02 Feb Behind the scenes: Frenchie Covent Garden
I asked Frenchie Covent Garden if I could hang out in their kitchen to shoot my ‘documentary’ for the London Institute of Photography.
It was my first time back since Greg Marchand opened Frenchie Covent Garden last spring. And I hadn’t been in a restaurant kitchen since I was a teenager, making prawn cocktails in a country hotel in the New Forest.
The idea for my photo project was to look at how a top London restaurant works like an orchestra. The ‘orchestra’ is led by the head chef, the conductor, with everyone playing their part, & knowing when to enter and exit from the music.
I had some wacky idea that I’d get a team shot, led by the head chef, Frankie, who’s in my featured image.
With hindsight, that was pretty naive. Orchestras have warm-ups, intermissions and their performances last an hour or two. When I arrived at Frenchie’s kitchen at 9am on a Friday, their performance was already in full swing. There was no stopping for intermissions, apart from a quick refuel with a touch of breakfast and a coffee here and there… very good coffee as I had one too.
Here are a few things that struck me…
It’s all about the hands at Frenchie
Luckily I was wearing black, perfect for not catching attention; and trainers, for not making any noise. My camera is also quite small, a Fujifilm XT1 … as I patiently wait to upgrade to the new XT2.
The work in the kitchen is all about the hands… strong & firm hands, as well as delicate & dexterous (my hands are neither), cutting, chopping, sawing, slicing, kneading, mixing, stirring, ladling, and so on.
Seamless flow of movement
I could have sat in the dining area just outside the kitchen all day. It was calming. Movements were minimal and flowing, and energy grounded… it’s about moving from the core and keeping your upper body supple, or so I am learning in my evening course at the Royal Central School of Speech & Drama.
The noise was wallpaper: the best for concentrating. Low noises of cooking, pots & pan, music, and exchanges about how to do a certain preparation. The deliveries had been on time that morning, and the show was running smoothly, but even so it was impressive.
It made me reflect how at home I cook so differently – the divide between the amateur and the professional. I cook with the focus on the utensils, and I’m not very centred on how my body moves, while my mind wanders off thinking of other things. And then now and again I’ll have a flash of inspiration and add a spice or condiment, or two. I don’t follow recipes.
Frenchie’s attention to detail
Every single dish that went out of that kitchen was checked by the Head Chef … there’s a vision to everything.
The energy in the restaurant went up a notch when the front of house team arrived. Even the music seemed to change beat, with We’ve Got a Good Thing Goin’ by Surgar Minott still stuck in my mind. But the flow was still there. I was offered a coffee, a drink, the candles were lit at the top of the stairs to the main dining area, to a make a better photo. I felt cosseted… and I was just there to take some pictures.
Did I stay to eat? No. I was so full from the energy of watching all the activity in the kitchen that I wasn’t hungry. Another time, as Frenchie Covent Garden really is a favourite.
Thank you Frenchie, especially Frankie and his team, for making me feel so welcome.