How does it feel to finally have you own place?
As a young chef I’d set out to have my own restaurant and I didn’t feel like I was a real chef until I had done so - my career wasn’t complete until now. I was very sad to leave Le Gavroche. It was the end of an era.
Had you always intended to open it with your husband?
Yes. I’d wanted my own place before I met David but once we became a unit we always planned to do something together.
Working and living together must mean you see each other all of the time?
It’s actually the opposite. David does the school run in the morning and I get to the restaurant before him. When he comes in he calls a front of house meeting and then it’s into service. After lunch I’m either straight into dinner prep or racing off to get an hour with our daughter [10 year-old Anais] before coming back for evening service at 6pm. I try to get home before David, usually by 1am, and he closes up. I wait up for him and we have half an hour together before bed. Then it’s groundhog day - up at 6am and back to work to do it all again.
That sounds like a tough juggling act
It’s the hardest thing we’ve done as a family, but it’s for our future and for Anais and I hope in time she will grow to understand that. And she absolutely loves coming in and being involved. Once the restaurant finds its feet I’ll be able to get away from the kitchen and spend more time with her - but that won’t be for a while yet.
What’s the hardest thing about running your own restaurant?
It’s getting used to being the one responsible for everything from the KPs to the front of house. When I worked at Le Gavroche it was someone else’s responsibility, but here it’s ours. The buck stops with us.
Have you had many early problems?
The dishwasher flooded in the middle of service on a busy Saturday night, which is never great. And we’re already a couple of chefs down for personal and family issues, which is a shame. We’re also losing a lot of weight running up and down the stairs to get to the cold store.
Has finding staff been an issue?
It has not been easy to find chefs. It’s easy to find bodies, but I don’t want bodies. I want quality. We have two and a half chefs in pastry at the moment - one’s a student who works a couple of evenings - three on meat and fish and three on starters. We’re a six-day operation so that doesn’t give us a lot of leeway.
Describe the food at Mere
I have a French cooking background so of course it’s going to be influenced by that, but it’s also based on what I like to cook and my favourite ingredients. The food draws on my time living in New Zealand and Samoa, too.
How often will the menu change?
The à la carte and tasting menus change seasonally but the lunch menu changes weekly. It’s fun, although I’m kicking myself for that now. The new week comes by very quickly.
You worked for Le Gavroche for over a decade (check). What’s the biggest learning you have taken from it?
I learnt from Michel (Roux Jr, chef-patron) that if there’s a problem you just deal with it as quickly as possible instead of letting it drag on. He taught me that there’s always a solution to a problem, you sometimes just need to dig deep to find it.