Apparently it’s been 22 days since my last blog post. 22! But when the stats are there in black and white, you can’t really argue. That’s such a long time! And actually, I’ve missed writing. The daily download, the recapping of highlights and lowlights, selecting which pictures to post… and yet somehow it’s been easier than I would have liked to drift off course. The busyness of getting back into London life, catching up on social engagements, trying to actually sort out my life, a flurry of 6am starts, yoga, BBCiplayer (it’s Masterchef time, what can I say) etc. Life does, quite frankly, seem to pick up to a pace here which is go, go, go.
So perhaps it’s best to crack on with a quick summary and a whistle stop catch up on what I’ve been up to. Here’s a summary in numbers of the last 22 days and 3.1 weeks since I last wrote:
- Weeks spent in the kitchens at Ottolenghi – 2 (and they were an amazing, full-on 2 weeks… more details below)
- Weeks spent arranging my life and trying to figure out just what the heck I am up to next – 1
- Boxes of aubergines cut (on a slight angle and about 1.5 centimetres) – somewhere between 100 and 200
- Blue plasters – 1 (another potato peeler, not even a good knife story to tell. But still only 1, not bad going touch wood, touch wood)
- Burns – many (see opening the oven doors, manhandling large roasting dishes, chargrilling pear slices or tuna or fritters)
- Time spent rolling meatballs – hours and hours. (I’m probably not exaggerating if I say days)
- Days of 20+ weather in London – at least 5 (Too nice to be inside and writing blog posts)
- Cooking CV’s written – 1
- Cooking agencies joined – 2
- Number of times people have said to me “So, why exactly are you leaving your great sounding job to come and work in a kitchen?” – numerous
- Catch up coffees with friends / family / ex-colleagues – at least 1 a day in the name of productivity
- Days spent hanging out with my lovely niece and nephew (and sister of course!) – many, very happily!
- Hours spent in the supermarket experiencing major cognition overload and decision paralysis – FAR too many. (Shopping at the supermarket is officially the most stressful thing about moving back. Everything is over-packaged. Nothing says what it really is on the label. Things are in season but not really (I’m looking at you English asparagus that’s really from Ecuador). But, it’s all so damn convenient)
- Additional shifts done at Violet – 2 (woohoo! I love being asked back to go there)
- Loaves of sourdough cooked – 3 (I’m on a pretty good 1 loaf a week rhythm)
- Occasions I’ve made my excuses so I could go home and tend to sourdough – Once or twice. So probably once or twice to many 😉
I keep thinking “oh ok that’s my list done” and then something else pops into my head. A lot has happened in 22 days as it turns out.
My 2 week stint at Ottolenghi began at 7am on Monday 18th April in the Spitalfields restaurant. This is the newest location and the restaurant is lovely, light and upstairs above the also lovely and light restaurant. In the heart of the City it serves breakfast, lunch and dinner service 7 days a week.
Just like the Islington restaurant I’ve enjoyed so many delicious meals in, this restaurant has you hungry before you’ve even sat down. In fact you can see the beautiful displays of salads and breads and cakes and pastries before you even walk in the door. It’s designed to be beautiful, to show off the beautiful food in all it’s glory.
I was on day shifts, so in for 8am (which I’m learning is a pretty sweet gig) and done by about 3-4pm most days. For the majority of my time in the kitchens I was in the savoury section, so assisting with veg prep (chopping, blanching, roasting, chargrilling, frying etc), making up the large salad platters, making sauces, prepping the tuna and sea bass, making fritters, rolling meatballs… I got to experience so much. I moved around the kitchen to different sections and also spent a day in pastry, helping the pastry chefs create their beautiful cakes, tarts and other sweet treats.
Most of the other chefs in the kitchen were all slightly perplexed as to the fact I liked both the savoury and pastry sections.. this feels like a bit of a no-go in a big kitchen where everyone else seemed to be so clear about they type of chef they were. But why does it have to be one or the other, why can’t it be both?
I guess one of the biggest takeaways was seeing up close and personal just how skilled these guys are as they stay focussed and keep producing amazing food, be it prepping or plating or anything in between. And especially so, as the breakfast or lunchtime rush hits. The checks keep coming in, and coming and coming, fish, fritters, meatballs… the salads need to be restocked, more fritters or meatballs need to be made, the fish is late coming in… there are just so many variables to keep on top of. It’s not enough to just be doing what you need to be doing at that moment, you’ve always got to be thinking a step (or 10) ahead. Working efficiently is key, without thinking these guys have systems and ways of working so they get things done in the most productive way.
For the first few days I felt I was constantly taking way more steps than I needed to. Going to the walk in to get one thing then having to go back for the other bits I’d forgotten. Pulling out one tray when I needed 5, getting bowls, pots or pans that were too small and creating more dishes. Ending up with too many things on my station. But, this is all part of it I guess. And it’s getting into the swing of it, finding the rhythms and developing your own methods and ways of working, that’s when you start to feel like you’re getting there. Making progress. Learning, understanding and doing. And doing. And doing. Along with all of this, there is also a lot of repetition in kitchen work. Consistency is key.
I also said “yes chef” a lot.
And everyone I worked with in the kitchens was just so lovely to me. The Head chefs Shalom and Carlos, the ever patient Elaine who is a machine on the veg prep, the Chef de Partie’s Jason, Daniel and Mickey who kept it real, taught me loads and fed me delicious things. Tess who trusted me enough to let me into the pastry section. Sami who told me on my first day that my aubergines weren’t cut thick enough (oh no!) and then didn’t say a whole lot else to me but smiled a lot and is clearly just a great food man all around. The front of house, the catering team. What an experience.
I learnt so much. If you’d asked me 5 months ago what I thought I’d be doing after Ballymaloe I would not have every imagined “work experience at Ottolenghi’s” – and now I’ve done it! I’m totally inspired by the chef / food / restaurant life, even if I’m not sure in quite what state I want to live it in my future. I might not quite know yet, but I know I don’t want to stop.
Right, that’s it for tonight. A plan for the what’s coming next is appearing…. I’m even in gainful employment this week! And food related too. More to come but for now, bed. My 5.30am alarm awaits….