An interview with | Alice, Chef Extraordinaire at Portfolio Events
On Delia Smith, fending off charging racehorses with an apron & draining potatoes into a medieval moat
The food is one of the most important parts of a wedding for your guests. I work alongside Portfolio Events more often than any other caterer. Wedding after wedding they continually impress me (and feed me delicious food!). More importantly, my clients love them and are always full of praise for their work.
Not too long ago I experienced, as a guest, the work of another wedding catering company in Northamptonshire. Let’s just say it wasn’t the best experience and whilst I’ve always known that the Portfolio team is good, this wedding really opened my eyes as to how good. Their team are always well dressed and polite. Their food is delicious; substantial but not heavy; beautifully presented and served with finesse and a smile. It’s more restaurant than mass-catered wedding food.
I’m a big fan of theirs so am thrilled that Alice, one of their chefs, agreed to do an interview and share what it’s like working behind the scenes at a wedding.
Who taught you about food and cooking?
My Mother, Delia Smith and Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute.
I come from a family who love to cook and share food. We spent my early childhood living in Greece and my mother taught me to be creative and not afraid to try new things.
My first degree was in economics and statistics. At university I found myself a little bored, with plenty of time and hungry friends. Delia’s complete cookery course might not be that inspiring now, but cooking my way through it gave me an excellent grounding in the basics.
In 2000 I finally got to follow my dream and trained with the amazing chef’s at Cordon Bleu.
What’s a typical wedding day like for you?
A wedding day for me is lots of lists and lifting. Food is my passion, but when it comes to event catering the organisation is also key!
We arrive early and load the vans with absolutely everything we’ll need, final checks and off we go. I’m quite small but love driving the big vans; people really respect you on the road.
At the venue we work fast to get organised and get cooking. I can’t say it’s not stressful but once the ovens are on and the pots boiling I get really excited to see it all come together.
Although as chef I often haven’t met the Bride, I always make sure I find a moment to take a peek out of the kitchen to see her dress and flowers.
At service time everything is a bit frenetic, but strangely quiet. Only the chef and event manager speak, all heads are down to make every single plate beautiful. Woe betide the waitress who starts gossiping about the party she is off to later!
After the wedding breakfast has been served there’s still plenty to do. More lifting to reload the vans and lots of washing up.
Where do you get the inspiration for your menus from?
I’m always looking, thinking and reading about food, so full of ideas. We eat out as often as we can to see what others are doing. I might turn the flavours I had in a delicious sandwich into an elegant canapé or take something I had in a Michelin starred restaurant and pare it back so it will work for 100 people. Couples often have their own ideas and I love the challenge of making their ideas reality.
What do you love most about catering for weddings?
I absolutely adore weddings and am a firm believer in marriage. Even if we never meet I love being part of giving couples the most special day of their lives. I always say a little blessing for them as I stir the sauce just before service. Soppiness aside, there’s a thrill in each job being different, and never quite knowing what might be thrown at you.
What’s the hardest thing about catering for weddings?
Trying to foresee and plan for any eventuality. Or when the wedding is running super late and there’s fillet of beef that needs to be a perfect medium rare.
Are there any weddings you’ve worked on that really stick in your memory?
A very grand wedding on an Irish racehorse breeder’s estate. It was a super-hot August day and just before service a huge thunderstorm came over. It felt like the marquee would be torn from the ground. As I went to collect desserts from the fridge van, a group of the most beautiful horses became spooked, burst their fences and charged at the marquee. After a moment of looking in wonder, I realised they weren’t going to turn, but crash into 150 guests eating inside. I whipped my apron off and ran right at them, waving it, jumping and shouting at the top of my lungs like a mad woman until they changed direction. About the scariest thing I’ve ever done, but my team of Irish chefs thoroughly enjoyed doing impressions of me in the pub afterwards.
Or the wedding at Lyveden New Bield where I was working from a marquee kitchen and had to drain the potatoes out of the window into a medieval moat! There’s no plumbing in a marquee, so the only place to drain two huge pots of new potatoes was into the dry moat. It’s hot, heavy work. I was red in the face and a bit stressed as we balanced the colander over the side of the bridge. I looked up and the sun was going down behind the ruined castle and it looked stunning. I just got to wondering how many other people, over how many years, had been cooking for parties on this spot. I felt really boosted for the rest of the event.
What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you on a wedding day?
At a marquee wedding in London, I turned on the electric ovens and they caused all the fuses to trip, plunging guests and kitchen alike into darkness. It was so scary realising we didn’t have enough power to run our equipment and light the marquee. Much scrambling about later we managed to run a cable to a neighbour’s house, but it still kept tripping. We managed to juggle our equipment so it just worked, but it was a very close run thing. I actually cried with relief when it was over.
What do you most often do when you get home from a wedding?
I sit very still and quiet in the car outside my house for a few minutes to really enjoy the peace. Then I go inside, kiss my sleeping children and have a glass of very cold white wine.
Whose wedding would you love to cater for?
I greatly look forward to doing the food at my daughter’s wedding, but she is only 5 so I have a while to go!
What’s your favourite food?
The best meal I ever enjoyed was squid ink risotto, at the top of an Italian mountain with my sisters. I find that favourite food memories are invariably linked to a great setting, shared with friends and loved ones. One of the reasons I’ve worked with Portfolio for so long is because they always create the perfect setting for guests to enjoy the food I prepare.
ahh, big thank you to Alice for doing this interview! It was so much fun to hear all those stories! xx