Food Well Done

How Ben Lebus Went From Food-Delivery Driver to Affordable Culinary Innovator

All images courtesy of Ben Lebus and Mob Kitchen.

Ben Lebus grew up surrounded by the bustling energy of his father’s Italian restaurant in Oxford, England. He took a similar no-frills approach to his own venture, Mob Kitchen, a hub that aims to offer accessible, achievable, affordable recipes to the masses. Like the dating app Hinge, Lebus jokes that Mob is designed to be deleted—it will teach you how to cook and send you on your way.

Lebus’s transition from food-delivery driver to culinary entrepreneur has commanded the attention of millions. His practical approach is especially timely as the cost of living climbs ever higher. CULTURED spoke to Lebus about the origins of Mob Kitchen, his guerrilla tactics to raise its profile, and the one recipe everyone should know how to cook.  

Can you describe the moment you first realized you wanted to work with food?

My dad ran an Italian restaurant for 15 years, so I grew up around that. It was this lovely trattoria-style Italian joint that was very low-key, warm, hearty, simple Italian dishes—the type of food I love cooking and eating. It was the place in Oxford where everyone knew you could get a great Italian meal.

What appealed to me was seeing the joy that food brought people. While my brother and dad were glued to the match of the day, I would watch Nigel Slater, Jamie Oliver, or Nigella [Lawson]. I’ve always found food media comforting, so all of those things together meant when I was graduating from university, I channeled my passion, and it naturally progressed to creating something around food media.

Lebus and his father in front of Cibo, his father's restaurant

What is Mob Kitchen? 

Mob’s mission is to instill a love of cooking in everyone. We believe that cooking can have a radically positive impact, whether that’s on mental health, physical well-being, or someone’s bank balance. We produce robust, reliable recipe content that people are cooking week in, week out. Everything we make must tie back to this idea of food you’ll actually cook.

What were the first days of Mob Kitchen like?

Launching Mob was incredibly stressful. From the get-go, my idea was to carve out a space to teach young people how to cook. So I hired some guys to shoot recipe videos, creating affordable meals for four people [for] under a tenner. I believed in the idea, but nobody gave a shit. Like any start-up, it involved constant rejection. But it was vital to maintain focus on my North Star.

I got the recipes in front of as many people as possible. I became a food delivery driver and hid Mob flyers in pizza boxes. I stood outside Tesco in Oxford handing them out and I messaged every new follower on Facebook, incentivizing them with money to cook a Mob dish and invite their friends. I made sure to keep my friends in the loop, making them feel involved and invested. It was highly potent to have their support.

The Mob Kitchen team

What dish represents where you’re at in your life right now?

It would have to be pasta with a straightforward tomato sauce: olive oil, garlic, basil, and two tins of good-quality tomatoes. A dish that requires grade A ingredients and is comforting and warming but does not require much time. I like having an idea and seeing that idea on a plate within 30 minutes.

You’re hosting a dinner party. Who do your first three invites go to?

I would invite my grandma, who is sadly no longer with us—she was a character. Then, Gordon Ramsay. My grandma's house was next to his restaurant, and they would have screaming matches because the restaurant's rubbish was too near her front door. I would find it quite hilarious for them to be sitting together. And then Eckhart Tolle, who wrote The Power of Now. I'm curious how it would play out to have him there being all enlightened next to the others' manic presence.

Best music to cook to?

Miles Davis, Kind of Blue. I have that album on every time I cook, and I find it very relaxing.


Top tip for the home cooks?

Once you’ve nailed the basics of making a pasta sauce with olive oil, garlic, onion, and chili, you have the ultimate base to build. Knowing when to stop frying the garlic so it doesn’t start browning, add a bit of water, the garlic is translucent—now you have a base for tomato sauce, puttanesca, aglio e olio, vongole, anything.

We think about that a lot at Mob. The Internet is filled with quick, engaging recipe videos, but are viewers leaving that video with more knowledge? No. So at Mob, we’re figuring out how to educate people on what’s working and what isn’t. Why should garlic not be browned? What is the difference in taste? How do you prevent it? Like Hinge, we are the cooking platform designed to be deleted.

What is next for Mob?

Building and launching the Mob app. The hurdle with social media is sharing one or two videos a day seen by your whole audience. Ultimately, there are so many differentiations within your audience. You’ve got an 18-year-old hungover student with no money called Jake in Manchester, you’ve got a 55-year-old mom who wants to improve her cooking skills, you’ve got a young professional who doesn’t have vast amounts of time but wants to eat well throughout the week.

Those three people have different needs and ideas. The app will allow us to create personalized feeds based on your preferences: affordable, quick, vegan, or whatever you want.

For more tips and opinionated takes from food experts, see our interviews with Molly BazSohla El-Waylly, and Andy Baraghani