At London Cooking Project, one of our main aims as a business has always been to support foodies by providing a platform to help them on their journey - whether that's on their mission to open a restaurant and make it in the business, or simply take the step to hosting their first ever supper club or cooking class.
So we were delighted to have the opportunity to partner with The Amateur Table and Leiths School of Food & Wine to create a whole series of supper clubs dedicated to showcasing emerging talent in the industry. The supper clubs take place on the first Saturday of each month, with each one led by a different amateur chef who has been given the responsibility of developing their own menu and delivering it to a high standard.
We caught up with Lily Gjertsen, Leiths' graduate and founder of The Amateur Table, to find out more.
Why did you decide to follow a career in the food industry?
While I was working in London, I started spending a lot of time trying new restaurants. My family cringed, but I always asked if I could see the kitchen and speak to the chef. I asked them about what they did, if they enjoyed it, and what the best parts of being a chef were. Each one of them had a different answer, but they all gravitated around being able to do what they love. It really inspired me and I quickly realised it was what I wanted to do.
How did The Amateur Table come about?
During culinary school, none of us really knew what we wanted to do once we graduated - there are so many different parts of the food industry you can go into. I started teaching friends and family the basics of cooking, which quickly turned into catering and supper clubs. People were really impressed by the quality of the food (I’m pretty sure they thought they were going to get a nicely plated pasta-bake). After a few bookings I put a message out to graduates from school, a few of them wanted to get involved to gain experience in different areas - and The Amateur Table stated to develop from there.
Why a series of supper clubs?
I was catering for a supper club at someone’s house that a friend from culinary school was helping me out on. At the end of the evening the host asked me to meet the table - when I came round the corner they started applauding. I couldn’t believe it, I’ve never had a feeling quite like that. I remember thinking it was something really special - to be able to show case your abilities and give people a great experience in the process. I quickly went back to my friend and said she had to do one of her own. She was a bit nervous about the idea, but I said I would help her in any way she needed it - and the idea really started to take flight from there.
How is the line up looking & who else are you looking to involve?
I’m so excited about the line up for summer. We’ve got three incredible chefs, all from different cultural backgrounds - there's an amazing Indian menu, a delicious Middle Eastern one and really creative menu focused around locally sourced ingredients. I’m also doing the July supper club to show some of the new chefs how to run the events ahead of their own - that one is inspired by Swedish mid-summer. We haven’t confirmed any of the chefs after August, I want to keep it open for new chefs who may want to be involved. Ideally, people who are really passionate about cooking and open to learning and experiencing different elements of the kitchen.
How does The Amateur Table work to support each chef?
We ask chefs to send through a menu which we feedback on - considering things like; if the menu flows well, sounds appealing and would work for a large audience. We then taste the menu with a second round of feedback. If Holly approves (she’s the one to really impress) we then designate a month to the chef and support them in the lead up.
In the lead up, we ask the chefs to be involved in 1-2 of the supper clubs before their own. I really want to make sure they’re learning as much as they can in the process, so I think it’s important that they rotate around different areas of responsibility. They learn things like; how to run the kitchen, how to work with suppliers, how to calculate costs - and most importantly how to support others. We're there to support chefs throughout the whole process - to feedback, to be a sounding board, to help on the actually running of the evenings. So they’re never left in the dark, or feel too overwhelmed.
What do you hope amateur chefs will get out of it?
Ultimately, I hope they gain the confidence to do what they want. To know their abilities and go after the things they want to achieve. The company is still very young, so I want to hear more ways we can help our chefs. From May, we’re starting to introduce some inspiration sessions as part of the series - we’ve got an amazing specialist food company coming for the first one. They’re going to bring lots of niche and unique ingredients for our chefs to taste, and hopefully that will inspire a lot of fresh thinking & new dishes.
The next in the series of the series of The Amateur Table is with Very Kerri on Saturday 11th August. Full details can be found on the supper club section on the London Cooking Project website.
Photos by Holly Farrier