Katarina Todosijevic left her small Swedish village for the bright lights of London at just 20 years old. Seven years later she is now the head chef of Searcy’s Portrait Restaurant at the National Portrait Gallery in London.
How I got here
After finishing catering college in Sweden I managed to get a job working a posh inn in a small village in the north. But after two years of living in such a small place I wanted to get to know different cultures and cuisines. I thought there’s no better time to than to do it while you’re still young, so I took the decision to move to London.
My first job in England was at Conan’s Butlers Wharf Chop House. I had thought that my English was quite good but I soon found I was wrong. I also found it quite hard being a young girl in a kitchen environment – I don’t like to use the girl excse but you do have to be a bit tougher.
After two years as chef de partie I moved over to Waterstones Piccadilly, which is run by Searcys. It was nice joining Searcys back then, as it was a nice small privately owned company. I found it a bit different running a restaurant within a bookshop, but I learned a lot here, like how to run a smaller kitchen and how the bar and events operations work. By the time I left I was head chef.
Searcy’s were opening a bar in the Docklands, the 1802 Bar, so I went over to open that as head chef. I was pretty confident but it was a challenge cos I never opened something from scratch. Great fun you have to get everything from equipment plates menus from scratch and then see how much the bar changes from the moment it opens.
Four years after I first moved to England I was asked to head up the Portrait Restaurant here at the National Portrait Gallery. I felt it was time for me to have a new challenge and it’s a beautiful restaurant in an amazing building, so of course I jumped at the chance. I’ve been here five years now.
My greatest achievement
I’m really proud that I moved to London at a young age and set up a life for myself here. I love living and working in London. I can’t pinpoint one particular accomplishment that I’m most proud about; everything I’ve achieved since moving here has been incredible.
I love everything about it, the restaurant, the building, its great views. You can see Nelsons column and Big Ben from up here - it really captures London for me.
Running a restaurant inside a gallery is challenging. You have to look at who your clientele is and what they want. We have so many regulars that come just for us but of course we also have many gallery visitors, so if anyone walks in and sees something they like on our menu then we feel like we’ve done a good job.
London’s restaurant scene
London is amazing. There are so many restaurants, and there’s always a new one opening. Sometimes it’s a bit hard keeping up with the industry but on the plus side you have so much inspiration around you.
My future plans
In five years I see myself working in another successful restaurant in London. I’d like to stay with Searcy’s as I’m very happy with them, so hopefully there will be another restaurant around the corner. But everyone needs a challenge.
Ultimately I’d like to open my own place, if that’s in London I don’t know, maybe elsewhere in England. I’ve done a bit of travelling since I’ve been here, seeing the countryside, and there’s so much to offer here. I’ve seen too many places that I would like to open a restaurant.
Searcy's Portrait Restaurant at The National Portrait Gallery has now extended its service hours to open on Saturday evenings for the first time.