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Han and Marcelo started the Yakumama journey little over a year ago. They’ve already shot to fame with wins at The Young British Foodies and the Manchester Food and Drink awards. But the journey’s not always been easy, and now it’s taking them further afield…

Han and Marcelo! Hello. How, when and why did you start Yakumama?

The seed of our street food dream was firmly planted five years ago after a camping holiday in France found us eating from a pizza truck which drove into the woodland campsite each evening. It just made sense. No matter how long it took we knew that we could, and should do that too, and do it well.

After securing a loan in 2014, we began to put the wheels in motion.  In November, GRUB contacted us asking if we were ready to trade as they had a cancellation 3 days prior to their ‘Cup North’ event. We were NOT ready. We said yes. 

Those 3 days we didn’t sleep, really. We cooked, we bought stuff, we panicked, I cried. We used equipment we hadn’t used yet and we cooked dishes we had never even tasted before. But somehow, we pulled it off.

The next day we quit our jobs. We had nothing, but knew that if we really wanted to do this to standards which we were happy with, it was all or nothing. People told us we were crazy.

We cook Latin American Inspired street food from scratch and we are OBSESSED with flavour. (And we still don’t sleep.)

Yakumama food

Mmmm. So what have been the biggest challenges?

The street food business is a gruelling one and it’s been hard, hard work from the offset. There were simple things that we didn’t even consider, like electric capacity at events. We cook a fairly complex menu for a street food set up and to do this we need a fair amount of kit. We’ve gradually adapted our menus to simplify things where little or no power is available.

The reality is that it is physically and mentally exhausting, and often a huge financial struggle. There are no givens, and often seemingly endless bad luck. Though of course, we wouldn’t still be doing it if the highs didn’t outweigh the lows!

I think a huge lesson which we are still learning is that it’s just not worth killing yourself and it is possible to make less work for yourself without sacrificing quality. Simply by taking one dish off the menu for example.  We get far too excited and want everybody to experience all we have to offer all the time... But it’s just not practical and hand making empanadas for a 6 day festival when you’re making the pastry and rolling and crimping each one is something only a fool (or I) would do.  

So how did you choose to serve Latin American food?

The decision to serve Latin American food was partly due to Marcelo’s background (his parents are Chilean), but also as there seemed to be such a lack of South American street food out there. We wanted to do something which would set us apart, but which also felt quite natural given Marcelo’s heritage. We went for ‘Latin’ as opposed to ‘South’ as it gives us a bit more scope to play around with recipes from the Caribbean too!

Yakumama food

How sustainable is Yakumama?

All of our meat is rare breed and free range, and we use organic dairy, eggs and veg as much as we can. We source local and use recycled or compostable packaging to serve our food. When prepping from our prep kitchen at home, we compost all of our food waste in a compost bin we made out of pallets in the back garden.

What exactly makes Yakumama food so special?

We take great care making sure that each and every component in each dish tastes great on its own before it gets put with the rest. We don’t buy in any sauces so everything tastes fresh!

We make our own scotch bonnet oil which forms the base of many of our sauces and chimmichurris. We would rather work that bit harder and that bit longer with the best ingredients we can get. Even if it means we take a hit financially, I believe what’s important for our business right now is making sure the food is right and people are enjoying it because, after all, that’s what it’s all about, right? 

You won the 2015 Young British Foodies street food category. How's that?

It was great! We drove down to The Tate Britain in August to cook a selection of our dishes for the judges (Petra Barran, Nichola Smith and Claire Kelsey). It was actually a nice change to just be cooking for 6 or so people and so it wasn’t as stressful as a normal set up!  We served up some of our specialities including ‘chicharrones’, croquetas and empanadas and they seemed to enjoy the food.

The awards ceremony was magical, surrounded by some of the world’s most famous artworks, whilst indulging in some of the most delicious offerings the UK food scene has to offer. We made some great contacts which will hopefully lead to some London outings for Yakumama next year! 

I guess for us, the win is confirmation that what we care about resonates with other people. If nothing else it’s given us confidence in our product and business, and the motivation to continue. A week after The YBF’s, we were also awarded Manchester Food and Drink ‘Best Street Food’ award! 

Which have been your favourite trading opportunities?

Any event that GRUB have organised has always been a belter. Bailey and Jules are amazing at what they do and from the offset they supported us and helped us to become known on the Manchester street food scene. They are great at spotting newcomers and their line ups are always well thought out.

The monthly feast at Belgrave Music Hall is the perfect mix of food, tunes and booze and the crowd there are brilliant, Leeds knows! It’s our home town and coincidently the place where people seem to get our food the most. It’s probably our favourite gig. Leeds Feast (organised by Leeds Indie Food) was also amazing!

Yakumama street food

And what’s next for Yakumama?

We’re actually moving to Melbourne for 6 months! The food scene over there is next level stuff so we are going over to work and learn. We’re looking forward to the huge variety of new ingredients there will be to work with over there. But don’t worry! We will return in June and already have a festival or 2 booked in!

What ideas can you take away for your own business?

  • Cater for a gap in the market to give your business an edge that other traders don’t have

  • If you can afford it, travel to get new recipe and ingredient ideas for your catering business

  • If you’re feeling over-worked, take a dish off your menu!

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