When your music career is just taking off, it seems unlikely that you'd have headspace to think about anything else – let alone running a social enterprise that involves teaching teenagers with ADHD to cook. But that's exactly what 22-year-old south London rapper Loyle Carner – real name Ben Coyle-Larner – has devoted his little spare time to. His Chilli Con Carner project is about more than giving back, though. As someone who suffers from ADHD personally, having so much on his plate keeps him focused. He tells us how cooking has helped him, and how the project helps his students.
What inspired Chilli Con Carner?
I've got ADHD myself and when I was younger, the one thing that would always calm me down was cooking. It's even more important to me because my mum is a teacher for kids in special education, so when I got the chance – and now I've got a little bit of money – it was the thing that I wanted to give back to.
I set it up for kids between the ages of 14 and 16 and it runs over the summer, and sometimes Easter, if we have the time and the funds. It's ostensibly a cooking class for kids who are getting in trouble or who are finding it difficult to focus.
What is it about cooking that has such a positive effect?
It's everything that's happening at the same time; that kinetic energy. Something's burning, something's on fire or it's exploded. It's very physical and there's no time to be distracted by any of it because you've already been distracted by the thing itself, so there's no getting out of the loop.
How does it help the kids? Are they responding well to it?
Better than I thought. I've always praised cooking as being the best thing for ADHD, but I was only ever talking from my own experience. I didn't know if the kids would come and just muck around, or if they would have fun and find it interesting. But when push came to shove, and once they got used to each other and to the space, it was perfect.
What I've been trying to do recently – which is a bit of a change from what we were doing before – is cook things that are exciting for the kids but also healthy. They all tell me they love their chicken and chips shops, which are awful for you and shouldn't be done on a daily basis. I've created my own versions that are baked not fried, thin and crispy, gluten-free, and so on.
How involved in it are you?
As much as I can be. It's just me and Mikey from GOMA Collective [a social enterprise that supports creative projects] who run it, so I'm as involved as possible. I teach the classes and I now develop the recipes. I couldn't really be more involved. I don't know where I find the time, but it's necessary for me that I find something else to do that's a whole different thing. The music industry is full of weird shitty people and cooking sometimes feels like the best place to be.
How do you cope with both your music and cooking?
I'm happy to be doing both, I think they work well together. A lot of people in my family are the same. It keeps things fresh – sometimes you lose the passion for something if you make it your only focus.
Would you ever open a restaurant?
I'd love to open a restaurant of my own – it's definitely a dream of mine. I don't know if I'd be doing the cooking; I don't think I'm competent enough yet. I'd love to go to cooking school, although having said that I don't know if I really want to go to any school again. Lots of the courses are a year long and I don't really want to do that. If anybody reading this is a fantastic chef and needs an apprentice, sign me up.
Things with my music will eventually dry up, as they do for everyone. That's when I'll be able to go to cooking school. At the moment I can get away with doing both at the same time. Neither of them necessarily comes first, they're equal, along with my house and my family. They're all in the same bracket.
Where do you like to eat in London?
I go to a place called E Street, a pan-Asian grill that's just off Tottenham Court Road, it's definitely one of my favourite places. My DJ and I would meet there after work and then we'd go to the studio.
What are your aims for the project?
I want to get to the point where the cooking school is big enough that we don't have to turn anybody away. That's the end goal: that we'll be able to accommodate anyone who wants to learn to cook with us. At the moment the kitchen – Central Street Kitchen, near Old Street – is so small that there's only enough space for ten kids to cook, max. We'd love to do two or three courses each summer but it's not been possible yet. You could call it a boutique cooking school, for now.