The thing I learned working in high-level restaurants is how to be very rigorous and maintain high standards under pressure. Particularly at Momofuku Seiobo where I spent the most time; it was probably the ‘fanciest’ place I worked at.
There was a lot of pressure to make sure everything was perfect but also making it manageable because it’s really easy to get whipped up into a stress frenzy.
[Winning the Josephine Pignolet Young Chef Award] is the highlight of my career. It was something I had been subconsciously working towards because I started cooking later than a lot of other people and I felt like I needed some validation. Any recognition that you’re doing a good job in a competitive industry really pushes you forward; it gives you a lot of motivation and comfort.
A good friend of mine’s parents were friends with the new owners of the pub [The Old Fitz] and they were looking around for suggestions. My name was put on the table, and I think Odd Culture thought I wouldn’t be interested, but we ended up having a meeting anyway. I was supposed to go overseas for work last year and then couldn’t because of the pandemic.
But talking about the work here, and also the fact that I love this venue anyway, I had to go for it because there was so much uncertainty happening in the world. It was a great opportunity, and it was a big step for me because I had been a sous chef before, but not in charge of running a restaurant.
We have a very small team and we’re really close, especially me and my sous chef; we have to be because we are open seven days a week. I can’t work seven days a week, no one can work seven days a week, so we all have to be on exactly the same page. I’ve worked hard on implementing systems so we can still execute things the same no matter who is in the kitchen.
You have to work collaboratively because otherwise the product is different. It also gives your staff a sense of ownership and value and they feel like they’re really contributing as opposed to just executing what someone else says. They can see
their ideas on the menu; they can test something and present it to me and that’s so validating.
Words: Anna Ugarte-Carral