Guest post by London chef Suzanne James of Suzanne James Catering
I’ve worked with the chef Suzanne James and her company Suzanne James Catering on a host of corporate events, private parties and weddings – from intimate dinners to huge receptions.
She heads a team producing fantastic seasonal food that’s beautifully prepared and presented (plus ethically-, locally- and sustainably sourced where possible). The HQ is a converted bakery in East Dulwich, South London, which is also where her monthly East Dulwich Supper Clubs are hosted.
Despite now focusing on the planning rather than the cooking side of the business, Suzanne still plays a key role in operations. Here she talks about the four work secret weapons that help her every day…
Work weapon number 1: Volcano coffee
Most of the events industry is powered by caffeine, so it’s no surprise that coffee is one of my secret weapons. I try not to drink it after midday but working late into the evenings means there’s sometimes no alternative.
I’m an unashamed coffee snob, and my favourite comes from local roastery Volcano Coffee Works. I’ll brew some in a cafetiere and add a spoonful of honey for an extra punch. Out and about, my walkabout Bodum travel press is never far away. It’s a cafetiere you can also drink from, and helps decent coffee stay hotter for longer.
As it’s so easy to get dehydrated working in a hot kitchen, I also drink bottle after bottle of still water throughout the day.
Work weapon number 2: iPhone charger
Like most people who run a company that involves working off-site, my iPhone is completely vital. It’s almost like my work brain, and indispensable for juggling multiple projects.
I still have large A4 files for clients, but this information’s also on my phone for me to call up instantly. Plus, it houses the work calendar synced with my whole team, photos of dishes, venue maps, supplier lists and my all-important calculator for working out quantities and pricings. Oh, and I’ll update our social media on the move too.
The phone battery doesn’t last long enough to cope with all this – plus actual phone calls – so a charger is essential. I’m an expert at being able to scan the room and spot the nearest socket to quickly plug it into.
Work weapon number 3:
We never go to a job without our kit bag, which is our toolbox on wheels. It contains everything we need for event catering, and a bit more. The bare bones are:
● A set of knives
● Chopping boards
● Cling film
● Foil and parchment
● Black bags and food waste bags
● Candles in case of a power cut (plus for birthday cakes)
● Sticky stuff remover
● Gaffer tape
We also have a section for things the team might need, like a first aid kit, stain remover, shoe polish, nail varnish remover and even deodorant in case things get a bit pongy!
As soon as it returns from an event, the kit bag is restocked with military precision. We’ll check if anything’s missing so it’s primed to go out for the next one.
Work weapon number 4: Our team lunch
I cook a team lunch every day – there are 13 of us, consisting of our chefs, and admin and business development staff. It sounds cliched, but a team that eats together stays together!
What’s served depends what’s in season, and what’s left over from jobs. We have to be careful about what we order and aim for zero wastage, but there are usually some leftovers to enjoy.
As every event is different, we never cook the same menu twice – and that means the staff lunch tends to be different each day too. It could be a huge quinoa salad with feta, tomatoes, peppers and olives. Or just simple but delicious bacon sandwiches.
Once a week we all gather in the kitchen to enjoy a longer, hour-long meal together. We range in age from 19 up to me at almost 50 and we have lots of different interests between us. Work lunches are a chance to bond, and I think this is vital for a company with multiple moving parts like ours.
The only team member not invited? Our office dog Bruce, a rescue Labrador and Staffie cross. Health and safety obviously means he’s banned from the kitchen, but given half the chance he’d sit under the table and hoover up titbits!