Flash-grilled: Katie Exton

By Joe Lutrario

- Last updated on GMT

Former River Café sommelier Katie Exton opened relaxed fine-dining restaurant Lorne with chef Peter Hall in London back in 2017

Related tags: Sommelier, Restaurant, London, Fine dining

Former River Café sommelier Katie Exton opened relaxed fine-dining restaurant Lorne with chef Peter Hall in London back in 2017.

What was your first job?
I worked as a cleaner at my secondary school after classes were over.

What is your guiltiest food pleasure?  
KFC- in particular the gravy. Not sure I even think it’s that guilty, but I definitely get some outraged looks when I start waxing lyrical about it.

What’s the best restaurant meal you’ve ever had?
First time I went to L’Arpège was a real revelation.  It was at a time when most high-end restaurants still really focused on the protein and starch of a dish and veg was an accompaniment. To have a lunch that was just endlessly course after course of deliciousness and was predominately vegetables really stuck with me and changed my perspective on what constituted a great meal.

What industry figure do you most admire, and why? 
Ruthie Rogers and Rose Gray. I absolutely love everything about the River Café, and what they created with that restaurant has shaped so many restaurants and restaurateurs all around the world. 

If you weren’t in restaurants, what would you do? 
Probably working in the wine trade, boring answer but probably most realistic. I did think about applying to be a supermarket food buyer briefly after university.

What is your biggest regret?
I think it’s important to not look back and have regrets. Be grateful for how the decisions you’ve made have led you to your current path and instead focus on how you want to shape your future.

Pet hate in the dining room?
Rudeness. Guests to staff, staff to staff, staff to guests- doesn’t matter who or why, it’s just not needed and doesn’t help anyone.

What’s the oddest thing a customer has said to you?
‘Stop pretending to be English, I can tell you’re Australian and putting on a fake accent.’

What’s the restaurant concept you wish you’d thought of?
Padella, it’s just fantastic and what’s better than fresh pasta that’s so affordable. I wish they had more than one, so you didn’t have to queue and I could go more often.

Describe your service style in three words
Thoughtful, intuitive, relaxed.

Most overrated food?
Asparagus, I’ve just never really got why people love the taste of it.

Restaurant dictator for a day – what would you ban?
Customers who no-show and I don’t want to ban that for a day, I want to ban that for forever! 

What’s the worst review you’ve ever had?
Tripadvisor can be pretty harsh. Once a customer called up over a year after dining at Chez Bruce to say they didn’t like the wine I had recommended them.

If you could serve anyone in the world who would you pick, and why?
Can’t pick one. Georgia O'Keeffe was an amazing woman, I’d love to serve her and ask her about her incredible life. Michelle Obama because basically she’s my modern day hero and I was obsessed with Fleabag, so I’d be uncontrollably excited if Phoebe Waller-Bridge came to Lorne- what an insanely talented woman.

What advice would you give someone starting out in the industry?
Eat anywhere and everywhere you can. My experience is that a member of staff who is informed and enthusiastic about the whole industry enjoys their job more and is therefore better at it. And be patient, you can’t rush experience and it’s an invaluable quality. 

What do you cook at home on your days off?
Simple food with nice ingredients. Ortiz anchovies are a highly used ingredient at home.

What’s your earliest food memory? 
Ice cream, it’s been a lifelong love affair. I grew up in Canada for first few years of my life and summers with ice cream is my earliest food memory that just makes me happy.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Don’t give up. The people who are often successful are simply the ones who didn’t give up.

Where do you go when you want to let your hair down?
Before being pregnant, I would have said after a few killer cocktails, highly likely to be spotted in Lucky Voice. These days it’s more likely to be Kiln, Gelupo and then bed. When I become a Mum, who knows! 

Tipple of choice?
White wine, which MUST be then followed by red wine. Life is not balanced if I have one without the other.

What would you choose to eat for your last meal?
Hate this question. I was lucky to work with Phil Howard at The Square and his langoustine starter with Parmesan gnocchi is truly the most delicious dish I ever remember eating and it’s not a menu anywhere right now, so I’d chose that followed by lots of ice cream and plates of jamon and Charcuterie from Ham and Cheese co. on the side.

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