With just a week to go until indoor dining is permitted in the UK, following a long period of closure and uncertainty due to the pandemic, we spoke to English chef Jason Atherton who’s restaurant Pollen Street Social gained a Michelin Star the first year it opened in 2011.


Jason Atherton Photo credit @johncarreyphoto


Jason is known for ‘The Social Company’ his globally renowned restaurant group, with dining across London, including City Social, Social Eating House, Little Social and The Betterment and Berners Tavern which has been named the ‘defining restaurant of the decade.’


Alongside these he also has restaurants in Shanghai, Dubai, St Moritz and the Michelin Starred New York restaurant The Clocktower.


Before the pandemic happened in March 2020 when restaurants were open a usual day for the critically acclaimed chef would be filled with meetings, supervising his teams and preparing for servings at the restaurants.


Jason said: “On a usual day I have a lot to keep busy with for example I would be checking and answering to my emails, supervising my teams in every restaurants to make sure everything is going well, joining different meetings and getting ready for a buzzy lunch and dinner service at Pollen Street Social, Little Social or in another one of my restaurants!”



Little Social Outdoors Photo credit: @johncarreyphoto


Once restaurants closed for many people, especially those in the culinary industry, normal life seemed to stop, Jason spoke about what he’s been doing to keep busy whilst the restaurants were closed, he said: “I have used most of my free time to think about how I can improve each of my businesses. “I have also been spending time with family, days off are for family time, and I like spending quality time at home or outdoors with my wife Irha and my three daughters.”


“I’ve also been trying to keep busy with exercise - I’m really into boxing at the moment, I absolutely love it!


During closure Jason has been revisiting old memories to tap into past experiences for inspiration.


He said: “Pre-pandemic I would travel a lot, for work or family holidays, and that’s where I found more of my inspiration. “I would always carry a notebook with me because I like to scribble down ideas and inspiration to make sure I don’t forget them. So during lockdown I took time flicking through all of my old notebooks, trying to find new inspirations for our reopening.”



Little Social desert Photo credit: @johncarreyphoto


In the period of the lockdown Jason has developed new ways to bring food lovers his dishes, including his Jason At Home Delivery boxes.


He said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the whole world to its knees but it’s also gave us the opportunity to push ourselves, to be more creative, and work in a way that we never thought before – I’ve launched my ‘Jason at home’ delivery boxes in collaboration with Lake District Farmers, one of my oldest suppliers, as well as my 'Jason at Home' online home-ware store created with Goodfellows - I couldn’t have done that pre-pandemic.


“It’s important to constantly change and keep up with the world, nothing should be taken for granted. It’s also essential to push ourselves, be creative, embrace the changes and identify how to overcome them.”


Little Social and Cafe Biltmore dishes Photo credit: @johncarreyphoto


Jason also made sure to keep in touch with staff to keep morale as high as possible. He added: “Keeping my staff happy, motivated and safe is one of my prime priorities, especially during these challenging times.

“I think communication is essential, so I tried to keep in touch with my employees on a regular cadence, making sure I was communicating effectively and that they were aware that we have taken all health and safety measures to ensure they return to work safely.”


All of Jason’s restaurants are due to open from the 18th May, he spoke about preparing to reopen and the changes guests can expect to experience, he said:


“I’m working closely with my team to create seasonal menus using the finest local produce and ingredients so, from May 18th, we will be back with an array of brand-new food and drinks menus. The quality and provenance of my ingredients has always been incredibly important to create dishes so whether I’m serving Michelin-starred food at Pollen Street Social or Bistro-style cuisine at Little Social, it’s always about seasonal, local produce and incredible food.”



Little Social Photo credit: @johncarreyphoto


He added: “As always, our restaurants and bars are continuing to maintain the highest possible hygiene standards. So just as we did after the first and second lockdown, all government social distancing and Covid measures will be adhered too, to ensure the safety of our guests and employees without affecting the overall dining experience.

