Charlie Gilpin is the owner of Project Sandwich, a London-based street food company. The award-winning vendor trades at KERB lunchtime markets at West India Quays, the Gherkin, Kings Cross and London Bridge, as well as brewery pop ups and private events. It was awarded the Critic’s Choice and Best Sandwich at London’s Sandwich Fest 2017.
Describe Project Sandwich…
It is a street food company with one simple goal; take classic sandwiches from across the globe and shake them up to create something exceptionally delicious! The decision to do sandwiches came mainly out of indecision. I knew I wanted to do street food, but I just couldn’t stick to a single cuisine in my head. Sandwiches gave me something really specific to brand around, yet also allow a huge amount of creative freedom. They are eaten all over the world in some form so it means I can constantly create new things and explore different cuisines.
Why did you set it up?
Food has been my passion for as long as I can remember. I grew up in a foodie household with my parents being great, and creative, cooks. The kitchen was the hub of our life, and when we weren’t at home we were lucky enough to be eating out in a range of restaurants from burger joints to the best restaurants in the world. Food was in my soul, so while I went travelling I worked in various hospitality jobs (barman, waiting staff, commis chef) to help fund my adventure. Thanks to my experience and the skills I learnt, I knew I wanted a job I was passionate about, so in 2014 Project Sandwich was born.
What’s the secret to a good sandwich?
Pickles. Everyone needs them in their life! From gherkins to pink onions, pickled carrot and kimchi they give a sandwich an amazing crunch which will contrast with any protein filler. Also it’s one ingredient that will satisfy salty, sweet and savoury all at the same time.
What is your best selling sandwich?
Our signature dish the El Jefe; a classic cubano with a kick. It contains free range pork shoulder with smoked ham, swiss cheese, salsa mojo (a minty, citrusy salsa verde), chipotle mayo and of course, thick cut gherkins. We then press the whole thing on a plancha with honey and lime butter.
How can an outlet make a sandwich more exciting?
Treat it with the same amount of attention and effort you do with any other dish on your menu. Use the best quality bread and ingredients, and treat it with care. A sandwich, when prepared correctly, can be just as impressive as a plate from a fine dining restaurant.
What types of bread do you use?
Because our signature dish is the El Jefe we use the closest thing to Pan Cubano (Cuban bread) which is a cross between a baguette and a sub roll. Versatile, it has a softer, lighter crust and it isn’t too heavy or chewy. However, when we do private events we tend to create one-off dishes so we use sourdoughs and brioche buns.
Do you tweak your menu to make it festive?
Yes. Last year we served a Christmas club sandwich; a triple stacker with peppered chicken, smoked bacon, my mum’s cranberry sauce, swiss cheese and chestnut mayo on simple, white sliced bread. The combination was a winning success – our customers loved it! This year we may do a festive sub; turkey, stuffing, sprouts and gravy.
What do you do when you are not selling sandwiches?
My hobby is my job, so when I’m not working I tend to be eating out, as I love trying out new places. I also love to travel, so each year I try to take at least one month off work to go abroad and explore somewhere new. My objective is to eat at as many restaurants around the world as I can.
Which chefs have inspired you?
Without a doubt, my number one idol is Jamie Oliver. He personifies everything I love about food and feeding people. I probably owe a lot to him, having grown up with his cookbooks and TV shows. He definitely taught me to cook as much as my parents did. However, there are also a lot of other chefs who I admire and take inspiration from including Nathan Outlaw, Lee Westcott, Enrique Olvera, Virgilio Martinez and Niki Nakayama to name a few.
What is the appeal of street food?
I think it is that the quality of food on offer is so high. There is such a wealth of food available on the street, much of it, I believe, superior to a lot of restaurants. It’s also a really personal and unique way to eat. Being customer facing enables traders to cut out a lot of the barriers and obstacles that a restaurant can bring. It’s a hugely collaborative industry that sees all the traders in it together, sharing knowledge, experiences and most importantly, food.