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CODE Special
The inbetweeners

 

 

Imagine you’ve left a highly

demanding job in a kitchen, bar or

restaurant with a view to finding a

site in which to open your own place,

having a baby, or taking a breather

while you work out what to do next.

 

This in-between period has

the potential to be both liberating

and disarming - the conundrum of

knowing you need to keep an eye on

the industry and to continue making

use of your skills whilst not taking on

a full time job.

 

It’s not as if there’s an industry

blueprint for advice on this.

Technically you could easily find

cover positions, but do you want to

follow someone else’s rules again?

 

Thankfully because the industry

has changed a lot, opportunities

have widened. Pop-ups, residencies

or collaborations play a huge role

now. It’s almost considered a rite

of passage for talented chefs to trial

ideas at venues and spaces, such

as at Carousel in Marylebone, that

offer rotating cooking opportunities.

Meanwhile, there are chances to do

private cooking jobs, and to consult

or do recipe development for brands.

But how to balance it all?

 

Here are five voices from the

industry who describe how they’ve

made it work.

 

 

ELIZABETH HAIGH

 

Then: Head chef, Pidgin

 

The plan: Left at the end of 2016 to set

up consultancy business Kaizen House

and plan her first restaurant, Shibui.

After a few intermediary jobs, she

took time off to get married, and also

had a son, Riley, in November. “I’ve

been looking for sites since then.

It’s difficult – naively I thought that

finding one would be easy but I know

now it takes time.”

 

In-between time: Haigh says that having

built up a profile and having great

agents enabled her to find private

work. She did a summer barbecue

campaign with Tabasco, and a pop-up

at Carousel, then whilst pregnant and

looking for sites she cooked at festivals,

travelled, did a fire dinner with Neil

Rankin in Estonia, and a pop-up in

Singapore. “I did those both for the

profile and also to keep my sanity.

I need to keep cooking. Those jobs

enabled me to underline the time

I was looking for sites, but I didn’t

want to exert myself too much whilst

pregnant.”

 

Enjoyment: “The delay in opening is

nice in the sense that it will give me

more time with Riley but I’m also

dying to get back into the kitchen.”

Next: Shibui opens this spring.

 

Advice to others: “Map out how you plan

your year to go. If you want to do

your own thing, plot it out before you

jump. The last thing you want to do is

be stuck without work. That said, the

exciting thing is that in London there

are so many places where you can do

pop-ups and collaborations, which is

great.”

 

@kaizenldn

 

 

 

NIEVES BARRAGÁN MOHACHO

 

Then: Executive head chef,

Barrafina restaurants.

 

What happened: Left in April 2017

with a view to setting up her own

restaurant, Sabor. She expected to

open in autumn last year but following

unforseen structural issues with the

building she ended up opening in

February 2018. “These things happen

when you’re opening somewhere

though,” she explains. “My plan was

to develop exactly what we wanted to

do at Sabor – to think about the details

and fine tune things. I wanted to have

to time to travel and research for the

restaurant.”

 

In-between time: “I didn’t have time to do

anything else in between because there

was so much work to do in planning

Sabor. It’s a big operation – we have

three separate spaces with completely

different menus and teams so there was

a lot to do.”

 

Enjoyment: “I enjoyed having some time

to myself, but also having time to talk

to my suppliers properly and to be able

to do some thorough research before

we opened.”

 

Next: Sabor is now open.

 

Advice to others: “Don’t over-think things;

take your time and don’t rush things

too much - you only get one chance to

do things properly and you want all the

details to be right.”

 

@sabor_ldn

 

 

 

GINA HOPKINS

 

Then: Head chef, The Drapers Arms

 

What happened: Left in autumn 2017

to set up her own restaurant Nonya

in Glasgow. “There were problems

that occurred from recruiting to

recipe development to building work

delays. In the end we decided to take

Christmas off to relax and enjoy, and

to accept that we wouldn’t open on

time,” says Hopkins.

 

In-between time: Other than occasional

cover work, Hopkins represented

Nonya at the Glandstonbury offal popup

held at The Drapers Arms.

