The Last Kitchen Show
I work at Wolff Olins. You have seen our work over the years. Orange. NYC. EE. London 2012. Microsoft. Google us and you will find both a business and a philosophy. Do the best work of your life. Shift paradigms. Be radical. Make things better for people.
But ask anyone in our London office one of their top three reasons for working here and they will always say, quite simply: the food.
We have a kitchen. We call it a kitchen, not a cafeteria, not a restaurant. It feels like your kitchen at home on its best day. Bustling, noisy, sharing what’s up, cackling about your morning, hearing about the cool places someone has visited in Copenhagen, groaning at the latest GOT plot twist. Oh and Brexit. That was a dark day.
Did I mention the food? Shame not to, it runs like an enveloping chocolate sauce through our culture.
The menu gets posted first thing. Duck breast in plum sauce, Poached Salmon in an Asian broth, Crisp skinned Pork Belly, Tarte au Citron, Chocolate Sorbet. OMG the chocolate sorbet. Gastro pub choices on Friday with triple fried chips and an array of salads that would make Ottolenghi go back to the test kitchen, sobbing a little.
Emotions run high on Chicken Schnitzel day. The queue runs out into the front courtyard (that’s a long way) and people start rubbernecking and tutting if those in front start over-hovering their tongs over the coleslaw or picking out slices of avocado from the rest of the Tricolore salad. Anyone with meetings booked out of the office on that day smells a conspiracy.
Ever since the business was founded back in the sixties, feeding and nourishing people was an imperative that sat at its heart. Like our obsession with the work, only the best is good enough. Best ingredients, flavours, variety, delight. Right from those early days in Camden, we always had a big dining room table and a well-stocked fridge. Fast forward 50 years and we have a four-strong kitchen team, fruit and vegetables growing on our roof, a herb terrace and bees. The honey those bees produce tastes distinctively of elderflower. And people are seldom off sick.
If that sounds like magic, let me introduce you to the incumbent Sorcerer. Sam, our chef, ran the Wolseley kitchen before he came to us seven years ago, having paid his dues in the Steam and Curses New York food scene. He wanted to leave the long hours and dungeon-like environment of the professional kitchen, and was about to change careers – one with lots of natural light - when the Wolff Olins gig came along. And now, seven years later: “This is the longest I have been in any kitchen, any job really.”
Sam fusses and tastes and checks until every flavour, every detail, drizzle of jus is perfect. But he isn’t cheffy. For him creating food is like giving people a big hug, which he and the rest of the kitchen team do every day.
How many businesses have a culture that would even entertain the idea of giving their people food affection rather than function? How many chic corporate buildings have a glamorous canteen matched with an uninspired limp-lettuce food offering that intentionally keeps people shackled to their desks with a sandwich? Imagine trying to get the board to sign off subsidized gourmet and an unspoken rule that you leave your laptops for an hour every day to recreate Babette’s Feast, and emerge nurtured, delighted and energised? Not many, if any. And that’s their problem.
This month, a new era in our story will be starting in West London. A new kitchen, new food imaginings. And it’s a new era for Sam and the kitchen team – Gilbert, David, Davide and Carmen - who will be staying here in King’s Cross and continuing to delight the new tenants.
So time for one last play in the kitchen. Sam and I came up with the perfect menu to delight our crew: Schnitzel (made the proper way with Veal, not Chicken), Roast Vegetable Lasagne, Tarte au Citron and Chocolate Sorbet. And the recipe for his Tarte au Citron is here for you to try in your own kitchen.
Now pass on the love.
Sam’s Tart au Citron
One of Sam’s secrets to the perfect shortcrust: 50g of Bird’s Eye Custard Powder added to the flour. He freely admits he has no idea why it works. It just does. Serves 10-12
For the Sweet Pastry:
250g plain flour
125g unsalted butter
25g custard powder
88g caster sugar
For the filling:
4 egg yolks
175g caster sugar
4 lemons – zested and juiced
First, make the pastry. In a food processor blitz the flour, custard powder, butter and caster sugar until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Don’t overwork or your pastry will end up heavy and leaden rather than light and crumbly. Add an egg and mix to and bring it altogether into a dough. Roll into a ball, wrap in clingfim and pop in the fridge for an hour to rest and firm up.
Put the oven on to 170C.
Take pastry out of the fridge, roll to fit a 27cm loose-bottomed tart tin. Prick the base all over with a fork, then whisk an egg and paint the inside of the tart to coast it, then bake blind oven for 20 minutes. Set aside to cool while you make the filling.
Turn the oven to 100C
Put a saucepan half filled with water on to heat. Put all your filling ingredients except the butter into a heatproof bowl and then whisk constantly over the pan of simmering water until the mixture starts to turn pale and thicken. Once the whisk is leaving behind a trail in the mix, add the butter a little at a time and keep mixing until thick and glossy. Take off the heat and pour the filling into the pastry case.
Pop into the oven, and bake for anything from 30-50 minutes until it is still wobbling but not too loose. Keep checking from 30 minutes in and keep jigging the tart. Take out of the oven and cool.
When cool, you can dust with a heavy-ish layer of icing sugar and caramelise with a blowtorch. Serve with thickened cream or crème fraiche and fresh berries tossed in a little lemon juice and icing sugar to give them a gloss.
For more of Sam’s recipes, and a lot of her own, visit Rose’s food blog: the-coconut-asado.tumblr.com
Illustration by John Provencher
Rose Bentley is Global Head of Business Development at Wolff Olins. Follow her at @rosembentley