UPDATE: Hibiscus closed in October 2016
Being invited to join the Hibiscus kitchen for a one day stage by Ian Scaramuzza, the winner of the 2015 Roux Scholarship, was a great honour. Ian was preparing to fly to California to enjoy a three-month stage with Corey Lee and was in the process of handing over his head chef duties. A unique opportunity then to observe such a handover in a two star kitchen.
But instead of what I expected, I actually experienced another unique situation in Claude Bosi's kitchen. Being thrown out of a two Michelin starred restaurant.
I arrived via the front door that morning, a handful of waiters were setting up tables, and at the main desk sat Claude Bosi himself, chatting to a pretty receptionist. I wished him a very good morning and thanked him for letting me stage with him and his brigade.
Ian then gave me a quick tour of the restaurant before I joined the kitchen. Their basement chef's table, Workshop, looked a brilliant concept for both chef and diner. A way to experiment with new dishes, gauge a diner's reaction and bridge the gap between kitchen and dining area.
The kitchen itself is medium sized, with three separate rows of counter-tops. Ten or so chefs were busy with prep when I returned having changed into my whites. I was introduced to Darren, a junior sous, who was to be my mentor for the day. He had intended to embark on a series of stages across the country that week, but had to cancel the lot after lacerating tendons in his hand when cutting duck.
Despite his disappointment at his cancelled trip, he was in good spirits and started me off with picking wild garlic leaves.
Ian stuck with his soon-to-be successor as head chef, Francesco Dibenedetto, taking him through his daily routine. I watched as he and Frank tasted all sauces made fresh in the kitchen that day, discussing each one in detail.
A brief kitchen meeting followed, led by Frank, before Claude Bosi joined the kitchen. I had moved on from the wild garlic leaves to dicing strawberries when I saw Claude take Ian aside.
After a quick word, Ian came back over to me and said: "Claude isn't happy."
"He isn't comfortable with you taking photos. And he's having second thoughts about you being in his kitchen."
Claude Bosi had since left the kitchen again. I figured that he felt invaded somehow, perhaps that I was there to judge his kitchen or perhaps steal recipes.
I assured Ian that I was only there to learn, to interact, and to eventually highlight the benefits of working in his kitchen. He replied that he had no doubt of my intentions, but that Claude wasn't a man to change his mind once it was made up.
And so it was that I left Hibiscus before the start of lunch service, wishing Ian all the very best in California. As a parting gift, I was given a plate of their staff lunch, which was octopus. And it was excellent.
I did not get to say goodbye to Claude Bosi before I left, and I would have wished him the very best of luck with all his future endeavours. While I lasted little more than a few hours in his kitchen, I respected his decision to have me leave.
Chefs are thrown out of kitchens every day, and while my situation was very different, I still felt the burning disappointment in not being allowed to continue, to show my abilities and prove myself a valuable albeit temporary addition to the brigade.
It is a feeling that I will always remember.