At 130m above London streets in the Heron Tower, Duck and Waffle is the highest restaurant in the UK and is also open 24 hours a day. There are over 300 staff members employed so as to keep the restaurant open at all hours, with chefs working double and triple shifts throughout the week. The open kitchen isn’t the biggest but the chefs there enjoy consistently large services. I arrived for my afternoon stage on a weekday, with between 120 and 200 having already come for breakfast.
Before I started work, Dan Doherty (the executive chef) and I had a brief chat about what I would be asked to do in the kitchen, all while watching a helicopter land on a building opposite. Throughout the day he wanted me on the bread section, at the pass to watch and discuss plating and on the raw bar to help with cold starters.
A commis named Ross was in charge of the bread station and he asked me to roll bread to be put in the wood fire oven. They make six different types, ranging from violet artichoke with parmesan to onion jam and stilton. My job was to roll both white and brown bread from premade dough using plenty of flour, tucking the back in and making a perfectly spherical shape with my hands.
I wasn’t placing the bread in the actual oven, which had a temperature of around 413 degrees, and I felt ok with that after seeing the number of enormous scars up and down Ross’ arms from grazing the sides of the furnace.
At four, the first chef turnover of the day started, with the majority of the brigade tagging out, shaking hands as they left. A chef here works two doubles and three singles during the week, with a double being a nine hour shift. All the new chefs looked refreshed and full of energy.
Ross the bread chef is Irish and one of a great many different nationalities in the kitchen. Among the single and double shift chefs who were on, I met a Colombian, a Hungarian, a Romanian, an Italian, an Indian and a French dessert chef in my short time there.
After a few hours on the bread, I was put on the crudo bar just to the right of the main kitchen. Crudo means raw in Italian, and I was asked to remove egg yolks, separate herbs and slice pickled apple.
I watched Lewis the CDP on the station plate both with hands and with tweezers. He let me use the tweezers at one point to help him plate up the eel dish, which is when Dan came over to see how I was doing. He looked at the tweezers and whispered to me with a smile, “God gave us fingers!”
The rest of my day was spent watching the various dishes in different stages of creation and talking with Dan at the pass. We discussed his recipe book, the wildly popular signature duck and waffles dish and the sudden loss of your stomach when going up in the Heron Tower lift.