Monday, 4 November 2019

A day in my life at Riverford

Hello again! 

Yasmine here with a little glimpse into a day in my life at Riverford! As I’ve said before Riverford is a reservation only restaurant, this is because the Field kitchen only has two seating’s a day. For the lunch service customers arrive at 12:30 p.m. to be seated and served drinks in time for lunch at 1:00 p.m. for dinner customers arrive at 7:00 p.m. for service at 7:30 p.m. These times are the same everyday with the exception of Sundays - where we do a brunch followed almost directly by a lunch service. Brunch is served at 12:30 p.m. and lunch is served at 4:00 p.m. this can be a difficult shift as all food for both services must be prepped before the first service as there is little time between the end of the first of the service and the start of the second service.

Each service has a basic menu set up that we follow, whenever possible we will try to use up any prepped foods from previous services to prevent food waste. The basic set up of each menu is usually something similar to this;
(Sourdough or focaccia)
1 or 2 snacks
(only 1 snack on a Sunday, other days can very depending on the quantity of produce available and the number of customers booked in)
2 starters
(starters are usually salads or slaws)
1 main
 (there is a choice between a vegetarian/vegan main or a meat main, the choice must be made at the point of booking so the chefs can prepare appropriate numbers)
2 sides
(sides are always vegetable based and have a wider variety of options then the starters, although some starters are altered slightly to be used as a side, but never on the same menu of course)
(Customers have a choice of desserts, there are a minimum of six puddings to choose from)

In order to prevent the chefs from having to work up to 15 hours a day, the chefs are split over two shifts. The morning shift arrives to prepare the lunch, which the evening shift prepare the dinner. On days that I work the lunch shift, Sundays or events I begin work between 8:00 – 8:30 a.m. for the dinner shift I arrive at 2:30 p.m. In order to be at work with enough time to change and be ready, I have to leave my house in Totnes town at least 40 minutes before my shift. It usually takes me 35 minutes to cycle the uphill gauntlet that is the Devon countryside, however some days’ take longer if I’m tired or I haven’t stretched properly before I leave the house. Stretching was something I (painfully) learned early on would be a necessary part of my routine before work…if I was to survive my time here. I’m able to cycle most of the journey on a national cycle network that keeps me off the main roads and on even paths. Cycling is a big part of life in Totnes, there are plenty of cycle paths and drivers are usually very courteous of cyclist. Thankfully (for me at least) the worst part of the cycle is going into work – I’m definitely of the mindset that I’d rather have the grueling task of cycling uphill before I’ve worked a day’s shift, then after.

Having never been much of a bike rider (or in fact a very active person at all) cycling has been a steep learning curve. This week has been my worst bike related week so far. I managed to make it four months without a bike accident - then have two in the space of five days. The first resulted in some bruising and a valuable lesson about breaking in the wet with mud covered leaves concealing the path. The second was a little more serious. My lace caught in the peddle of my bike, essentially binding me to the bike. When I tried to pull over to allow a car to pass, I fell on top of the handlebar – taking the end of the bar to the sternum. After being checked out at a local hospital I was assured I hadn’t broken anything, just a possible hairline fracture with definite bruising of the bone. Nothing for it but paracetamol, rest and deep breathing exercises. Thankfully I was able to take a day off leading up to my scheduled two days off in order to rest up. I was also advised not to lift heavy objects or to do any repetitively strenuous movements for up to six weeks, so this is being taken into consideration for me at work. I don’t mean to scare anyone away from taking up cycling or relying on a bike as transport during their placement year. I am the living embodiment of Calamity Jane, within my first ten days at Riverford I burnt my face on steam from one of the ovens and I sliced a small section of finger/nail off with a mandolin. So that’s the level of clumsy I’m working with, but now on two wheels. So don’t be put off by my inability to stay upright, cycling is great fun and a much cheaper option then buses or taxis!

I digress from my bicycle sob story, back into life at Riverford! Once I’ve huffed and puffed my way into work the first thing I do is go upstairs and change into my uniform. Then I usually go into the main office blog to the ‘fancy’ coffee machine, where all staff are free to have as many coffees, tea’s or hot chocolates as they like…so naturally I’ve developed a coffee dependency. From there I go down to the kitchen to liaison with the head chef of the shift, this could be one of three people at the moment – Lewis the head chef, Tom the sous chef or Anton the 2nd sous chef. The head chef will then talk through the entire menu then assign either parts of a dish or an entire dish to those on the shift. In an attempt to reduce waste we use any over prepped foods from the service before us, sometimes we get lucky and have an easy prep list. Other times we’re the shift that’s left with a bare fridge. As Riverford is an organic Farm we do have access to the warehouse where we can obtain fresh produce, we also get deliveries of dairy from the Riverford Dairy as well as meat deliveries from the organic butchers associated with Riverford. However, this means that we can be at the mercy of the warehouse and the farms. We can only be supplied with what they have at that time. We do of course have essentials delivered that can’t be produced by Riverford, this can include things like sugar, chocolate, olive oil, rock salt, etc. Every once in a while, we might have a day or two with what feels like an empty fridge (its not of course!) and this in times when we really have to push our knowledge of flavours to combine what we do have into a delicious meal.