She also featured at this year’s Scotch

Egg Challenge. “Those things are fun

but also about profile building. I’ve

also been building our new website,

predominantly to have a place to share

my recipes or ingredients. I’ve now got

a nice stack of things to put on there.”

 

Enjoyment: “It’s been nice to be available

for things that usually you can’t do, and

it’s been great recipe testing for Nonya.

There have been times that I’ve felt

frustrated about not being open yet,

but by and large it’s given me time to

work things out.”

 

Next: Nonya is now open.

 

Advice to others: “Try to enjoy it. It’s

nice and so unusual as a chef to have

this time off. Use it, and get involved

in every little thing that you can. I’m

lucky enough to have some savings but

don’t panic if things don’t work out –

as a chef, your skills are in demand so

there are opportunities out there.”

 

@nonyaglasgow

 

 

 

PIP LACEY

 

Then: Head chef, Murano

 

What happened: Left in July 2017

to set up her restaurant, Hicce.

“It’s a daunting decision to go

alone, especially in London where

competition is high. First I planned

my security and what to save to see me

through everything I’d have to pay, and

then I realised that finding investment

and a site doesn’t happen immediately.

Another big reason for leaving to start

my own thing is that I’m 36 and I’d

like to have a baby before I’m 40 – I

felt I would be able to manage both

work and family planning better if I’m

not a head chef for someone else, even

though I also know Angela (Hartnett)

would have been supportive.”

 

In-between time: Briefly worked part-time

at Murano and at The Lighterman.

She did some consutancy for a friend,

pop-ups at Charlotte’s W5 and Native,

and has an upcoming pop-up with

Selin Kiazim. “I’m trying not to say no

to anything, as my whole chef career

I’ve pretty much had to say no to every

social engagement.”

 

Enjoyment: “Yes, but it’s been a scary

enjoyment - like a guilty pleasure

type thing. If I’m at home having

a cup of tea I feel like I should be

doing something as I’ve been used to

hardcore work.”

 

Next: Plans to open Hicce before

summer.

 

Advice to others: “Go for stuff if you want

to do it. You’ve only got one life and

yes there are lows but I think the highs

are much better and outweigh them.

And plan it.”

 

@hiccelondon

 

 

 

MISSY FLYNN

 

Then: Co-owner, Rita’s Bar and Dining

 

What happened: She and her business

partners closed Rita’s at the end of

summer 2016, when “for financial

reasons we had to make a decision

to either close or keep going.” Before

closing they ran a month-long Rita’s

pop-up, and then travelled around

Italy for two weeks before starting

Quilombero, a four-month Italian

Argentinian pop-up in Canary Wharf.

 

In-between time: After the pop-ups, Flynn

and her partner Gabriel Pryce spent

three months travelling around Mexico

before Flynn took on small consulting

roles, and did a four-month stage in

the kitchen at Portland. Her main

focus since then has been working on a

campaign with Baileys, and taking time

off to “pause and cook and be creative.

Just taking a job in another restaurant

didn’t feel right. I felt very guilty but

I’ve also spent the time working with a

career coach looking into what I want

and what matters. It’s been healing,

because I still miss that restaurant every

day. And I’ve only been able to do all

this because I’ve been doing well-paid

commercial work, and my boyfriend

and I live in a house that we own.

We’re lucky to have that asset.”

 

Enjoyment: “Personally, being able to be

introspective and work out who I am

has been really good. Professionally I

haven’t enjoyed it as I have struggled

with a lack of purpose. The first feeling

was shame and I see so many people

close and disappear. But people need

support to come back – there’s so much

talent around.”

 

Next: She will return to Mexico to do a

food residency and then get involved in

a new bakery project. “My long-term

plan, I think, is actually to study then

work in food waste and food policy and

charity.”

 

Advice to others: “I think you have to

look into what it is that you want.

Temporary work can enable you to

take time for that. But also there are

loads of people with money and no

ideas. So if you have ideas, you’re

worth some money to somebody.”

 

@missyflynn

 

 

By Victoria Stewart | @vicstewart

 

This article was first published in Issue 14 of CODE Quarterly.




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