Thanks to the recently departed Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, we’re all pretty familiar with the idea of the dark and dirty side of a professional kitchen, the rampant sex, drug taking and alcohol abuse. Stories of Marco Pierre White making Gordon Ramsey cry and of Tom Aikens branding the hand of a trainee employee are well known and highlight the high pressure and anger of a hot, fast paced arena.
We’ve also become familiar, thanks to shows like Masterchef, with the idea of home cooks transitioning to the professional kitchen, a transition that is by no means easy given the very different working practices of a professional kitchen to the home.
We decided to ask one chef, who has recently ditched a law degree to move into a professional kitchen in Soho, despite no professional training, what it’s like making the change and if the old idea of the fast paced, high pressure, sex and drug riddled kitchen is still the case.
How long have you been in the kitchen now?
On and off for about 3 or 4 months now.
What made you want to change career paths?
I want to take a break from law, so I applied for KP [Kitchen Porter] role in the hope of getting in the kitchen with no experience, but was lucky enough to get to be a prep chef instead. And thank god I did, because KP is a physically taxing job as it’s at the very bottom of the kitchen hierarchy and it deserves more recognition given the hard work involved and the it’s importance
Was it hard getting a job without any formal training?
No, as I said, very lucky to get in and Jeremy [the chef and co-owner] was very lovely about it and the team was very supportive.
What’s been the hardest thing? The hours?
Well, hours can be tough if you do a double, or, worse still, 3 shifts in a row. But we now have a new rota and we have probably one of the best schedules for chefs in the capital. We do 6 shifts a week, which really isn’t bad!
What’s the camaraderie like?
Amazing. The head and sous chef are brilliant leaders and the team is like a family. A very supportive working environment! The exact opposite from Gordon Ramsey. Jeremy’s presence also brings a laugh but he also makes sure things are up to standards!
Worst experience and best experience?
Worst. Probably the first few days of going onto cold starters. I didn’t really have much idea on plating and everyone seems to have a different way, which makes thing confusing. Oh, quennelling the pate with one spoon during service under Jeremy’s sharp eyes was quite daunting. Also, I implore diners don’t come in 10pm (our last order) and order 2 dozen oysters! It happened once! I have to then prep all of them and make a new shallot vinaigrette from scratch as the day’s batch is gone.
The best, I guess it is when you finish the evening and all the dinners were left happy! Also, improving the sauces I make is quite satisfying!
Does the kitchen live up to what you hoped?
Yes, I braced myself for long hours and stuff. Quite a big step up from just cooking at home! But it has been nothing short of brilliant. As I said, the team is very lovely and I think it really does make a big difference!
Kitchens have always been notorious for drugs, alcohol and everyone sleeping with each other. Is that still the case?
Well, we all like a drink after a hard service but we are very disciplined during work. None of alcohol, drugs, let alone sex! We are always too busy! But hey, what people do outside work is their choice!
What’s the strangest request you’ve had from a fussy customer?
Not that many to be honest. I guess frequent vegetarian diners can make life a bit difficult. For example if they have dined here the night before and want to have a different vegetarian dish the next day (we only have one). Our head chef came up with Wigmore Tart, which is delicious! Oh, I also heard there are some strange requests during breakfast!
Can you see your self ever moving back out of the Kitchen?
Yes, I can. As I said I am just taking a break from law and I am thankful that I was given the opportunity to do something I love. That said, I am quite flexible and we’ll see what comes up next!
What are your goals both short and long term? Any particular skills or dishes you want to master? Plans to one day be a head chef or open a place of your own?
Well, if I do stay in the industry, of course some sort of progress would be great and head chef would be amazing. As for opening my new place, I think it is a lot of people’s dream when they enter the industry. But one has to brace the harsh reality of this given situation given the enormous competition we have in the capital these days. In fact, the chef patron of Brunswick House recently wrote a very insightful article.
I think in my case, it would be best to hone my chef skills in the industry and then perhaps either go back to law (the commercial side) to learn more about the business side of things or have a financier for investment! But hey ho, it is still early days!