Giles Duley lives in St Leonards when he isn’t travelling the world as a photographer and writer, capturing the stories of conflict and its aftermath. But his medium isn’t only a camera lens. Despite losing two legs and an arm in on an assignment in Afghanistan, Giles is a chef and he also tells his stories through food.

Over the coming months, this ‘One Armed Chef’ – Giles’ Instagram name – is creating evenings rooted in the meals, recipes and music from four places where he travels: Beirut, Vietnam, Rwanda and Iraq. The events, titled Grandmas & Dive Bars, aim to bring the authentic food culture of these countries to diners in Hastings.

“Food has always been a big part of my life,” says Giles. His mother was a cook in a stately home and wrote a cookbook; food was at the heart of home. As a photographer, food is his way of connecting with people. “I create a better portrait if I’ve eaten with that person first,” he says. “I try and cook or share a meal with a family or community I’m documenting before I take any photos.” Cooking is also his personal way of decompressing when he returns from documenting conflict areas.

The food events, held at Badger Inc, the restaurant and social club on the seafront near the pier, will be based on recipes given to Giles by the women who have fed him on his journeys, on dishes inspired by his travels, and on a traditional dish from each country. 

These are countries associated in the present or past with conflict, but part of the concept is that food is a positive way to engage with the people and places beyond the news stories. 

“My work takes me to places of hardship and violence,” says Giles. “But there I find humanity and friendship. In the bleakest of moments, around a shared table, even just for a moment, we can all find peace. 

“I’ve been so privileged on my travels to be invited into family homes to share meals and cook. The dishes I’ve been taught are like gifts, each of which I treasure. These evenings are a chance to share those experiences.”

Event dining is a great format, not least in Covid-times when diners and venues alike can feel they are part of a shared moment in time that has been carefully planned.

Diners coming to the four-course £45 evenings (10 per cent going to the Legacy of War Foundation, a charity co-founded by Giles) will be sent a playlist from the country in advance and hear Giles talk about his own life and work on the night, with the restaurant acting as a living ‘set’ with photographs, smells, tastes and experiences direct from each place. 

These unique food culture evenings are spread over Friday and Saturday nights: 16th/17th October (Beirut), 23rd/24th October (Vietnam), 30th/31st October (Rwanda) and 6th/7th November (Iraq). 

Giles returns from Beirut in time to quarantine before the first evening and will leave for Iraq after the last event. He normally goes to about 20 countries a year – and is currently away filming – but Covid has given him time to collaborate these food journey evenings with Badger Inc founder, Kate Jaggers. There are plans to take the idea elsewhere as part of his mission to bring people closer to the lives of the people he meets. 

Celebrating home cooking in this way is part of a more general movement in food towards the authentic, along with other ground-breaking food and travel concepts such as Pasta Grannies and Grand Dishes. Here there is the added dimension of taking diners to countries well beyond the usual destinations.

Lebanese and Vietnamese food are better known to most than that of Rwanda and Iraq, but in all cases the dishes to be served will be different from those found in restaurants. 

“I’m lucky enough to have eaten in some of the best restaurants in the world – and while that experience can be an amazing one for the senses, the meals that really stay with me are the ones cooked from the heart,” says Giles. “For me, cooking is about love and I hope that’s what will make the food on these nights really stand out. My hope is that our guests leave with a smile and a warm heart.”

As for the venue, Kate Jaggers set up Badger Inc as a space for such creative collaborations. In what is a challenging year for so many, this is the first in a series of food journeys from Badger Inc, that she says are intended to fuel our cultural thirst and provide some escapism from everyday life. “We’ve all been restricted, and a key part of travel is food, drink and culture,” she says. “Lots of us feel starved of that. This is home-style food straight from the kitchens of far-away lands and an insight as if you were staying with a family in these territories. Our aim is to push the limits of what food experiences in the UK can be, right here in Hastings.”

For further details or to book your place, email [email protected]

Badger Inc, 67 Eversfield Place, TN37 6BY

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