Shoots and Leaves Bring People Together

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Woody Pyke was born and bred in Peckham, where he still lives and works at running his own catering company, but he did not get to where he is through conventional routes, writes Michael Holland.

The young Woody went off to university to get a degree in Maths but says that after graduating ‘none of the traditional graduate options or routes appealed to me’. With no doors opening for the young mathematician he went to Amsterdam to work in kitchens and enjoy the lifestyle in that city while opening doors himself to his own future.

After some time there a return to London beckoned where he once again immersed himself in the stressful world of kitchen work. He reveals that, ‘I think techniques and prowess were picked up in doing restaurant work but fundamental ideas about what’s good or not comes from my mum! We had a house where food was so important to us and brought us together every evening without fail. Things like this have given me a strong idea of what food can be and what style of food resonates with me.’

There was always a desire for Woody to run his own business so when the chance to go out on his own he did so: ‘Luckily, I have been able to keep working for myself without needing to go back to where the stress levels are undoubtedly high – although I do miss the hum of a busy service and the feeling of being in a restaurant creating amazing food.’

Reflecting on his decision, Woody says the motivation came from, ‘a combination of good fortune with some amazing clients and contacts who have supported me, and to fundamentally represent myself’.

He describes his company, called Shoots & Leaves, as one that ‘works for a range of different events creating bespoke menus for clients. These could be lunches for offices, canapé and drinks receptions, weddings, private dining parties or retreats!’

You would think Woody has got everything covered there for a full and busy work life but he takes out precious time to devote to giving something back to the community. He can regularly be found in Copleston Community Centre where he and the centre’s volunteers cook a lunch for anyone who goes there on Wednesdays. If they have no money they can eat free, whereas others (I’m a regular there) donate something that will go into keeping this brilliant project going.

There is also cooking-based projects at Future Dreams House and Restorative Justice For All. I attended his monthly stint at Appleby Blue, the new almshouse in Bermondsey where they run a men-only scheme to get a group together to cook and eat together while talking together as well as getting out to socialise. A project that is free and open to everyone, not just the residents. In fact, there was only one Appleby resident amongst us, the others were from all over the borough.

Woody walked us through a delicious paella that we then, under his watchful eye, created as a group; preparing vegetables, fish and seafood, making a fantastic fish stock from scratch, while learning that certain aspects of the task were needed to be done to create flavour. Woody also provided us with shortcuts or alternatives so we could go away and recreate those aromas and tastes ourselves.

Enough paella was made to share with the office staff there and all the talk around the table was what to cook next month.

I wanted to know what Woody gets from projects like this: ‘I have created a balance of some things that are financially beneficial and some projects that are good for my soul. That’s why my community work is something I don’t want to give up – ever! I find it brings me back to the true essence of why we cook – to nourish people and bring them together.’

And the future? ‘Keep growing – especially into corporate spaces and to look for ways in which I can continue to drive community projects forward and engage more and more people in community spaces to bring them together over great food and good company!

Men Only – Man With A Pan – Project: It’s free and on every month. For more details: or call 0207 671 1851.

Photos: M. Holland


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