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A Day Working in Petersham Nurseries Cafe : The Good Soup

A Day Working in Petersham Nurseries Cafe

Here’s what my day was like working in the most gorgeous restaurant in the world.

7:15am. Catch the South West Train to Richmond. Try to read something constructive but instead read Metro to see what happened to the hindi cow and the comedian up on paedaphile charges.

Arrive, unlock bike and ride across Richmond Green to the river. Over cobblestones, past the enormous resting ducks, the split Thames filled with weeping willows. Pass three men and two dogs sleeping near the meadows. Avoid green flem recently spat outside toilet block. Through gate, past cows grazing, down lane, up dirt road. Wait for someone to let me in.

8:20. Kenny rides up. We talk about meditation while piling enormous pagnotta, beetroots, zucchini flowers and milk into a cart. We walk past nursery plants, a pond and tables laid with eggplants and borlotti beans. Suz and Gino are here already. They get in the secret way noone’s talking about. There’s a slight worn out air about the day that clears as coffee is made, Suz designates everyone with their morning duties and the radio is turned on.

I’m on chopping chillies, cooking and dressing potatoes, podding, cooking and dressing borlotti beans, picking over sandfire, shaving fennel and prepping the salad leaves. The radio is on ‘magic station’ and Emma guesses they’re playing ’93 tracks while making the pannacotta. She’s usually right. Kenny’s imitating different people absent from and present in the kitchen and sometimes Madonna. Gino and Teeto are joking in portuguese cum italian with Vini down the washing up end. Kenny does a dance as he sings ‘erotique’, Teeto replies with a dance to a hip hop tune in his head. Emma talks about Chester, her dog. Suz talks about Obi, her dog. I mostly listen and smile.

Secrets, one of our organic vegetable suppliers, doesn’t turn up with the pea shoots and black currants. Suz starts worrying about the menu needing changing. I keep picking samphire wondering if I’ll have time to pick enough for the crab starter that’s now minus pea shoots. Menu is changed and printed out. Then Secret’s turns up.

It’s nearing 11:30. I’ve finished my prep list and am working on the left over tasks. Staff lunch is made by Suz from yesterday’s leftovers but noone in the kitchen goes out to eat. Finally I go, eat a little, drink elderflower cordial and rest for 5 minutes. I come back and things are more frenetic. The first customers sit down and we’re not clearing away yet and no one from the floor’s had time to chop the parsley to fairy dust, zest the lemons, grate the parmesan or fill the olive oil bottles. Everyone’s trying to finish, trying to catch a moment to go to the toilet, have a cigarette, eat a little, wipe down, finish duties. The sorbet’s not frozen but it tastes divine. Blackcurrant. The pannacottas have worked today.

Order’s are in. I’m on the dorset crab salad with sandfire, lemon mayonnaise and pagnotta, I’m making the salad for the turbot main (with girolles and borlotti beans), and I’m chargrilling the bread for the sardine starter (with piperonata) and my dorset crab. Everyone’s on desserts when they’re free. We’re booked for 73, but there’s heaps of walk ins and the afternoon speeds up to a run (for forgotten ingredients to the store in the next shed, for the never enough lemon zesting, For the desserts end of the kitchen.)

‘Behind!’, ‘watch your back!’, ‘are you ready for the crab?’, ‘how long for 2 mozzarella’s and a raddichio?’ (Gino wants 30seconds for his sardine mains, I’ve already grilled and dressed the bruschetta). Timing’s the art of listening and watching and intuiting how long Gino’s 30 second call is compared to Teeto’s 30 second call and noone wants their starter to be the one waiting for the others.

It’s 2:30 and the afternoon isn’t slowing. We’ve had a rush on starters. I’ve got another 5 crab, then 3 sardines, 3 turbots and 2 crabs, then 1 sardine then 3 crab then too many turbots to count. I’m running low on sandfire. I’ve run out of olive oil and have to steal Suz’s when she’s at the other end of the pass. We’ve all run out of zest. my left hand’s stinging with all the lemon juice I’ve squeezed through my fingers to catch the seeds. No one’s having fun, everyone’s freaking and bitching and moaning. Some of us are very very quiet.

Then, suddenly, we’re done. Last order out now just desserts dripping in. Time to pick at bruised figs and the hazelnut tart. Time to collect together empty bowls and combine station ingredients and label saturday stickers on everything and pull out old things from the fridges and count serves for tomorrow. Suz and Emma and Rachel head for the walled garden to have a cigarette. Kenny and I follow. I listen to the chickens and the roosters and enjoy the cool of the old brick walk at my back while Suz and Emma talk about being too tired to go out tonight. Tea is desired. We head back, passing the store to check on rocket supply.

Put away, wipe down, put away, wipe down. Forget to make tea. Eat some more hazelnut tart. Another 30 minutes and everything’s clean. Key for locker, clean my glasses, bag on back, say goodbye, bike, gates, meadow, people lying in the sun everywhere or walking slow. It’s hard to ride between them. Station, walk, station, walk- almost too tired, so many stairs, walk, home. 6pm.


  1. Mikaela Cowles
    January 23, 2011 at 1:48 am | | Reply

    Wow! What a day. I imagine you slept well.

  2. Kankana
    January 23, 2011 at 3:33 am | | Reply

    It’s beautiful ! I watch a lot of cooking show and as I was reading your post .. I could almost visualize it :)

  3. Emm
    January 28, 2011 at 7:13 am | | Reply

    You took me straight back to my days in the kitchen with this post. Isn’t it funny how even when you are so hungry, you can’t muster up enough energy to cook yourself something nutritious, after a day of non-stop cooking? I remember it well. I have to be honest though, I do have moments of missing that mad kitchen adrenalin buzz.

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