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Lucy Deedes is part of the team at our award winning Petworth food shop, since joining she has been keen to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes and recently made a visit to our production kitchens and bakery near Chichester. Read on as Lucy shares her experience…
“I have been wondering about our production kitchens. Will there be teams of bakers running about shouting Yes Chef? Dolls’ house kitchens and pastel coloured food mixers like on Bake Off? Or maybe men in white coats, caps and long aprons like the ghosts of World War I surgeons, moving silently between the tables. All wrong, as it turns out.
The most brilliant news is that before we go in I must put on a white J-cloth coat and a blue hairnet. I approve of draconian hair-restraint for cooks. I know it’s just television, but Nigella’s loose-hair, trailing-sleeve school of cookery makes me feel a bit sick, and don’t get me started on the Hairy Bikers with those beards.
Everybody here wears hairnets, even those for whom a hairbrush is a distant memory, and there is thrilling talk of Beard Snoods though I don’t actually get to see one. I tuck my hair into the blue hairnet, confident that my children are many miles away and there is no Instagram danger. No wristwatches to be worn, in case they fall off. I do need a pen and notebook but I hold their hands firmly as if they are toddlers, telling myself that my pen is red and would show up if it tumbled into a bowl of flour.
The bakers’ kitchen is surprisingly tall and airy, some 40 foot high with white brick walls. There’s an oddly medieval feel to it (notwithstanding ovens, fridges and giants’ food mixers). The bread oven holds 250 loaves of bread and has a canvas conveyor belt for shuttling the loaves in; getting them out is trickier. Pawel, who is in charge of the Bakery shows me the sourdough starters seething away in their bins; kept at a steady temperature and regularly fed, like fighting cocks, to keep them happily ticking over. There is a bowl of sprouted grains, waiting to go into the Sprouted Wheat and Date dough. They have just two electric mixers: one of them is 60 years old and works with a gentle motion that perfectly suits the sourdough mixture.
I had expected hordes of people and acres of stainless steel tops like an operating theatre but there are half a dozen cooks and surprisingly little work surface. It feels like a normal working kitchen, scaled up in size. There is a big Downton-type wooden table where another of the bakers, Tomaz makes scones on one side (220 in a batch) whilst telling me how to make sourdough soup, talking effortlessly while he breaks and counts endless eggs. Opposite him Jacek and Sebastien cut, weigh and shape the loaves – Light Integrale and 5 Seeded whilst I am there. It’s all very dextrous: they fling flour about like a sower broadcasting seeds, they knead two loaves at once, one with each hand, and throw them into the oval cane proving baskets which give the loaves their singular striped floury appearance.
In the kitchen next door David is making custard for the red onion and goats’ cheese tarts and Richard assembles fish pies for the Frozen shop, surrounded by trays of cooked salmon, haddock and fat prawns and a yellow sauce with green herbs; each ingredient separate and colourful. ‘We’re having a fish day, today,’ David says. They work on just this one table, which is extraordinary when you bear in mind the multitude of soups and dishes that come out of this kitchen. It’s all about planning and ordering in advance: if that’s properly done then everyone has a plan for each day and it all falls into place. As someone who can only shop for one or two meals at a time, I marvel at the organisation.
I feel in my pockets for my pen, slightly alarmed not to find it, and Pavel lends me his.
The cooks and bakers are mostly Polish and they seem pretty chilled. Admittedly this is a production, not a restaurant, kitchen so there is not the pressure of hungry customers snarling like jackals on the tables outside; but there is always some sort of time pressure with food. So the calmness of the atmosphere and the seemingly laid-back teamwork are impressive and cheering. You feel that good things are going to come out of this good-tempered kitchen. ‘Everybody happy, he like his job,’ says Jacek. ‘Nobody is….. ’ he mimes a slump-shouldered sad person.
Of course there is a pecking order but, as Pawel says, everybody’s contribution counts. If there are pressure days, it’s Fridays and Saturdays, when more bread is made than on the other five days put together. (The record was 2,000 kilograms of dough in one night.)
I leave with an armful of warm bread and scones and that red pen, which turned up blamelessly in my pocket.”
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