Put new life back in your taste buds
YOU’LL likely find Sunderland-born Ryan Riley in a bright and brilliantly patterned shirt, being incredibly open and making everyone in the vicinity feel utterly welcome and valued.
He's got chat and charisma, and at 26 is co-founder of Life Kitchen (lifekitchen.co.uk), a not-for-profit community interest company that runs free cookery classes and creates recipes for people living with, and recovering from, cancer.
Aged 18, Riley became his mother Krista's carer after she was diagnosed with terminal small cell lung cancer.
"That put me in quite a unique position to see everything that was going on with her, from the treatments to the sadness," he explains.
"She used to admit to me on the sofa that she didn't want to die. She was scared to the very last moment," he continues.
"And that was terrifying for me."
Krista died when Riley was 20 and on holiday.
"My dad called me, he said, 'You need to get back', and I never made it back home in time. I had this real connection and this real tragedy with my mother."
Just a few weeks later, Riley won £28,000 pounds at a casino.
"Part of me just wanted to just go off the rails," he recalls. "My mother was dead, I thought, 'What did it matter? My life is over'."
Instead, he went home, said to his best friend (and Life Kitchen co-founder) Kimberley Duke, whose own mother died of cancer when she was 15, 'Come to London' – "and she needed no persuasion," says Riley. "We left the next day."
His winnings went on rent.
"That is how I've always been," he says. "I just go for it."
The pair set up a fashion magazine and started 'Jamie's Sundays', where they'd cook something from a Jamie Oliver cookbook on a Sunday afternoon. One time, while "lovely drunk" and whipping up gyoza (pot sticker dumplings), they said to each other: "Imagine if we did this as a business?"
They sent a sample menu to Camden Market and spent the next two years running a street food cart. Life Kitchen combines the strands of this shifting education – from taking care of and honouring their mothers, to cooking for hungry punters every day. And the new Life Kitchen cookbook means people who can't make their classes can still access the recipes.
"I want it to sit on the shelf like a Nigella cookbook," says Riley.
"I didn't want people to think, 'I'm getting this cookbook because I'm ill', but, 'I'm getting it because it's about reviving flavour, enjoying food'.
"Life Kitchen isn't medicinal, it isn't nutritional, it's about enjoyment," he adds. "Having cancer treatment, that is always missing. It's, 'get through this', it's survivorship.
"It's novel, it's fun and it gets people back into the idea that cooking and flavour are possible."