Wax Meets: Ben Lippett
Posted on: July 30, 2023 – Words by
Professional chef and recipe writer Ben Lippett (@dinnerbyben) is whipping up a mouth-watering dish and dishing about co-founding his business with pal and designer Jamie Kaye when he grabs a bottle of Dr Sting’s Hot Honey. ‘You wanna try it?’ asks Ben with a tempting teaspoon of the golden liquid. It’s not a lot, but it’s enough to give one hell of a kick. ‘Are you good with spice?’ Ben asks with a mischievous grin. Apparently not as good as we thought.
With your American Studies degree from the University of Sussex, when did the sizzling world of food capture your taste buds?
It’s kind of linked. I went over to Brooklyn College in my third year to study and live in New York. Anyone who’s been there or lives there or tried to live there knows it’s such an expensive city. So I had to get a job that paid cash and that ended up being my first cooking job.
What was it like working in the hustle and bustle of a New York City kitchen?
It was called Donna and it was right at the end of Broadway under the Williamsburg Bridge. We did a lot of Central American cooking and Mexican food, but it was kind of a year of getting drunk at work because it was in a cocktail bar. It was more of a party where the cooks taught me how to work hard. I had never really had a job like that before and it was a real eye-opener. I was hooked. I ended up spending way more time at work than I did at school.
That must have been an absolute blast! You’re also a writer outside of the kitchen, how did you get into this?
I always liked the idea of writing about food, but I thought, if I’m going to write with any kind of confidence or authority about food, I better go and learn how to cook. I was playing in bands so wanted my evenings so I went and worked in cafes. I'd get up at 04:30 in the morning and go down to this cafe in Brighton, work until 14:00 and then go and play in the band. My life was basically playing music and cooking and then it got to this point where something’s gotta give. I couldn’t do one in a really serious way whilst doing the other. It was a tough call to make, but cooking ended up winning.
Sounds like the right choice because now you’re working with one of the biggest cultural influences in the food world, Mob. How did you end up there?
I worked in restaurants for five-six years and then decided I wanted to give the writing side of things a go and ended up working at Waitrose magazine in print. I kind of figured out it wasn’t where I wanted to be and Ben Lebus, the founder of Mob, saw what I was doing on social media and he slid into the DMs. I really wanted to work there. It's a great business for someone like me to go in and create. We have amazing chefs come through, recipe writers, creatives and the in-house team are all amazing. They just push you to think about food in different ways, the studio kitchen is like a whole sandpit to play in, it’s brilliant.
That’s really inspiring, and culturally it seems that food is becoming a bigger and bigger presence. Do you think social media has played a part in this?
Without a doubt. The way that people interact with food will never be the same again. I just think it makes things so much more approachable, you see a recipe every step of the way, where you’re going, where you start, everything in the middle. I think the only thing I would say about it is it does make it quite disposable, you can just churn through it. But if it gets more people cooking then I’m all for it.
A lot of people who never considered it before are cooking, but what’s the best way, as a professional, to teach someone to cook?
If you want people to really enjoy cooking, you don’t want it to become a chore. The best way to show somebody cooking is to take something simple and show them how to cook it properly because then you get an understanding of how to cook an ingredient. You don’t need to rely on loads of big punchy flavours to teach somebody how to cook something, the hows and whys of cooking are more important than having a recipe with twenty-eight ingredients.
As if you’re not busy enough, you’ve also co-founded a delicious brand of spicy honey sauce called Dr Stings Hot Honey. What inspired this move?
Dr Stings is another product of my time in New York. I was living in a place called Crown Heights in Brooklyn, and there was an amazing pizza place there called Barboncino where I had it for the first time. I’d never tried it before so I had no idea what it was going to be like and dumped it all over my pizza and had a bite and that was that. I was completely sold. I came back to the UK and it kind of was a dormant idea for years and years and years. Then, lockdown came in, all the restaurants were closed and I was like ‘I need to do something’. I remembered hot honey and saw no one else was really doing it, and there’s still only a handful of people doing it really well. I’ve been eating it and making it for eighteen months and I still really love it.
We’ve got to ask - and maybe we’re biased - but London is one of the great hubs of the food world, why is this?
There’s just lots of engaging cooking happening in London. I’ve only been here about two and a half years or so. Before that, I was in Melbourne - another incredible place for food, New York is obviously brilliant - but London, I don’t know, people here just really know how to cook well. There are people from all over the world cooking here and there’s just so much on offer, wherever you are.