Tuesday, 28 October 2008

The Darkness

It is early morning. Between the house and the train station the only sign of life is a lone fox prowling the front gardens of the terraced houses. It stops in its tracks, looks back over its shoulder, then continues down the road nosing through bin bags in search of scraps. Upstairs, curtains are drawn and for a few more hours at least, the residents will slumber on until alarms break the silence of their bedrooms and announce a new working day. Some will wake to the vibration and ringtone of their mobile phone. Others will be roused by the high energy voice of a radio dj. Many will hit the snooze button of their alarm clock, roll over, and catch another five minutes of sleep. Oh precious, precious sleep! Who can blame them? The first autumn frost has covered the cars parked outside and the duvet offers a far cosier place to shelter.

On the 5.29am train to Charing Cross, the first train of the day into central London, bleary-eyed passengers sit in silence peering into the darkness outside. At each stop, a handful more workers get on. They slump into empty seats and sleepily rest their cheeks against the chilly windows. They close their eyes wishing they were still in bed, dreaming in many languages from Portuguese to Polish. There is no jostling, no fighting for a seat or desperate shouts of "can you move down the train please?!" In three hours time the carriages will be crammed with commuters on their way to offices across the capital. Men in suits, freshly showered and with hair coiffed. Women vainly attempting to apply mascara as the train lurches from side to side. But here on the 5.29, no one has really made much effort over their appearance. There are construction workers in heavy boots with paint-splattered trousers and stubbled chins. There are cleaners, transport workers, hotel chambermaids, and kitchen hands all of whom will change out of their hastily chosen clothes and into the uniforms that await them at their workplaces. It feel strange to be amongst them, to see delivery vans hurtle down the empty London thoroughfares that will soon become congested with all manner of vehicle, to see the bare shelves of Pret and Starbucks being stacked with croissants and muffins. I am seeing London in a different light, although in reality at such an early hour, there is no real light to speak of.

It is the end of British Summertime, another summertime only in name. The clocks have changed and as I reach the cafe, the sun is beginning to rise. The faint dawn glow will be the only natural light I will see for the next week; that and the five minutes of twilight I might glimpse on my way home. With a kitchen in the basement, exposure to natural daylight is going to be minimal over the winter, something that is a scarier prospect than a trick or treat visit from the Ghetto Boyz of Brockley. By the time the end of March comes around I will probably have the skin tone of Marilyn Manson and the eyesight of a mole. Now if I can just get the fashion bibles to sell "Blind Goth" as the look for Spring/Summer '09, it will all be worthwhile.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

The One Hundredth Post: Going Pro

Well fellow bloggers, what is the longest amount of time you've spent composing a post? For me this article, the hundredth post of This Edible Life, has taken about three weeks to write. I guess such a milestone certainly deserves a bit more care and attention but the fact is I haven't been scratching my head and wondering what to write, nor have I been writing, editing and re-editing to craft the perfect post. I've just been really, really busy.

Given that the very first post of this blog set out my ambition to become a professional chef, it seems fitting that my hundredth post should be about turning pro just over a year later. I now get paid to cook, and if I needed any further confirmation I only have to look at my daughter's birth certificate where it is there in black and white; Occupation of Father: Chef. On another official piece of paper, my marriage certificate, my occupation is listed as Advertising Executive and in a few hundred years time my descendants may come across both documents in the archives and wonder how and why this guy actually ended up as a cook. They'll probably learn about the great "credit crunch" of 2008 and surmise that he must have lost his job and been forced into service during hard times. Hopefully though, they'll find a record of this blog and learn what really happened.

Deciding what to do after training has been tricky. I know that if I was in my early twenties, I would have gone into a michelin-starred fine dining restaurant and worked my way up through the ranks, preferably indulging my interest in modernist "molecular" cookery along the way. Realistically though, at 35 and with a new baby, the punishing hours required to make it to the top in fine dining just aren't an option. I have to say goodbye to that dream.

