The van is called MOE, he’s called Kevin Pyke and the business is called ‘Pyke N Pommes’.
If you have ever gone for a mid-afternoon stroll along the River Foyle it’s highly likely you’ve seen Kevin Pyke poking his head out through the hatch in his street food van ‘MOE’ and taking orders for his humorously named ‘The Notorious P.I.G.’ and ‘Codfather’.
It’s little over a year since Kevin left his job as head chef of Watts & Co restaurant in the Waterside to realise his dream.
Towards the end of November 2012, Kevin and his father, David, set out on a journey that would change Kevin’s life forever.
The pair caught an early morning flight from Belfast to Bristol where they were met by one of Kevin’s older brothers.
Kevin’s brother drove both Kevin and his father to a little place in Dorset called Poole and things would never be the same again.
“I bought the van you see now off a woman from Poole over eBay - I didn’t realise it at the time but the van only has one seat which meant when me and my father took turns to drive back to Derry the other person had to sit on the floor in the back,” said Kevin.
Fifteen hours after they collected the van, Kevin and his father arrived back in Derry.
“The lady who owned the van before me tried using it to cook and serve Italian food but she did a lot of her work outside of the van - I wanted to embrace the whole street food concept so I spent the best part of two and half months doing the van up and then towards the end of March this year I started trading and I haven’t looked back since.”
Warm and noisy kitchens was where Kevin was used to cooking and preparing food but earlier this year he threw caution to the wind and set-up his stall selling street food in the car park near B&Q on the Buncrana Road.
“I’d a fair idea I wasn’t breaking any rules but I just thought I’d go somewhere where there was plenty of people and see what happened.”
To describe what happened next as a stroke of good fortune would be a huge understatement.
“A care taker who worked for the group who owned the car park approached me and said he knew a place where I could set-up.
“He was really supportive. He told me to meet him in the small car park near the flats beside KFC. I came here, met him and he told me that I could trade here - all I have to do is pay my rent and that’s where I have been ever since.”
Originally from Carnhill, Kevin is the youngest of three boys and his father worked as an air traffic controller in City of Derry of Airport and his mother, Carol, is a classroom assistant.
“My dad is originally from Wigan, hence the uncommon name,” smiled Kevin.
“I had an amazing childhood growing up. I was always into football and played a bit for Oxford United.
“My dad tells me that I turned down the chance to go on trial with Preston North End but I have no recollection of that at all,” he laughed.
Kevin attended Carnhill P.S. before moving on to St. Brigid’s College.
Kevin and his family moved to the Isles of Scilly when his father got a job working as an air traffic controller there.
“There were more people at St. Brigid’s College than there were on the islands,” laughed Kevin.
“It was a lovely place to live and it was here that I got my first experience of working in a restaurant. I worked for the Tresco Hotel - they are a four or five star hotel and the food they produced was top notch.
“The head chef there was from Newcastle and I thought he was a great guy because he gave me my first job as a kitchen porter.”
After completing his education on the island, Kevin left Penzance where he studied Tourism and Leisure for two years.
“I returned to the island every summer for the work. The islands were busy with tourists and the seafood we would have been preparing was brilliant - it was a great place for me to learn how to cook.”
At the age of 21, Kevin left the Scilly Isles to travel the world. His global sojourn took him to India, Indonesia and Bali.
After eight months on the road, Kevin returned to Derry where he worked in the Da Vinci’s Hotel restaurant kitchen for eight months before going to work for a company called Sunsail in Greece.
“Travelling is perhaps the best thing I have ever done because it gave me the chance to sample a variety of different national cuisines.
“Working in Greece was brilliant too - it was a massive operation but I really enjoyed working as a chef there.”
Kevin left his job with Sunsail and returned to Derry where worked as a chef in the Exchange for two years before going on to take over the kitchen at the Forte Inn in the Craft Village and he also worked briefly in the kitchen in Harry’s restaurant in Bridgend.
Kevin was in his early thirties when he went travelling again and he visited Vietnam, Laos, Australia and Thailand.
On his return to Derry, Kevin went to work as head chef for Watts & Co Steak and Seafood Grill restaurant in the Waterside.
“I was there for about year and I was preparing myself to take over the kitchen but I decided to do something completely different and that’s where the idea for the van came in.
“I call the van MOE because it’s the first three letters of the number plate. It’s my pride and joy but my wife, Paula, might have something to say about that when we become parents for the first time next week,” said Kevin laughing.
“I am all about fresh and local produce - I never keep anything in my kitchen for more than two days.
“I can’t believe things have gone so well. People seem to like the food and I’ve really tried to put my personality into the business.
“‘Pyke N Pommes’ will be a year old in April next year. I have big plans for the business in terms of outside catering and weddings and other functions.
“I also want to push the street food concept in Derry. I would love to see some where like Pump Street taken over for a day where local musicians, food producers and beer makers could have a big event - that’s the long term objective anyway,” he smiled.
“My friend Donal Doherty owns a business called Urban Visions - he’s a graffiti artist and he helped me design the logo and the design for the business - Donal, or as I call him ‘Swayze’ has been a great help.
“The street food scene has really taken off in London - in fact some of the best food you’re likely to get in London will be street food. The woman who is spearheading the whole thing is called Petra Barran and she said she is keen to get me over for a street food event in the not too distant future. I would be great fun to take ‘MOE’ back on the road again,” he smiled.
For more information on ‘Pyke N Pommes’ search for them on Facebook.