Once we’ve each got our prep list, we go off and prep whatever we’ve been assigned. If/when we finished our lists we check to see if there is more to be done or clean down and set up for service. On quieter days we sometimes get lucky enough to prep for the next day, although we never really prep too much too long in advance.

The only real difference between the lunch or dinner shift is the start/finish times - and of course service times. All prepping and cleaning is to be done during your shift. As the kitchen is open, we have to have all areas cleaned down before customers arrive, annoyingly as we still use the areas for prep and service its an impossible task to truly keep the areas spotless. Customers love coming in the door is see us prepping or plating, so they tend not to notice the mess as much as us obsessive compulsive chefs do, thankfully. The general flow of cleaning works in stages.

We do our general prep and cooking. Clean down. Begin plating the snack and any cold starters, finish any cooking of mains or sides. Clean down. Plate sides and mains. Clean down. We keep any extras from service for staff, so at this stage most chefs take a small break to eat. Begin preparing custard, heating sticking toffee puddings and prepping a minimum of six desserts (always including the infamous sticky toffee pudding and custard, it’s on every selection of desserts - with the exception of events or working lunches). Clean down. Set out the desserts, utensils, cream, custard and bowls needed for service. Groups of tables are sent up to the pass to select their dessert, they can have one larger piece or two smaller pieces of any of the desserts. The selection always includes the sticky toffee and custard* it usually includes a ‘chocolate nemesis’ which is basically a baked chocolate mousse, some sort of fruit frangipane, then alternations of a selection of semi traditionally English puddings. I particularly like it when we use the ‘Root to Shoot’ method in the desserts – the fig leaf panna cotta for example is delicious. In-between groups of tables any crumbs are cleaned off the counter, once everyone has gotten their dessert, we clear everything. Clean down.

*Custard - Just as a side note, one valuable lesson I’ve learned from working the desserts at Riverford is that if you’re going to make custard you’d had better make sure there’s enough custard for every man, women, child and dog, or you’re going to have some very upset customers… I can assure you of that.

In terms of service not all the chefs on shift have a hand in plating, at least one person on shift acts as a kitchen porter of sorts and washes the dishes as they come off the floor. This isn’t always the case, but for convenience most to stick to where they are or switch over at desserts to prevent one person from having to do all the washing. Once desserts are finished, we do a final clean down and clear all the plates from service. This is the only time where the shifts have a noticeable difference. If you work the lunch shift you clean down to allow the dinner shift to come through – then you prep or do any other odd jobs the chef might need you to do. You stay until five o’clock unless otherwise arranged. On the dinner shift though, your end time is dependent on the customers or the flow of the shift. On average over the summer we’d get out at 10:30 p.m. now in the autumn with the slower pace and smaller bookings we average 10:00 p.m. Some days you’re still swamped, you might not get out for half an hour after the average or you might get out half an hour early. It’s all in the luck of the draw.

Regardless of what time I’m off I’m still not home for another 30-35 minutes as I still have to cycle, it’s grand on the way back for the most part. With the exception of Staverton Hill (as I call it anyway) – my pronunciation of Staverton with a soft a, as opposed to a longer a, annoys and dismays all those who hear it. It’s not consciously deliberate, I just read it as I see it. However, I do get a little giddy moment when I see people recoil in revulsion at my ‘prominent’ Irish accent. Why you might ask? Well that’s hard to explain unless you’ve heard my accent, which really couldn’t be any less prominently Irish if I tried. I think I just relish the opportunity to mess with an Englishman’s head for a second. Very naughty of me but oh well… I’m definitely not going to stop.

So that’s it folks! Although the general workflow is different to how I’ve worked before it’s really not all that different in terms of prepping and cooking. I’m still a commis chef so I spend most of my days working on sides, starters or snacks, nothing particularly riveting, the excitement/challenge comes from trying to create delicious dishes with the limitations of what you have around you. I love the challenge, time and time again KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) is proven as the best method when working with heavily vegetable based menu, I’m constantly astounded by the difference a bit sauce or spice/nut mix can make to even the most boring of veggies.

As I’ve said (to just about anyone who will listen) I love my job at Riverford, the work and the fact that thought and consideration has been paid to chefs. I’m approaching the end of my placement, only 6 weeks left now… honestly, I’m terribly sad about it! Although I’m so very excited for the next phase in the Netherlands I’m going to miss everything I’m doing here. I still can’t believe I only have 6 weeks left; it really does feel as if I only landed in Totnes yesterday! I’m so glad I got the longest placement I could there is no way I could have truly taken on all that Riverford has to offer in 3 months, 6 months hasn’t been enough time to take it all in.

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