Food and I didn’t start out as fast friends. Far from it. I was a pernickity eater as a child. I only ate eggs, fried; chicken, breadcrumbed and panned; fries, hand cut – obviously and no thicker than 5 mm. If those things were not available then no amount of bartering or pleading would induce me to eat. I simply abstained. It goes without saying that I was a very skinny, very annoying child.
By my teenage years I discovered junk food. Things like frozen French fries doused in so much thousand island dressing that they sagged on the plastic fork like limp spaghetti. At home a meal that featured quite a lot was pasta with butter and feta cheese. Every now and then the posh supermarket at the end of our road would import some American cake mixes. My sister and I would make them together and marvel at how good they tasted. That was one of the highlights in our sleepy Athens suburb. I can’t boast about eating in Michelin starred restaurant as a wee tot like Jay Rayner or mastering a perfect victoria sponge by age 7 like Nigel Slater. All this to say that the foodie I am today is the result of a slow evolution, a meandering path through some questionable tastes with 3 pivotal food awakenings.The first was moving to Paris when I was 17 and discovering a complex and fascinating world of food, of do’s and don’t’s. Do eat cheese after a meal, never for breakfast.
The second was that after squandering my twenties trying to fit into a variety of moulds I thought would be suitable for me and acceptable for my family and friends I decided to literally screw it and try something radically different. A hobby I had been nurturing furtively which seemed to make me happy but also seemed to be rather frivolous.Enter Leiths. I originally enrolled for just one term, then the second and finally the third. I was convinced that this was it, I had discovered what truly animated me. My enthusiasm got me through many restaurant doors but my lack of skills constantly sabotaged me. It all went pear shaped after a 4 daylong stint at Ottolenghi, where I was moved from salads, to pastry and back to salads again. Like a hot potato that no one wanted to hold for too long. Even before the talk with Yotam, I knew it was not going well.
Maybe it speaks of a good life for which I should be grateful but that rejection confounded me. How could it be that after 10 directionless years, I had found something I truly loved and adored and it just… Well it just didn’t love me back? I had no idea how to process that reality.
That led me to my third and what I now consider my most important awakening: Melrose and Morgan. I walked in on a Sunday and secured a position as a shop assistant. I was on the wrong side of the kitchen counter but at least I was in the same room as one. I found serving customers to be highly challenging with few rewards. The pay off and the reason I stayed was the open kitchen. With Stephen, then Anna and finally Flori as chefs. Everything I learned about plating up food came from what I saw at Melrose and Morgan. For the first time, I understood the seasons and what went where because I was the one unloading the apples from Chegworth Valley or tomatoes from the Isle of Wight. After a time, I made my way from the shop floor to office where I costed recipes, repaired broken blenders, ordered sackloads of flour and dry stores, printed labels and did general admin.My years at Melrose and Morgan contributed significantly to my culinary character. Although I didn’t aniticipate it, being out of the kitchen while still in such close proximity allowed me to absorb practices organically, over time. Until I had a treasure trove of information in my mind. I began to mimic what I saw. Things like having all my mise en place done for dinner parties. I finally started touching my food when I was plating it so that I could have more control. I stopped trying to get fast and worked instead on becoming good. And I learned that if I hesitate and think something I’ve made is not good enough, then I must start again. Similarly, just because I don’t get it the first time, or even the second or third – it doesn’t mean that I’m a fraud just that I haven’t mastered it yet and if I want to and if I’m serious about it I better keep going.And the best thing about it all is that the more I make, the more I eat out, the more I realize how little I know and how much more there is out there. Which instead of making me despair, makes me glad because as long as I will be on this planet, I will always have something to do.
Melrose and Morgan / Primrose Hill
42 Gloucester Avenue
London NW1 8JD
Melrose and Morgan / Hampstead
Oriel Hall, Oriel Place,
London NW3 1QN