At what age did you realise you wanted a career in food and where did you train?
It was no longer than 12 years ago, when I decided to cook for a living. Since I was a teenager I was trying my luck in the kitchen. It was a hobby to begin with, more than a passion. I always enjoyed cooking, first for my parents, then for friends and it stayed like that. I was working in many restaurants working my way up and I was really lucky because I was working with really good chefs and they were always happy to train me. Now it’s totally different. Cooking for sometimes hundreds of people, managing big teams of chefs, very often not being able to cook, just instructing other chefs. It is a totally different ball game. It’s very exciting now, but it was a long way for me to get here.
What are the challenges of catering for large numbers generally and specifically at Stationers’ Hall?
The biggest challenge in catering for large numbers is timing. When doing a big event you always have to consider that whatever job, it will take significantly longer than doing it for few people. You have to consider that things during long prep can cool down, harden up or dry up. So very often you have to do big jobs in small stages. Planning is the most important thing when catering for large events. Experience helps a lot as there is no recipe on how to run the service.
At Stationers’ Hall my biggest issue is the space. Once a year we hold the Trade Christmas Lunch, normally for around 300 people. When we prepare 300 plates of each dish we have to be very precise with timings and planning. At one time we can plate around 70 plates of a cold starter. They have to be stored somewhere while maintaining freshness and quality. I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t mention limited oven space! But hopefully we will be able to overcome that issue in the near future.
How big is the team working in the kitchen at Stationers’ Hall?
The core of the team is not that big, it consists of just 4 people. In catering you have to be much more flexible than in restaurants because on larger events I can have up to 12 chefs working at the same time. It all depends on the size and importance of the function. Obviously functions for Stationers’ are absolute priority so even on small events I’m making sure that there are enough chefs, to run an event smoothly and with highest quality possible.
Do you see fads and fashions in cooking and if so how do you react to them?
I definitely see those, I like to try new things but l don’t like to follow new trends too much, because very often they pass quickly and no one remembers them. I prefer to stick to a more classical style of cooking. I do like though modern cooking techniques like sous vide.
What do you like to cook for yourself?
I don’t really cook for myself, just because I don’t like half measures and spending hours to make a meal just for myself, that will be eaten in minutes is a little bit pointless. But If I do cook for myself it’s normally something Asian, it’s quick and healthy.
Do you have a favourite cook book and/or a food hero?
I have so many books that it’s just hard to decide which one is my favourite. I think that the one that I’m coming back to the most is ‘Galvin a Cookbook de Luxe’ by Galvin brothers. My food hero is definitely my mum. She was always very passionate about cooking and I think that, partly because of her I’m doing what I’m doing now.
Do you keep a collection of your own tried and tested recipes which you might be tempted to publish one day?
I do have a few of my own recipes but I’m not a Michelin chef and I think that just those should be publishing books.
What do you think about media chefs? Are they helpful, inspirational or traitors to their art?
I don’t think that the role that they play is very good for the industry. You can see that especially with the approach of young chefs to cooking. They don’t realise how important experience is. After watching programs on TV or just following famous chefs on the internet, they think that they can do the same thing just because it looks so easy. They don’t realise that whatever they see on screen was done before hundreds, if not thousands of times and it requires a lot of attention.
Have you got one foodie tip to pass on which our members will enjoy or find useful?
It’s not a shame to fail in cooking, it happens very often in professional kitchens. My tip would be to find out what went wrong. Maybe the temperature was too high, maybe the oven was too dry or maybe you used too much of something. Learn from your own mistakes, home cooking isn’t very measurable so just repeat things that didn’t work out and you will find a way of mastering it. In my opinion that’s the best way of learning how to cook. You have to understand the whole process.