26 July 2014

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Q&A with Polpetto head chef Florence Knight


Florence Knight - 02B0301.jpgSquare Meal chats to Florence Knight, head chef at tiny Soho gem Polpetto, which is due to reopen at a bigger-and-better site in the next few months. We caught up with Florence for a quick Q&A about her favourite food, love of fashion (including chefs’ whites), flirtatious men in the kitchen and her predictions for the London restaurant scene.

What’s the latest on Polpetto?

We closed Polpetto on 26 May, and we’re trying to find somewhere with more seats and with a ground floor. Ideally, we’re looking for a place that can accommodate 50-60 covers. We’re not going to rush it; we’re going to find the right thing, and we will keep the Polpetto name. Ideally, we’d like to have somewhere before Christmas. I’m keen to get back into the kitchen.

Where in London do you eat when you’re not on duty? Which new restaurants are you most keen to try?

I love Japanese outfit Koya on Frith Street, particularly their special lunch menu. Quo Vadis is great, too – I really enjoy Jeremy Lee’s cooking. I’m ashamed to say I’ve still never been to Zucca, and I really want to go to Noma.

Are you a sweet or savoury person?

I always have a pudding. I think about sweet food more than I do about savoury. At work, I always have chocolate in the fridge, and every afternoon I treat myself.

What’s your food heaven/hell?

I don’t like grapefruit, but I don’t hate anything. Food heaven? I think about sticky toffee pudding quite a lot…

What would you have done if you hadn’t have become a chef?

It would have been something creative, definitely – maybe something in fashion or art. I could never work in an office; I don’t have the attention span.

What do you think the next big thing will be on the London restaurant scene?

Well, it’s very meat-orientated in London at the moment. In New York, there’s a big ‘raw’ scene, which could come over here. And from a design point of view, I think things will have to change. At the moment, every restaurant just looks like Polpo!

Which chefs do you admire?

Skye Gyngell [formerly at Petersham Nurseries Café] – I’ve always been a massive fan of her. And Alice Waters. And Ollie Dabbous. He’s a friend of mine, and a real talent.

Having studied fashion, do you get frustrated about having to wear whites all the time?

I really like wearing chefs’ whites, although they don’t really make them for women – I have to keep pulling the trousers up about 100 times a day. And it’s important to wear non-slip shoes, something like Birkenstock’s.

Tell us about your forthcoming cookbook…

My first book is based around single ingredients.  I always work out dishes starting with one ingredient. Let’s say we have pickled walnuts; then I think that needs some fat, so I’ll add some sausage; then it needs freshness, so I’ll add some pear – the recipes come about like that. The book is based around people’s larders.

You live and work in Soho – what do you do on your day off? How do you relax?

I go to antique fairs. I love Maltby Street Market, for example. And I love shopping, although I don’t get to do that much of it. Liberty is great, because they let me take my dog [Guinevere] in.

What’s the most annoying thing about men in the kitchen?

I enjoy working with men. Men will start will all the flirting, but after that, there’s no bullshit. I enjoy the banter, anyway. I’m from a family of five, so you’ve got to get used to people taking the piss out of you.

Biggest kitchen disaster?

I was at a food event a few years ago and I turned on one of fryers. It didn’t have any oil in it, and it blew up. This was when I had just started, too!

Published on 21 August 2012.

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