“My teams and I worked hard over the past few months to reopen our restaurants. We’ve just launched two restaurants - both open for alfresco all-day dining & drinking - ‘Little Social’, a bistro-style and bar wine restaurant located just across Pollen Street Social in Mayfair and ‘Café Biltmore Restaurant & Terrace’, my brand-new addition to the ‘Biltmore Hotel’ in Grosvenor Square, in London. The team is now ready to welcome everyone from May 18th at Pollen Street Social, Social Eating House, The Blind Pig bar, Berners Tavern, City Social and Harrods Social with brand-new seasonal drinks and food menus.


“I’m so excited to be back and are looking forward to welcoming everyone very soon. I’m just simply looking forward to re-opening our doors, welcoming our lovely guests and showcasing what we have been working on.

“The opening of indoor hospitality also means we can bring back all our staff into work and get back to doing what we love the most, which is cooking in the buzz of service.”


You can find out more about Jason and his restaurants here




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In light of reopening on the 19th May following a long period of closure due to lockdown, down to earth, London head chef, Ben Murphy, shared what it’s really been like over the past year, from being absorbed in a 90 hour work week in the kitchen to shutting the restaurant doors with no idea of when they would be back open again.


You may have heard of Ben Murphy, head chef at London’s Launceston Place, perhaps you’re a foodie who follows his Instagram which showcases his dishes, techniques and activity, or maybe you caught him recently on the BBC’s Great British Menu?


If you aren’t familiar with him, you will be as the 30-year-old with a passion for creating unique, attractive, complex dishes has been named ‘chef to watch’ by the Good Food Award and is climbing the ladder to becoming one of the UK’s most talked about chefs.





Ben said: “To keep myself sane I had to keep a routine, on a normal day in the restaurant we would have 7am as our breakfast service, 12pm we would serve lunch and the evening we would be preparing dinner and serving, so going from that routine to sitting watching Netflix was a huge shock to the system.


“I kept to my morning routine by structuring in a run, and looking for inspiration and experimenting in my own kitchen at home.”


The staff from Launceston Place who would usually see each other almost every day kept in touch over Facetime, planning the changes they would make to the menu when the day of having customers back finally arrived so there would be no surprises when that day finally arrived.


With the first month fully booked since launching their opening date, Ben said: “They say the come back is stronger and we are definitely ready to show people what they have been missing out on. “The concept of the restaurant has changed, customers now have more choice with their dishes, for instance if they want more fish than meat or vice versa this can happen, or if they wanted more vegetarian dishes, or even if they wanted to have two or three deserts - the customer gets to pick.


“We’ve increased the choice that we offer on the menu as well as the design, so I’m excited for people to try that. When you visit, expect good vibes and change that’s for the best.” He added: “It was really hard, not being able to be in the kitchen but I found inspiration online. Instagram plays a huge part in this, there’s a big foodie community and I would experiment at home with videos, techniques or concepts that I’d seen to put a spin on it and make it my own.


“I love to create complex dishes. In fact a lot of my customers find me on Instagram, they will see me post a dish in the restaurant and then book in so they can try it for themselves!”



In the first UK lockdown, where restaurants were shut from March until July last year Ben kept busy by delivering the fine dining experience to people’s homes. In just over two months he’d cooked 54 dinners privately so families and couples could experience something special.


Ben said: “Cooking in people’s houses was a good way to keep me sane, as adjusting to lockdown was really tough.


“I would take with me the food I had prepared at home in my car with plates and cutlery from the restaurant and then cook in people’s houses. I got to experience working in a range of different kitchens, some really luxury kitchens.


“It was something different which kept me on my toes, I had a lot of fun doing them.”





On the flip side of having fun and experimenting through lockdown Ben also felt the unfairness of the situation as he witnessed friends close the doors to their restaurants permanently due to administration.


However, with this bitter blow also came a sense of community, support and closeness that prior to lockdown had been more competitive.


Ben explained: “Working as a chef you are constantly competing in the industry, but with lockdown we all really looked out for each other especially in terms of mental health, I was speaking to people I had never met before offering them advice and guidance and I too was reaching out to chefs I admired for it too.

“The community became a lot closer than we ever were. Whilst there was a lack of support from the Government there really was a lot of love in the industry.”



