My first experience working in a catering kitchen was with BaxterStorey, the UK’s leading contract catering service. This particular kitchen was housed in the depths of a prestigious London bank, and as such, security was at the highest level at all times. So much so that I’m not even allowed to say just which bank it was in this article! Swish.
BaxterStorey executive chef, Hayden Groves, took me up four floors when I arrived at the front desk. Hayden was named the National Chef of the Year in 2013 and is the head chef of this particular outpost. He gave me a guest badge of sorts which I attached to my chest, but was not permitted to give a pass card. This meant that I had no access beyond where I was put as almost every door behind the scenes needed a pass card.
It also meant that Hayden had to stand in the locker rooms with me while I hurriedly put on my whites. All I could think about was “what if I need the toilet?’.
Three more swipes of Hayden’s pass card later and I was in the main kitchen. I spotted two pastry chefs hard at work putting together 90 rainbow cakes for Gay Pride, while at the pass, Roux Scholarship 2015 finalist and senior sous Scott Dineen was constructing a dish of Schezuan spiced apricot, avocado, young goats cheese and buckwheat granola. The remaining chefs (around five or six) were starting a banquet order. This bank sure does have it good, I thought.
My first stop was with Scott and his apricot dish. This was part of the Roadshow menu for the Thursday. The Roadshow comes into play for covers between 12 and 50, and gives the chefs in the kitchen a chance to showcase their talents. All dishes go through Hayden and are pre-approved by the bank hierarchy, with Scott’s dish coming up as an interesting starter.
“While our job is not necessarily to impress people, as they just want their lunch,” Hayden told me, “We have a duty to make their day and to keep them interested. This isn’t a canteen, and the chefs here are excellent and love to show what they can do.”
After sharing a few laughs with the rainbow cake crew, I set about helping with the banquet. The bank hosts clients throughout the week, with lunch and dinner spreads often required of the kitchen. This particular order was for 80 covers, and I was charged with balling chicken with garlic butter for the Kievs, soft boiling eggs, pairing mushrooms, and my usual trick – blanching asparagus.
In charge of this particular banquet was James, another senior sous. He told me that the idea of catering and general agency work is appealing to some chefs, for different reasons:
“I, for one, had had enough of the sixteen hour days,” he said, “It’s not that I’m any less of a chef than one who can either handle that or even thrives on it, it’s just not for me.”
“I’m an ambitious chef and I like to experience different things. BaxterStorey helps me do this, and I still get to work with top class chef such as Hayden.”
The BaxterStorey kitchen felt to me like it was in a business hotel, but without the rooms. The chefs here do appreciate the fact that they aren’t required to work well into the night, with their day over when the bank closes its doors at five - that’s PM not AM - but it certainly doesn’t prevent them from showing their skills.
Before I left I tried a piece of leftover rainbow cake and I can’t think of a time where I’ve had a better example. Why would a product made in bulk have to be a lesser product? And why should a product made in a bank be worse than one in a restaurant, especially with a chef such as Hayden Groves at the helm, and with the kitchen itself being of the highest quality?