It certainly has been a while since my last blog post!
You see since I started running Eleven98 on a weekly basis, things have really been pretty busy and I've just now found the time. This transition to opening on a more frequent basis has meant adapting my weekly workload, and setting a new schedule in place. Now that we're well and truly into the UK growing season, I've been busy with horticultural work - sowing seeds and looking after my young plants in anticipation of getting them out in the veg garden. I've also been picking up lots of produce from my two fruit and veg growers, Growing Communities and St. Mary's Secret Garden.
So with all this produce available and needing to be deployed on my menus on a weekly basis, I've had to be super-organised with my work schedule! Here's an example of a typical working week at the moment...
Monday - Gardening day! I bring my food waste bin over to my mum's house by London Fields, and swap it for an empty one. Because our flat is on a busy commercial street, the council don't collect food waste as there's simply too much traffic for a big truck to be holding everyone up. So I keep a larger food waste caddy in the garden at the flat, which I fill up during the course of the week with our domestic food waste as well as what's created during prep time. Then every Monday I walk the caddy round to mum's and drop it off with her next door neighbour, ready to go into her wormery. Every now and again she'll bring round some worm tea which I then use as a fertiliser in the veg garden. I'll then spent the first part of the day sowing seeds in modules and placing them in the propagator, as well as potting up and watering seedlings that have germinated since the previous Monday. I'll check all of the hundreds of seedlings to check up on their progress, and pot up any that have grown enough to require a larger pot. Any plants that have reached a certain size then need to be gradually acclimatised to outdoor conditions, so I'll put them out in the garden still in their pots for a day or so at a time.
During the second part of the day I'm out in the garden, watering all of the growing beds and also doing lots of weeding. It's a relatively large space for an inner city garden, so this takes a good couple of hours in total! I'll also sometimes sow seeds directly outdoors, such as radishes and other roots and Monday is the day for this. I'll also check the progress of the produce I have in the garden, harvesting various bits and bobs to take back to my flat. Once I've harvested everything I need, I'll pack it all up into bags and head off back to mine (with my empty food waste caddy in tow!) I'll then spend the afternoon back at my flat, prepping the produce I harvested earlier in the day. During this process I'll think about ways in which to use the produce for the upcoming menus. Because this isn't the already-squeeky-clean, mass produced stuff like you get from a regular veg supplier, it all requires thorough and meticulous washing before I can even begin to prep anything. This of course takes a lot of time. Once everything is nice and clean, I'll prepare it in various ways - some things may be pickled, some fermented, some dehydrated, some frozen. It al depends on what I've harvested and what I plan on doing with it. By the time I've finished prep it's already evening, leaving me a bit of time to do admin and paperwork before dinner (or sometimes during dinner).
Tuesday - Foraging day! This is the day of the week that I get out nice and early and head to one or a few of the many foraging spots around the borough. I've always got one eye on the seasons, and am always thinking about what's around and what will soon be. Each foraging trip is also a reconnaissance mission, as I regularly find new spots while I'm out and about or on my daily errands. The last two weeks I've been harvesting wild chervil up at Springfield Park, which is right up in the north-eastern most part of the borough, in Stamford Hill. This area is one of my main foraging spots, as there are lots and lots of things growing wild around the banks of the River Lea. The rugby pitch right next to the river has wild chervil growing all along two sides of the field, and I'll usually fill up two large "bags for life" which is basically everything I can sensibly carry. On Tuesdays I'll also get a message from Sophie, the Head Grower for the Growing Communities allotments. She'll let me know what produce is available for collection on Wednesday, and again that will get me thinking about new recipes and dishes. It's amazing how inspiring just one vegetable can be for a whole host of new ideas. I'll let Sophie know what I want and we'll arrange for me to collect it from their headquarters at the Old Fire Station in Stoke Newington.
Wednesday - Prep starts for the weekend! By Wednesday I'll have already planned out the menu for that week, and will head out to collect any dry store items I need from the local shops. Depending on what meat or fish I've planned for the menu that week, I'll also call up my butcher and order anything I need for collection on the Thursday. My fishmongers Jonathan Norris is literally ten seconds from the flat, so I'll usually just swing by while I'm on my rounds to let Terry know what I need that week. I'll head up to Stoke Newington to collect whatever produce I've ordered from Sophie, whether it's for the menu that week or for preserving in some way for subsequent menus. Once I'm back home, I'll spend the whole day prepping.
Thursday - If I'm using any meat and fish on the menu that week, I'll head up to the butchers on Church Street and then stop off at the fishmongers on the way back. I'll spend the rest of the day prepping, and in the evening I'll print out the menus for Friday and also send a copy of the menu to my guests. I do this so they have a heads up and can start to think about wines as our social dining is generally BYOB. If it's the last week of the month, then social dining takes place at Hackney Coffee Co as part of our monthly popup series. If this is the case, I'll pack up all of the prep as well as my equipment and tableware and drive it all over in a zipvan. I always do this on the day before when I've got an event at an external venue, as it takes a lot of the stress out of the actual day. If it's a normal week and I'm hosting at the Chef's Table at the flat, I'll just keep on prepping all afternoon.
Friday - Match day! I'll take care of any last minute prep, as well as harvesting any herbs and flowers needed for the menu that evening. If I'm hosting at the Chef's Table, then after I have my lunch I'll start getting set up. This involves quite a bit of rearranging of furniture etc, as well as unpacking tableware from boxes and generally turning the kitchen and dining space into a restaurant for the evening. Then it's game time!
Saturday - I'll often have a private event arranged for a Saturday, and if this is the case then I'll repeat the whole process of Friday all over again. If the private event is at an external venue then I'll bring everything over on the day as I have no other choice. If I don't have a private event on, then Saturday morning I get a lie in! The first part of the day is spent tidying up from the night before, packing everything away again and laundering all of the table linen. I'll then do the accounts and any other admin that needs doing. I'll spend the afternoon doing paperwork, replying to emails (which is of course part of every day's workload), planning menus and coming up with ideas for the following week. If I've got any energy left, I might even enjoy a night out with my mates.
Sunday - My day off! (well, sometimes!) I try to keep Sunday as my official day off, but every couple of weeks I'll head up to Stroud Green Farmers Market to pick up some cream. The butter I serve with the bread is home-made from unpasteurised cream from Dreamers Farm in Somerset, and I'll tend to make a large batch every couple of weeks just to keep ahead. On these occasions, once I get home from the Farmers Market I'll make the butter, season it, store it away and then I can relax! I'll spend the rest of the day trying to be a normal person, doing things like going to the pub with friends etc. If I can be bothered to iron the table linens, then I'll do it on Sunday, or failing that I'll do it in the evening one day during the week while watching telly.
So there you have it, that's my entire week, and that's why I've not written a blog post in a while. Hopefully the next one won't be too long! I've also started writing a book about the story of Eleven98 in my spare time (whenever I have any), and I'll be using lots of these blog posts as diary exerts that will run through the book as a narrative. Watch this space!