So if fine dining wasn't an option then what else could I do. Well I came to the conclusion that at my age I needed to be more than a commis chef. I needed to work with people who wouldn't pigeonhole me as green college graduate but would see the benefit of my maturity and be prepared to give me more responsibility from day one. Fortunately I was introduced to a fantastic bunch of people who were in the process of opening an Antipodean cafe in central London, an idea I had once toyed with myself after returning from Sydney a few years ago. I loved their concept, I loved the idea of being part of another start-up, and I loved the fact that I could be involved in everything from menu design to pricing,and even ordering all the utensils needed for a fully functioning kitchen. Most importantly though, I wanted to be part of a small kitchen team working on everything from pastry and baking to grills and salads. With a view to running my own place in a few years time, I wanted to be in a position where I could learn the role of a head chef, deal with suppliers and ordering, and essentially learn everything there is to know about running an efficient kitchen. They offered me the role of Sous Chef at Lantana and I've been working there, six days a week for the past month. I am exhausted, but the learning experience has been fantastic.

It's hard to describe Australian cafe culture to people to haven't had the good fortune to experience it down under. The food is unpretentious but beautifully presented, the service is informal and friendly. Breakfast and brunch are celebrated and given the true status they deserve. In fact I don't think I'll bother trying to describe it any further, I'll let the menu speak for itself.

Breakfast 8-12 (All day Saturday)

Toasted muesli w banana, yoghurt and honey 4.5

Bircher muesli w apple and berries 4.5

Poached fruit w greek yoghurt + pistachios 4

Fresh fruit salad w mint and sweet ginger dressing 4.5

Toasted banana bread w date and pecan butter 4

Sourdough toast w vegemite or jam 2.5

Lantana baked beans w crumbled feta, sautéed spinach and sausages on sourdough toast 8.5

Field mushrooms sauteed w parsley and garlic served with
grated parmesan on sour dough toast 7.6

Pancakes w greek yoghurt and baked fruit 7

Poached eggs on toast 5

Scrambled eggs w smoked salmon on brioche w
fresh tomato salad 8

Corn fritters w crispy bacon, rocket, oven roasted tomatoes and
lime aioli 8

Baked eggs w buttered baby spinach and mushrooms served w tomato and red pepper chutney toasted sourdough 8

Bacon 2.4
Lantana baked beans 2
Slow roast tomatoes 2
HG Walter’s sausages 3
Sautéed spinach 2
Mushrooms 2

Lunch from 12pm

Open sandwich w bacon, rocket, sliced tomato, & fried egg w aioli 6.5

Corn fritters w layers of crisp bacon, rocket, oven roasted tomatoes, drizzled w roast garlic & lime aioli 8.5

Tart of the day served w choice of two salads from the counter 8

Salad plate of your choice of three from the counter 7.8

Steak sandwich w rocket, fresh tomato, caramelised onion relish and horseradish crème friache 8.5

Moroccan lamb skewers w flat bread and mint yoghurt served w bulgur, walnut, celery and pomegranate salad 8.7

Lemon & coriander infused chicken skewers served w served with salad from the salad bar and tomato and red pepper chutney 8.7

Sharing plate w bruschetta, olives, dips and prosciutto (for 2) 10

To Drink


Fresh orange juice
Virgin mary
Belu Still (750ml)
Belu Sparkling (750ml)
San Peligrino Limonato, Orangina
Bundaberg ginger beer

Bloody Mary
Di Valdo bbiadene Proseco

St Roch grenache blanc
Bird in Hand sauvignon blanc
Camplazens rose
St Roch merlot
Bird in Hand shiraz

Coopers pale ale
Coopers sparkling ale

Coffee (extra shot 30p, Soy milk 50p)
Long black
Hot Chocolate
Pot of Tea: English breakfast/Earl grey/Rooibos/Chai/Peppermint/Green

You can read more about our progress at Lantana on Shelagh's blog and if you're in the Oxford Street/Tottenham Court Road area than please come by and pay us a visit. We're at 13 Charlotte Place which is a little pedestrian street between Goodge St and Rathbone Place.