As he prepares and plans for the big reopening Ben spoke about what he has learnt from the experience. He said: “Moving forward I want to live every day as if tomorrow is never promised, we didn’t expect to be in lockdown and for it to last so long so all we have is today.”


Ben also reflected on the good vibes mentality that he promotes in his kitchen, he said: “We are a really close team, we are all on the same wave. “If someone was going to work in my kitchen I wouldn’t be looking for their skill but I’d be looking at their vibe. I can mould and teach them the cooking skills but I need to know that they know when to have a laugh and banter but also that they can be serious too. “We have a really good vibe in the kitchen, if we are preparing we will have music playing and have a good time, and then when it comes to service we are on our game and serious.


“If I’ve got the speaker I will be playing some hip hop or R n B but we listen to all sorts! Sunday’s are definitely the day for slow jams!”


Since becoming head chef four years ago Ben has gone from strength to strength in the industry, he hopes that the future will see the restaurant will be awarded a Michelin star.




Ben said: “The lottery ticket for me would be achieving a long overdue due Michelin Star and continuing to bring good energy to what I do.


“Since I became head chef it’s made me more aware of what other opportunities there are in life, you can become so obsessed with being in the kitchen and the buzz you get from the kitchen and doing a busy service, but there is more to life, I’m 30 and still single, I want to find someone who understands my career and the hours, so that I can find balance, it’s really important.


“Happiness is the most important thing!”

With more success on the horizon for Ben, if he could look back with the knowledge he has now and give his younger self some advice it would be to niche his skills in the kitchen.


He said: “If I could go back in time and give any advice to the younger me it would be to work out what you’re really interested in, what it is you want to do, what hours you’re prepared to work.


“For me I have always been really interested in Michelin and find dining, creating food that is really complex and looks amazing on the plate.


“I would say to myself not to take anything for granted, I didn’t expect to get into the industry and I am nowhere near where I want to be, every day I am learning - I’m like a sponge absorbing information.”


You can experience Ben’s cooking by booking a table at Launceston Place, his favourite dish is the Vegetarian Celeriac dish with truffle, mint and pecorino, a recipe that has been evolving since it first appeared on the menu four years ago.


You can book and look at the menu online here


All images credit to Ben Murphy, Launceston Place






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Does the name Eugénie Brazier mean anything to you?


In honour of women’s history month we’re taking a look at the history of Eugénie, the first female chef to be awarded three Michelin stars and the first person to ever be awarded six Michelin stars.



Known as ‘the mother of modern French cooking’ Eugénie was born in 1895 on a farm in Bourg-en-Bresse, Burgundy, on a farm located close to Lyon - French’s third largest city. As a child she would attend school only in the winter and the rest of the time work on her family’s farm.


In her twenties Eugénie became a mother and moved to the city Lyon for work, she worked multiple jobs, including cooking and later became employed by the chef Françoise Fayolle (nicknamed la mère Fillioux) who only hired women.


Eugénie didn’t stay long and at 26 years old in 1921 bought her own small shop originally to sell food but opened her first restaurant La Mère Brazier. This restaurant was later awarded not one but three Michilin stars between 1933 and 1968.




This restaurant has been described as simple and elegant, it was here that she gave an opportunity to other women in the community with every server at the restaurant being female.


“On opening day, she served lunch and dinner, crayfish with mayonnaise and pigeon with peas. It was a simple and elegant space, the main room had a large bay window overlooking the street and earthenware tile on the walls in cream, grey and blue.” an account from food blog, Eater.


Its simple, but effective, never-changing menu became a treasured culinary destination which attracted those high up in society including celebrities, French presidents and prime ministers.


Eight years after opening her first restaurant in 1928 Eugénie opened her second, called Le Col de la Luere. By 1935 she received another three Michelin stars for this restaurant, making her not only the first female to receive a three Michilin star ranking but the first person to receive six Michelin stars.


She was writing a cookbook which was left unfinished when she died in 1977, however the book titled Les Secrets de la Mere Brazier translating to The Mother of Modern French Cooking was finally published by her family in 2009.



References

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