London chefs are bringing the city’s food scene to life

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Between closing, pivoting, opening outside, sparkling inside and maintaining social distancing, the 469 days have been tough and tumultuous for the London restaurant scene.

While many of us were at home baking banana bread, zooming in and browsing the internet for yeast, those behind the once bustling restaurants in the capital found themselves grappling with produce. excess, sky-high rents and an anxious workforce – as well as the fear of catching the virus. As a result, many of our top London restaurants couldn’t stay afloat, and to our dismay, heirloom tomatoes in brine at Cub, refreshing oysters at Counter Culture and butter pies at Rochelle Canteen in the deep. of the ICA have become a thing of the past.

Now that we step out of the Covid-19 fog and return to some sort of “normalcy,” the city’s restaurant scene feels… different. An unprecedented void between closed cafes and thousands of thirsty people chomping at the bit for bottomless mimosas. What will happen when the dust settles? Who knows, but there are a few savvy movers and shakers on a mission to support and enhance London’s delightful landscape, one bite at a time. Want to meet them? Of course you do.

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/ Richard dowker

It’s 5 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon and Ravneet Gill tells me that she was dozing off at her desk when I called, which isn’t surprising since she’s probably the busiest woman in the world. Cordon Bleu-trained pastry chef, this non-stop slashie is part author, TV presenter, teacher, entrepreneur, career guru and Instagram sensation.

While studying psychology at college, Gill spent all of her time thinking about food, cooking, and baking for everyone. So I Googled “How to go and be a chef” and I went to Cordon Bleu and baked. ‘ Since then, she’s made pies, creams and cakes in St John’s, Llewelyn’s, Zuma and Harvey Nichols, has gone independent ‘shoot teams for buddies’, founded Countertalk (we’ll talk about that later), created the puff pastry school (now closed), writes The Pastry Chef’s Guide and featured Junior Bake Off on Channel 4.

“Baking and cooking, in my opinion, should just be a little more accessible”

Between working on her second book, Sugar, I Love You, released in October, and giving nearly 100,000 Instagram followers baking / career / life advice, Gill has launched her latest project: the Damson Jelly Academy. A baking and cooking school designed because ‘baking and cooking, in my opinion, should be a little more accessible’, it costs just £ 99 per four-week digital course. Plus, “for every beginner’s course we sell, we give one back to a kid at a school,” says Gill, who wishes her public school had focused on food technology, “because if I had noticed [I loved food] then I would not have gone to university ”.

Gill’s platform for restaurant workers, Countertalk, “builds an empowered food community” from the inside out, offering career advice, hosting discussions with industry experts and advertising jobs in spaces controlled. “I wanted to create something that would help people bypass garbage kitchens and get into good ones because there are great kitchen environments out there. Hopefully the scene takes notice because let’s face it: happier staff makes better restaurants.

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/ Richard dowker

“I always wanted to have a little place in Soho where I would cook Thai food, just make a few drinks and play records,” says Ben Chapman, who worked in music and restaurant design until. that he opened the first Smoking Goat in 2014. Today, he is the proud co-owner of Thai themed hot-spots Smoking Goat and Kiln, and one of the founding fathers of Tomos Parry’s Basque-inspired restaurant, the all in the Super 8 group of restaurants.

Kiln, famous for its baked glass noodles with Tamworth belly and crab meat and a selection of low intervention wines worthy of fainting, was crowned UK’s best restaurant at the Estrella Damm National Restaurant Awards 2018. Although flattered, Chapman doesn’t care. “I was very proud of the team, but [awards] do not interest me. What gets him excited is “what you can do on a farm, if we can grow holy basil, if we can have catfish in the UK” and “try to have an ethical business, diverse and inclusive with a zero pay gap, ”he says. It’s this mentality that drives the Super 8 team to go the extra mile, from committing to buying whole harvests and vintages from farmers and winemakers, to sending emails to member owners. staff to negotiate rent reductions during the leave period.

In order to save jobs once restaurants reopened with limited capacity, Chapman and his team opened a second Brat restaurant in Climpson’s Arch, where he used to barbeque “messing around” with Parry before opening Smoking Goat. “We didn’t really want to lose anyone, so we put the Smoking Goat, Kiln and Brat teams to work in this new location. We went in with 150 employees and left with almost 200. ‘

So what’s next? “There is a project at the fun and creative stage right now. We design menus. It will be [the core team at Kiln] Luke and Meedu, but it won’t be the same Kiln. ‘

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/ Richard dowker

Despite being in front of the cameras for this year’s Great British Menu series, Chef Oli Marlow found it rather awkward to sit down for the photos you see on these pages. “When you’re cooking you’re so in the area, you don’t notice what’s going on around you, but when someone tells you to sit down and smile, it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh. ”

At only 30 years old, Marlow is a chef who has spent a lot of time “in the zone”. He’s been donning chef’s whites for 15 years and has chopped, sautéed and baked all over the world, from Eleven Madison Park in New York to Maaemo in Norway and Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck in Berkshire, all of whom have three Michelin stars.

These days, Marlow is the executive chef of the farm-to-fork concepts of Simon Rogan, Roganic in Hong Kong and Aulis in Soho, dividing his time between cooking, consulting on other restaurant menus and planning. gastronomic events such as Royal Ascot.

“As I got a little older, I realized that I just wanted to make tasty, simple but hearty, bold, delicious and fresh dishes”

When asked to define his style, Marlow doesn’t want to shut himself up. “I think a lot of chefs try to find a style from a young age. As I got a little older, I realized that I just wanted to make tasty, simple but hearty, bold, delicious and fresh dishes. ‘

After spending seven months with Roganic in Hong Kong during the first lockdown, the post-Covid chef aims to reopen the restaurant’s London branch, which unfortunately had to close during the pandemic. He continues to work hard at Aulis, which currently has a waiting list of over 100 people per night and is working on opening a bakery in Hong Kong. And this weekend the Great British Menu finalist is serving his best feast at Rondo, Hoxton, don’t be hopeful because everything is sold out, of course.

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/ Richard dowker

Co-founder of the Bao restaurant group and widely recognized as the woman who brought those clouds of desire to the UK, Chang has “always been a child who loves to eat” and learned to cook by cooking her own dishes. native country, Taiwan. , after moving to London in his teens.

Although it wasn’t until Chang took brother and sister duo Shing Tat and Wai Ting Chung on a road trip to where she grew up that she realized her calling. “We met the Gua bao there and it was a refreshed memory for me. For them it was a new experience, it was a time when we all thought, “Oh my God, this is amazing, let’s go back and try to recreate that. We had this energy of wanting to break something. I was in Taiwan a little longer, but Shing Tat and Wai Ting had already returned and started booking local cafes to do pop-ups.

Eight years after opening its first pop-up restaurant, Bao now has locations in Soho, London Bridge and Fitzrovia and the brand new Cafe Bao in King’s Cross, where Western food meets Taiwanese cafe culture.

Coronavirus blockages “have forced us to reflect and reconnect with what we do best, which is to be creative,” she says. “Bringing the perfect bao to the table is already a journey, let alone 20 minutes on the road, so we had to think differently. The result was Rice Error, a selection of boxes of Chi Shang rice with classic Bao flavors, which they managed to transform in six weeks. And the concept of delivery wasn’t the only thing keeping Chang and his team busy. Next week marks the opening of the brand new Bao Noodle Shop and karaoke bar on Redchurch Street, outfitted with “disco lights” and plenty of Bao beer for those “in the mood for some post lockdown fun.” We’ll see each other there.


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Kevin T. McElroy

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