songs to play while cooking.
‘When I’m in the kitchen cooking, I feel I have a sort of 5 out of 10 time without music and a 9 out of 10 time with music,’ Ben says.
‘My mates who didn’t love cooking so much - I could see that they felt like it was a bit of a chore,’ he continues. ‘And [when] your mates are in the kitchen and there’s music playing, it creates this image of cooking as something that’s really fun and enjoyable.’
Ben’s personal choice of music for cooking? ‘I love listening to Van Morrison when I cook,’ he says. ‘Van Morrison’s ‘Cleaning Windows’ would potentially be my desert island disc… I love it.
‘It’s one of my parents’ favourite songs, so it has a real nostalgic quality for me.’
For any young people hoping to follow in Ben’s footsteps and set up an online food channel, he says that an important aspect is ‘not being afraid to reach out to people’.
Having been through it himself, he recognises the challenges of building an online audience in the competitive Instagram food scene. But, he says, ‘I’d be more than happy to help, genuinely, if anyone wanted to start an Instagram account.
‘A lot of people do get in touch and I’m really happy to go through it with them,’ Ben adds.
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So, whether you’re looking for cooking inspiration, new music ideas or a helping hand with a foodie Instagram, MOB Kitchen is a pretty perfect place to start.
Fancy representing MOB and other great brands at on-campus events? Apply to be a student brand ambassador here.