Marco Zampese & Albin Gobil, Sous-Chefs
A day in the life
Marco Zampese and Albin Gobil are sous-chefs at Hélène Darroze at The Connaught, with considerable responsibility as second-in-command to the head chef, Alex Dilling. Both knew that they wanted to be chefs from childhood: Albin from the age of eight, when he started baking cakes at home in Normandy; Marco, who comes from a family of food lovers near Vicenza and Venice, from the age of 12.
Albin has been with the restaurant for four years, having previously spent five at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Covent Garden, latterly as senior chef de partie. He has risen through the ranks at Hélène Darroze, starting as senior chef de partie, then junior sous-chef and finally sous-chef.
Marco has been with the restaurant for three-and-a-half years, arriving from a spell as sous-chef at Anthony Demetre’s Wild Honey. Earlier in his career, he studied the science and culture of gastronomy for three years at Padua University, after which he worked as a chef for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver and, separately, travelled with the Italian national cycling team, working with doctors and using his specialist knowledge of nutrition for athletes.
How does the day start for you both?
Albin: The day starts between 8 and 9am with some routine tasks: check the temperature of the fridge, do some paperwork, review the menu. We’re not the kind of sous-chefs who like to sit in the office.
Marco: Also checking the deliveries, making sure everything is of the required quality. I might spend an hour or so putting in orders, liaising with suppliers and the purchasing team. We try to have a call with Hélène at 11am on the days when she is not in the London restaurant. We would let her know if any changes were necessary to the menu.
Albin: Briefings take place every day at 11.30am and 6pm with the restaurant manager of the day and the waiters. They take about 30 minutes, and we explain any changes to the menu and find solutions to any problems that have arisen. We are quite agile at adjusting things. Communication is really important both ways – we also need to know about feedback from the guests.
Marco: We go through the LQA standards, describe any new dishes and make a plan of the day, including reviewing the list of bookings and being aware of any special guests or dietary requirements. Every day there’s something different with dietary requirements – usually allergies to things.
What happens at lunchtime?
Albin: 1pm is a very busy time for dining. I work on the ‘pass’ – it’s the connection between the kitchen and the waiters – where I arrange the food on the plate and check the temperature to make sure everything is fine. It’s the last step before service. The kitchen is downstairs, below the restaurant, and there’s no lift. The waiters carry everything upstairs on massive silver trays, up to four dishes per tray – and it’s heavy.
Marco: I really enjoy it when it’s super busy.
Do you get involved in developing new dishes?
Marco: We discuss new dishes and work together to develop ideas for Hélène to try. We also make adjustments to seasoning or garnish to show her – sometimes she is happy first time! Because I’m from Italy, where you find wonderful produce growing wherever you travel, I’ve always believed that you have the best food in the place where it’s made. But it’s true that here in London we can get hold of really good produce for all our menus. Many of our producers are based in the south-west of France, and also Italy and Spain.
Albin: We work with the seasons, so we do suggest changes to present to Hélène, and then we give the waiters as much information as we can about the products we’re using.
How do the afternoons and evenings roll out?
Albin: Lunch service finishes around 3pm, when we make sure the kitchen is clean. We then get a break until 4.30, to remake the mise en place and do more checking, including keeping a record of what’s gone out of the kitchen. From 6.30 or 7pm the restaurant starts filling up again for the five, seven or nine-course tasting menus. (We also serve a three-course menu for just a reasonable £52.) I may help the head chef, Alex, or if one section is in a rush then you have to help them – you don’t just stand still. The kitchen is very small, so you know if someone needs help. It’s a seven-day operation with nine to eleven chefs per shift, not including the pastry chefs.
Marco: Although we break between 3 and 4.30pm, I sometimes don’t stop. There’s always something to do – and that includes Saturdays and Sundays. I love feeling the pressure of putting together the tasting menus. Under pressure you learn to be fast and organised. I finish any time between 10.30pm and midnight.
What do you love about your job?
Albin: My passion is cooking and making people happy. Without that passion, it wouldn’t be worth it. You’re here 70% of your time and that’s a lot of your life. For me it’s also important to have calm. I used to work in a kitchen which was a bit crazy, but I don’t think chefs shouting works any more. If you have a team of happy chefs you know they’ll give their best. One day I would like to win a ‘Meilleur Ouvrier de France’ award – to be recognised as one of the best in my profession.
Marco: Chef Alex understands that we’re not machines. He gives you the freedom to be creative. You can listen and learn from other people on the team, even the kitchen porter. I also enjoy trying to teach what I know, following Hélène’s standards, always listening to Alex, expressing my ideas, being friendly and thinking constantly about the experience you want to give to a guest.
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