A few years ago, Jemma Foster took on a 42ft narrowboat in a poor state of repair and christened it Xanadu after the 'stately-pleasure dome' of Coleridge's poem Kubla Khan. At the time, she was telling stories through film as a scriptwriter and as author of The Cardboard Book Project.
The interior was redesigned using predominantly salvaged pieces, in keeping with the boat's original creation from recycled cargo containers in the 1980s. The result was a church pew for a work surface, a writing desk as a cutlery draw and cups dangling from ski poles & deer antlers. An untrained but instinctual cook, Jemma invited people for dinner to sit on folding cinema seats around a converted ironing board. Approaching ingredients as characters and dishes as narratives, Jemma's fascination with storytelling brought mythology & folklore to menus. Mama Xanadu was born: a floating restaurant using food as a medium for telling stories.
A desire to truly know her food source led Jemma from the markets to the farms and then directly into nature. There she embraced our ancestral heritage as foragers for food and medicine and the practice of local and seasonal eating. Jemma has since been deepening her exploration of man's relationship to nature through the study of herbal medicine, ethnobotany and food anthropology.
While it is still possible to book private dining on board the narrowboat, Mama Xanadu's has since expanded beyond its watery home to also include a Studio Lab in Hoxton for experimenting with wild preparations, hosting botanical workshops and brand consultancy. Our events pop up in locations in London and beyond, including our monthly Wild Alchemy Sessions at 42 Acres Shoreditch and in-house collaborations with the Honey Moon restaurant and bar at Apiary Studios.
The Wild Alchemy Bar serving mocktails and cocktails made with wild foraged ingredients, designed using the five elements system to support bodily functions, is also available for hire.
We are conscious about where we source our ingredients and promote primarily plant-based, ethical eating that is sympathetic to the environment and supports non-toxic farming and local initiatives.
Our research has led us to producers that use traditional methods, work with biodynamic principles and understand the need to shift from sustainable to regenerative agriculture.
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