Alix Verrips is a Yacht Head Chef with 15 years experience, and shares her story in staging at the world-class “Dinner by Heston Blumenthal” restaurant in London. Alix is a Head Chef Mentor in 'Penum’s Mentor Programme'.
I recently had the amazing opportunity of doing a week long 'stage' at the 7th Best Restaurant in the world (S.Pellegrino Worlds 50 Best Restaurant List), the 2 Michelin starred ; 'Dinner, by Heston Blumenthal' kindly arranged for me by Ellie Barker from Penum.
Staging, originates from the French word stagiaire, meaning trainee or apprentice and denotes an unpaid internship at a restaurant.
Having been a Head Chef in the Yachting Industry for over 15 years, where I've been running galleys of boats of up to 140 meters; it was quite a humbling experience joining a brigade of almost 50 chefs as a Commis, at the lowest wrung of the ladder.
I spent each day (8am- midnight) working in a different section of the prep kitchen helping set up the mise en place for service. I was instructed to tourne the potatoes used for mash, told to measure the salsify with a ruler before cutting it and warned never to use the tea towel I was issued with for anything other than handling hot implements. I scraped and flattened kilos of chicken skins, picked tiny clumps of meat out of braised calves tails, carved and deseeded plenty of pineapples, zested bushels of bergamot, cleaned arm loads of artichokes, weighed a billions of balls of brioche and peeled more vegetables than I normally go through in a season. A few times during service I ran sauces in the main kitchen whilst observing how all the components of each dish came together on the plate. After service I helped my comrades tidy up and scrub down, fulfilling each small task with military precision.
The intensity of the kitchen was immense and the attention to detail, incredible. Everything is done according to the manual and signed off on at every stage of production. Everyone I worked with seemed extremely focused and serious. It would appear that In the pursuit of perfection, light hearted banter is considered a distraction, and speed and discipline, more important than getting to know each other.
My experience at 'Dinner', despite sounding rather intense, proved to be invaluable on an inspirational level. I learned numerous new techniques, 'secrets' and recipes that I have already used to my benefit. Knowing what goes on behind the scenes of a Michelin starred restaurant gives me renewed appreciation of what it entails to be awarded and to maintain the highest of culinary accolades.
Being back in a restaurant kitchen environment has also reminded me of how truly fortunate we yacht chefs are. We have the opportunity on a daily basis to try new recipes, using interesting ingredients without having to constantly weigh quality up against cost.
If one considers that the average yacht chef earns approximately 3-4 times the annual wage of an average Commis Chef in the UK and almost twice the average annual salary of an Executive Chef, with the added benefit of travel to exotic locations and minimal expenses, we definitely have a lot to be grateful for.
At Penum we're working to help our Chef customers with experiences like michelin staging, to help them create the most beautiful food possible for their guests. If we can be of service to you this season, please contact Ellie at: [email protected].