Ryan's Kitchen: Meet the man behind Leeds takeaway empire serving Caribbean food for everyone to enjoy
As shops closed down their shutters and Leeds fell silent, Ryan's Kitchen was a hub of activity as lockdown takeaways were prepared by their hundreds.
Orders boomed for Ryan Simpson's Kirkstall Road eatery as people looked for a tasty treat while they were stuck at home.
Spiced by not spicy, Ryan's food is full of flavours from the Caribbean - but he's not afraid to adapt the dishes.
He learnt how to cook as a youngster when he and his siblings took turns cooking three-course meals every Saturday, but it wasn't until he moved from Doncaster to Leeds in 2004 that he turned his hand to Caribbean cooking.
Ryan, 37, told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “I moved into a shared house in Chapeltown with three Jamaican people and they taught me how to cook Jamaican food.
“It’s all about patience - marinating the food and extracting the juice out of the meat, rather than adding water.”
While working at a call centre, the inviting smells of Ryan's Jamaican-style curries caught the attention of his co-workers, who began buying his food every week.
“They would visit food festivals and try Jamaican food but they said it wasn’t as nice as mine," Ryan added.
“I was bored in my job and feeling really unfilled. It was a comfortable job with good money, but I’ve always wanted to do this. Eventually, I took the plunge."
Ryan ran a mobile catering business for five years before he opened his cosy Kirkstall Road restaurant and takeaway hub four years ago.
He serves up Jamaican-inspired grub, from slow-cooked chicken curry to jackfruit in sweet jerk gravy, with traditionally spicy dishes served mild - extracting flavour from scotch bonnet without the heat.
Ryan said: "My first curry went through a lot of adaptation; the feedback was that it was too thin, too salty, too spicy or too many bones.
“I learnt from the feedback, adapting it to people’s needs instead of focusing on what’s traditional or how the dish is supposed to be.
“We focus on consistency and using quality ingredients. Everything is gluten-free except for the dumplings and the wraps and there’s a large vegan range.
"It’s a place that everyone can enjoy.”
Demand went through the roof during lockdown, with a Ryan's Kitchen takeaway becoming a weekend ritual for many of his customers.
“It was something people looked forward to," Ryan added.
"People were placing orders at 9am for 6pm in the evening; they loved it.
“It was challenging, it got out-of-control busy. There wasn’t enough space to put all the orders because there were so many.
"I learnt to be adaptable. We already had deliveries running, so it was a case of streamlining it and getting in enough people to keep the same level of service.”
Ryan's dishes are all cooked from scratch in-house, using local ingredients where possible and seasoning sourced from Jamaica.
He continues to offer private catering for weddings and events, where he offers one-day specials and new recipes.
“I love cooking and I love seeing people enjoying the food," Ryan said.
"When you go out for food, it should be a happy experience and that’s what I try to create.”
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