Kevin Allwood swears he knows me from somewhere.
I tell him it’s not me, but my sister, who used to have astounding dresses made by him in the late 1980s, in Montreal. Back then, Allwood designed under the name NEVIK (Kevin spelled backwards) and worked at a single atelier which gradually blossomed into multiple boutiques.
The dresses (ready-to-wear, couture) became more astounding, as did the lifestyle. Allwood recalls a time when he was working out of a 4,000 square-foot studio, which he describes as a “gilded cage.” Increasingly, he felt uncomfortable with so much attention being directed towards him. He didn’t want to take; he wanted to give.
In 2008, he quit fashion and Montreal. He migrated to Toronto, where he nourished a growing commitment to environmental and social causes while delving more deeply into Buddhism and vegetarianism. It wasn’t until 2015 that he returned to fashion with the launch of KEVIN ALLWOOD, a brand as much about ethical sourcing and sustainability as it is about innovative style.
Allwood only opened the KA SPACE Cafe, in 2019. But he confesses that, for him, it’s always been about the food.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Allwood’s family migrated to Ottawa when he was nine. His first-ever job was as a dishwasher at the Keg Mansion. “I was 14, but lied and said I was 17,” he laughs. “In a couple of months, I became head of prep, and then head of the front line.”
While still a teenager, Allwood studied Computer Hardware Engineering at the University of Ottawa before taking a sharp swerve into fashion. And yet, fashion too, was always about food.
“Fashion and food is not different, bro. It’s just different sides of the same coin. Or different sides of a wall, but you’re in the same room.”
“For me, food has always been even more important than clothing. With the girls that I was dressing in Montreal, they can tell you that I was always bugging them about how they ate, how they took care of themselves. I always wanted the fashion to have a food component because I didn’t feel like dressing unhealthy people made any sense.”
Allwood observes that clothes cover the body’s largest organ – our skin. “Skin does eat and it needs to be nourished. The only problem is we’re not feeding it.”
Instead, too often, we’re feeding ourselves poison. Which is why, despite his reluctance to categorize food, or anything else for that matter, KA SPACE Cafe’s menu offerings are described as “vegan Jamaican Afro-SoulFood Fusion.”
This is food that wants you to feel good.
Allwood defines soul food as “that feeling you get that pulls you out of your misery, that pulls you out of what’s coming at you from a white reality.” He acknowledges that while Jamaican food tastes divine, as sustenance that was originally reserved for slaves, it also relies heavily on unhealthy ingredients ranging from fatty cuts of meat to perilous amounts of sodium. In order to offer Jamaican food with its soul intact, minus the poison, he had to resort to some stealthy, and healthy, culinary engineering.
He started by getting rid of all meat and fish. KA SPACE Cafe’s take on the classic oxtail, for example, features eggplant. Another classic, salt fish, is revamped and reinvigorated with the clever use of sauteed and organic palm hearts. Pride of place is given to Jamaica’s signature and super-healthy ackee fruit, which makes prominent appearances in several dishes. In the Rasta Bowl, the voluptuous fruit, a cousin of the lychee with West African origins, memorably teams up with salted tofu, curried chickpeas, and creamy slices of avocado.
“This is food that wants you to feel good,” declares Allwood.
More good vibes stem from the use of quality organic and ethically-sourced ingredients. Even the salt is hand-harvested sea salt from B.C. Then there’s the seasoning, which is subtle, but complex. Fundamental are scotch bonnet peppers, with their bright, fruity Caribbean blast of warm heat (to turn up the temperature, try ALLWOOD Happy Hot Sauce).
Like fashion, it’s about layering. Like engineering, it’s about precise calculation.
The only thing it’s not about is tasting.