Wilkes McDermid: remembering the best supporter of London street food
A year ago today a man named Wilkes McDermid left this world. As well as being a brilliant friend to many he was also someone who was well known by lots of people in the London street food world and wider food industry because of his continual and enthusiastic support of their work and food.
Every week those of us who followed him on his various social media channels would be treated with the most mouthwatering of food feeds – photographs of oozing burgers, cheese-topped fries, piles of rib meat and bowls of ramen. Most days Wilkes could often be found eating out at London’s newest restaurants or stalls, after which he would cover his experience on Twitter or Instagram, complete with luscious pictures or videos of the various markets, including Kerb, Real Food Market, Street Feast, Dalston Food Market, Night Tales and others. Before any given weekend, people wanting a street food fix only needed only to follow him on there to find out where the best stuff was being served that weekend. For someone who had not started out working in food or taking pictures professionally, he became a steady face in the industry as well as a veritable dictionary of street food in this city.
This time last year in early February, a huge number of people came together to celebrate his life, his achievements, and his commitment and many varied contributions to the London street food scene. And because of this I thought it might be appropriate to go back and talk to a few of the people he supported so regularly – not as a way of commiserating, but as a way of celebrating what he left us with.
As for me, I wasn’t a close confidante of Wilkes although we got on well and often swapped ideas and stories. I met him for the first time at the original Street Feast event held near Brick Lane, where we talked about his passion for cigars, whisky and coffee and how much we’d both enjoyed eating the bhel puri from the Jhal Muri Express. After that we messaged every so often (sadly our last connection was on 2nd February 2015 when he messaged to recommend that I hunted out the ace beach snacks in Brazil) and bumped into each other at London street food events – plus he wrote this wonderful guide for me at the Standard on where to find the best cronuts in London. He was worried it wouldn’t be good enough but we knew better. Predictably, it went wild.
Wilkes also contributed to other publications, including this list published on The Daily Out detailing his top 30 iconic dishes, many of which are street food related. Do have a look as many are still relevant a year or so later.
Today, though, having collected together some thoughts from a few of Wilkes’ favourite street food traders, let’s enjoy the photographs and the memories of a lovely man.
Rest in peace, sir.
From Mark Gevaux aka The Ribman, seller of delicious ribs:
“What will always stay with me is the fact Wilkes was at EVERY SINGLE NEW MARKET I ever did – including pop ups, pubs and ANYWHERE I ever went. It was especially strange for me on my first day back down on Brick Lane after his death. Every time I looked up I thought he was there… I have yet to meet anyone and I doubt I ever will meet anyone ever again who had his passion not only for the food he ate but for the people who made it – I think for Wilkes the people behind the food were as important as the food itself.”
Emma Thomas aka Miss Cakehead, seller of delicious ‘gore’ cakes:
“My favourite memory of Wilkes was when he initially was not allowed to take part in a professional photo call by a very fussy PR client (“pros only” apparently). After some quick thinking we blagged it (sorrynotsorry), and he was allowed to join in. I just remember looking at the bank of photographers and then noticing the love Wilkes had for the job, which just beamed out miles above the rest; to them this was a job, to Wilkes it was a joy. We also had an in-joke about his insistence of him always trying to get me to eat something. I am such a messy eater and whenever I get myself covered in food it always reminds me of Wilkes and this silly game we used to play.”
Bel Shapiro aka Bel and the Brisket, seller of delicious salt beef:
“Wilkes had an amazing ability, kind of like a super power, to be in about eight places at the same time. He left no culinary stone unturned and was endlessly supportive, especially to us Street Food traders. He would always cheer me up on rainy day by showing me the latest – and weirdest – YouTube video he’d found, which usually involved some squeamish food phenomenon from far flung countries and suggesting we start a street food stall selling whatever squirming beastie it was that he had found a video of!”
Kristofer, Julie, Andy and Maria aka the Vinn Goute team, sellers of delicious Seychelles street food:
“Wilkes was what we at Vinn Goute would call a true foodie, always at a new opening of a street food market, pop up restaurant or similar. If Wilkes wasn’t there it wasn’t worth checking out! For us, small independent street food traders, Wilkes did wonders, writing about out food and praising our home made delights. He also gave us the crown of one of his ‘top 20 tried foods in London’ lists mentioning our infamous octopus curry, which in his honour we will be bringing back during the months of February 18 to March at Unwind in Tooting Market. He loved it so much that we would exchange food for his incredible photo montages that he made at every visit with his many types of cameras and digital flash packs. He is a sadly missed character in the world of food – long live his memory.”
Mandy Yin aka Sambal Shiok, seller of delicious Malaysian street food:
“Wilkes was instrumental in helping me get my fledgling street food business off the ground. He was a font of all knowledge as he knew everyone and all the markets in London. He would give me constructive feedback on my food and would always show up to support any new market I was at or whenever I introduced a new dish. Wilkes had such a positive attitude and could always be counted upon for a proper laugh. I miss his friendship and still imagine I will bump into him out and about, like he always was, especially around Soho. He was my biggest supporter and trusted mentor. I am now even more driven to push onwards and to succeed, in his memory.”
Bridin Allen, friend and street foodie, tweets from @bsus
“Wilkes had a brilliant sense of humour, was full of wise cracks and had his finger firmly on the pulse of the London food and drink scene. Wilkes saw the beauty in many different things and was quick to laugh, make a sarky comment or be a down right filth bag, for this I love him. Wilkes would always follow a tip-off for street food, and if he liked it he championed it. My favourite example is telling Wilkes to get his arse down to the Rochelle School Yard to see Sambal Shiok – I knew he would love Mandy’s food and I was right. Wilkes championed Mandy from the beginning and would be sick to the teeth to know that he missed out on her recent laksa nights. He loved street art and was always out and about snapping graffiti and witty quips that caught his attention. Many were from Brick Lane, where no doubt he had paid a visit to The Ribman, another trader firmly fixed in his heart and stomach. One of my fondest memories of Wilkes is when he got himself the Flintstone rib from Smokestak at Street Feast (see pic at the top). He knocked so much craic out of that rib, parading it around Dalston Yard for his friends to have a bite. He ended up with sprinkles on the rib – and meat sweats!”
Other London street food traders that Wilkes supported who I didn’t get a chance to write to (or who weren’t mentioned in Wilkes’ Top 30 list above) include: Jim Thomlinson (aka Prawnography), BOB’s Lobster, Grill My Cheese, Pasta e Basta, Bill or Beak, Beefsteaks, and Street Kitchen. And I’m sure there were many more to add to this list.