Features, Food

Getting better in stages

Can spending a few days in an external kitchen really make you a better chef? We got three different perspectives, from a restaurateur and two Soho House stagiaires

Is there any other career than cooking where highly experienced people do internships? lf James Lowe ran the world, there probably would be. “I’ve done a lot of stages myself and I think they’re incredibly important,” says the chef and owner of acclaimed East London restaurant Lyle’s, which has welcomed a number of Soho House stagiaires in the past year. “It’s the fastest way to see how other people do things.”

Traditionally, a stage was like an apprenticeship, but today is more likely to be a period spent in a kitchen to explore a different cuisine or style. It can help you to develop your own style, which is why Soho House is encouraging its chefs around the world to arrange internal and external stages. Lowe tends to bring in a Soho House stagiaire for his guest series dinners, where chefs from top restaurants such as Aska, New York and Bo.Lan, Bangkok cook their own menus with his brigade. The stagiaire will do basic prep before being given a few dishes to prepare in the evening. “We like them to be an integral part of service. You learn more that way,” Lowe says.

The flow of information also goes the other way. “It would be arrogant to assume that you can’t learn anything from the person coming in,” he adds. “I’ve always believed that fresh eyes affect how we do things. Sometimes you’ll get a question and think, why do we do it that way? It’s having the humility to realise, ‘OK this could be better, let’s change it’.”

Maxwell Terheggen, head chef, Electric House

I did a stage at Lyle’s during a Momofuku Ko takeover. Part of David Chang’s Momofoku group in New York City, it’s a two Michelin star restaurant serving highly technical, Asian-accented food. For the takeover, head chef Sean Gray was in residence with his general manager Su Wong Ruiz and one sous chef to teach the Lyle’s team how to execute their food for two nights of dinner service.

I had the pleasure of tasting the set menu on the first night as part of a Cookhouse group. Next day, I was in the kitchen as a stagiaire. During the day I spent most of my time prepping artichokes and cleaning, as you do on a stage. Then during dinner service I got to work on the line with the chef, making two dishes on the starter section.

One dish was a miso-glazed red mullet sashimi, lightly torched with a blowtorch and finished with soy/mirin-fermented kale. The kale, which was softened through the fermentation process with a bit of crunch left in the stems, had a deliciously balanced umami and acidic profile. The second dish we plated was a five-minute egg on a mock soubise onion sauce. It was served with chervil, chives, Ratte potato crisps, Osetra caviar and a sweet potato vinegar thickened with xantham gum. This dish was outstanding- it had great colours, textures and contrasting flavour profiles.

Some of the things that stood out during my shift were the calm in the Lyle’s kitchen, the organisation and cleanliness. Everyone sat down together for staff meals before service, which helped with front and back-of-house team unity. It was also great to see some different techniques from what I’m used to, and I’ll definitely incorporate these into my own work at some point.

Andrea de Benedictis, sous chef, Cecconi’s Barcelona

I had the opportunity to spend two days at Lasarte, a three Michelin-star restaurant in Barcelona owned by the Spanish chef Martin Berasategui. Their working methods, techniques and attention to detail – everything down to the amount of food they put on the plate – are all completely different to what I am used to, which made it a fascinating experience.

The restaurant offers three menus: the tasting menu, the ala carte menu and the Lasarte menu. Paolo Casagrande, the chef de cuisine, combines some ofBerasategui’s signature classics with dishes that have been created specially for Lasarte. I rotated round all the different sections of the kitchen during my time there, learning new techniques and a new style of cooking.

The jobs are very specialised, and you have several chefs working together making the same plate. On the ten-course tasting menu there is a vegetable leaf and petal salad that comes with lobster, herbs and sprouts with lettuce cream. To make it there will be one person who precision-cuts the petals, another who prepares the lettuce cream, and so on.

Casagrande is a great guy with a lot of presence. He commands respect from everyone who works for him – who are mostly less than 23 years old. My girlfriend and I ace at Lasarte a few weeks ago and so I have now seen it as both a customer and a chef. Both were beautiful experiences.

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