The Eighty Six List pop-up restaurant’s first guest chef answers our questions
Throughout June, Eighty Six List, a hospitality network founded in 2015 by Natalia Ribbe-Szrok, is curating a month-long series of pop-up restaurants at 1 Cathedral Street, featuring some of the UK’s most exciting chefs. From 1st-3rd June, the guest chef will be Maxine Thompson. She talks to us about chef trousers, memorable meals and her love of the Japanese and Italian cuisines.
How did you come to be a chef?
I have always loved cooking. My family loves food, it’s how we come together. Mum taught us to cook and let us run riot in the kitchen from a young age. I ran my first kitchen when I was 17, which was just a little cafe I worked at over the summer. I moved to Bristol when I turned 18 and got a job as a chef at a Mexican restaurant. I had no experience of cooking Mexican food—or in a restaurant for that matter! I think the chefs just liked the idea of having an 18-year-old girl bumbling around in the kitchen more than anything.
What’s your earliest food memory?
I’m a twin, and one day we were playing outside on the balcony and we decided to make pancakes. We went into the pantry and just pulled everything down, smashing the eggs, spilling flour everywhere! We just ended up rolling around in it on the floor. She and I got into a lot of trouble. My sister still lives in London and we still eat together a couple of nights a week.
Where did you train?
My sister and I did a food blog—about 10 years ago, so before everyone had one I guess—and we got approached to write a cookbook off the back of it. At this point I had moved to New York to chase my dream of being a fashion designer, and had a job working in fashion but was still cooking privately on the side. When we got the book deal, we decided one of us should probably be a trained chef, to give the book more credibility!
I put my hand up and went to train at The French Culinary Institute in New York for six months, which was so much fun. It was great to go back to school and learn how to do things, why we do things, and get kicked out of class for wearing red lipstick. I still had some private clients in New York and also worked periodically for a restaurant called Blanca, which had a 25-course tasting menu. It was a very good learning experience.
Who or what’s had the biggest influence on your cooking style?
When I left New York and moved back to Australia, I began working in a little place in Tasmania. It was the same sort of thing: quite small, with a 10-course tasting menu that changed every day. The restaurant had a zero-waste philosophy and we only used produce from Tasmania, which completely changed everything I knew about cooking.
It also taught me to think on the spot. Sometimes if you had a vegan in, you’d have to come up with a 10-course vegan menu using whatever the hell you had in the fridge, so that completely changed how I like to cook now. I love going into the fridge or pantry and just creating something, rather than going to the shops and buying something specifically.
What are you doing now?
I still have some private clients that I cook for, and I run a company called Polka Pants, which makes tailored chef trousers for women. Chefs these days are interacting more with the customers, running plates of food out, and I could never find trousers that I liked wearing—that were comfortable and cool—so I started making my own. It’s been really well received. And my dad is really happy because I’m actually using my degree!
But I love cooking and I never want to stop doing it. I would like to do more residencies and pop-ups, which I think are a great opportunity to do a bit of travelling and be creative.
What can we expect when you come to 1 Cathedral Street?
My sister lives in Tokyo, so I’ve spent a lot of time travelling to Japan and my mum absolutely adored Italian food, so I have grown up eating and cooking Italian dishes. Both cuisines have influenced my menu—it kind of fuses the two. They are both about very clean, simple dishes—there’s never more than a few elements to a dish, which is why they work well together.
One of the snacks is a grilled radish with shiso butter and prawn floss. The second one is like a sesame cracker with nduja and melon jelly, then I’m doing tempura bitter Italian greens, which will change depending on what looks good in the Market that day. We’ll also have some Cannon and Cannon charcuterie and I am planning to get my meat from the Market, too.
A lady called Natalia is doing my drinks pairings, which will be wines from central and eastern Europe. We had a tasting on Monday at 11am—a nice way to kick off a week. We drink a lot of wine together! Which I think counts as work.
What’s your go-to place to eat in London?
I think for pasta, at the moment Padella is the one. The dishes are really delicious and a reasonable price. Everyone is raving about it. It’s really fun to sit there and interact with the chefs, watching them make the pasta. Clove Club is also amazing; Koya is great for Japanese; Kiln in Soho is delicious—again they cook everything in front of you. Then I always want to go to wine and cheese places. My favourite is called P Franco on Lower Clapton Road, which rotates its chef every few months. It’s amazing, and they have just beautiful wine.
Any particularly memorable meals out?
There are too many! One that really stands out was with a friend in New York. It was a restaurant that I think has now closed, called Charisse—again, Italian. It was one I had really wanted to go to for ages. My friend came to stay with me and as a thank you, she took me out eating and drinking. We had this ricotta gnocchi which when you put it in your mouth just completely melted. We still talk about it, even though it was about five years ago.
What’s the best thing about being a chef?
Being creative, and also as a private chef I get to go away for a few weeks every summer to nice locations and cook in people’s country houses which is always incredible. I get to see different parts of the world. Half the fun is going to markets, trying new food—half the time I think, I have no idea what I’m ordering but I’ll figure out what to do with it when I get home!