Ten people who changed the world: Petra Barran, who drove the biggest food trend of the year

Whether in the cut-throat field of politics or the fashion industry's corridors of power, this year they left our planet a better place. Celebrate 10 of the best, nominated by Independent writers

In the food world, the glittering prizes normally go to the likes of Jamie, Nigella and Hugh, but this year a woman who runs her business from a van called Jimmy was declared one of London's 1,000 most influential people by the Evening Standard and scooped the One Person's Passion Award at the London Restaurant Festival.

Petra Barran is not only the boss, cook, driver and sales force of the acclaimed mobile chocolatier, Choc Star, but also an energetic and articulate organiser of the capital's burgeoning street food traders.

If you still associate street food with noisome fried onions, gruesome hamburgers and dubious meat pies, it might be time for you to get out more. A renaissance has taken place in Britain's van-based cuisine, now found not just in streets and markets, but also pop festivals, posh parties and just about any other event you might think of.

Who wouldn't join the madly salivating queues for an artisan pizza from the wood-fired stove of Hot Rocks pizza, seductive cakes and buns from the pink VW Campervan of Lulabelle's, sensational Breton galettes (buckwheat pancakes) from the Maigret-esque Citroën van of Crêperie Nicolas, shellfish-crammed paella Valenciana from the gargantuan pans of Jamon Jamon, or the walnut-fudge brownies, mocha ices, choc martini shots and frozen choc-dipped bananas of Choc Star (in other words Petra and Jimmy)?

All these tasty traders are among the 32 members of Eat St, the group co-founded by Petra with the aim of "driving British street food forward". After honing her skills with master chocolatier Pierre Marcolini, Petra set up Choc Star in 2005 and spent the next few years trundling round Britain selling top-quality treats normally only found in the swankier districts of London.

"The idea for Choc Star suddenly sprang out of the recesses of my mind," she says. "It was a combination of wanting to travel and to curate a great chocolate experience. Good chocolate shouldn't just be in posh cabinets in posh neighbourhoods."

Barran rapidly developed a soft centre for the street food scene. "It's such an interesting place to be. You muddle along with everyone else. It's so convivial. They are such straight-talking people. I just love it. The best street food involves imagination and exuberance. Food is a great common denominator. By meeting the most basic human requirement, it engenders trust among people. Suddenly, we find we're not that different after all. We lead such choreographed lives today. Street food is about ruffling up the expected. It gives you an opportunity to shake off the auto-pilot."

Through Choc Star, Barran "made loads of wonderful connections" with fellow traders, but she realised there was no hub to pull them together. "I love consolidating talents. I wanted to create a new movement that provides strength in numbers for street traders and cultivates more people doing great food on the streets. Festival organisers prefer to deal with collectives rather than individuals."

Founded two years ago, Eat St has recently gained both an excellent website and a permanent base in King's Cross where you can sample the wares of a rotating group of four to six traders (10am-3pm, Wednesdays-Thursdays, King's Boulevard). Setting up a pop-up restaurant on wheels is an increasingly appealing ambition but Petra admits that Eat St has to be selective about members. "It's something that lots of people want to be involved in and we want to encourage that but we're getting more fussy about who we accept. We've started charging a membership fee and have become more professional. We want membership to be a seal of quality."

Barran is determined that the street food movement ("it's not a revolution") should be an option for everyone, whether as consumer or trader. "We want to democratise good food. The idea of 'street food' is being trendified as a career option. But we're saying: let's leverage this so it touches all cultures, not just middle-class life-changers."

When she wasn't consolidating Eat St, in the last year Barran has been taking Choc Star to "lots of festivals, markets and parties". If that wasn't enough on her plate, she is also studying for an MSc in urban studies at University College London.

Inevitably, something had to give, even for the force of nature that is Petra Barran. It will come as sad news to chocolate addicts that she is taking an El Bulli-style break. Jimmy is coming off the road.

"I'm not sure for how long, but at least until my degree is finished in September. I might be desperate to hit the road by then and take the van to Europe. Itchy feet is a trait of street traders." Quite so: unsurprisingly, Petra spent this Christmas in Mexico, which just happens to be the birthplace of chocolate.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £30,000 Uncapped

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Day In a Page

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there