Rik Razza, 36, is head chef at contract caterer Halliday, which runs restaurants in more than 100 sites in the UK. He organises quarterly masterclasses, interpreting menus for staff from kitchen porters to managers.
I have always been an early person, so I’m normally up by 5.30am. This means that I will arrive at wherever I’m based that day by 6.30am. The coffee machine goes on and I’ll have a macchiato. I’m not a big breakfast person, but I might try out a croissant to check that it’s up to scratch.
On a masterclass day, the two chefs who are helping me arrive at about 7am. Then we go down to the kitchen and start practising the dishes that we’re going to do.
My job involves developing new recipes but also the ingredients we use within those dishes. For example, we’ve developed three or four ways of using belly of pork, to make it exciting. In the next masterclass, we’re going to do an Oriental spiced belly of pork.
This is the kind of thing we should be working on, making it more interesting for the customer and also for us in the kitchen.
You can have a good contract kitchen or a bad contract kitchen – it depends how much you put into it. We’re using the same produce, but it’s what we do with it, and the passion from our chefs. That’s why a masterclass is so important – we take different products and ask ‘How can we use them, how can we twist them around?’
At about midday I’ll break away and spend an hour or so talking to the suppliers about produce, about what worked and what didn’t. Some of them come along to the masterclass, which is a great chance for our staff to expand their knowledge of produce.
I tend to work through lunch – I like to taste what the guys are cooking. If I’m at a location, I will go around and make sure I taste everything, understand the thinking behind the menu and give my opinion. I don’t see it as an inspection, I just think there’s no point me standing there with a clipboard. It’s much better getting in the kitchen and showing them what I want. I have about 15 dishes for lunch – all mini-tasters, I have to say.
At 3.30pm we start the masterclass. We do five dishes and, with each dish, we’ll present one plated version – a complete meal, finished and garnished – and 20 portions. We have counter service in our restaurants, so it’s important for us to know how to put dishes together properly.
We’re trying to replicate what happens in restaurants within a contract environment – get food as freshly cooked as possible at the point of the customer picking it up. So we have chefs front of house who put a dish together in front of the customer and serve it up to them.
But if a customer wants to go away and pile on the chips, we can’t help that. While we’re trying to break through a canteen environment, we have to be aware that there is a certain market we still have to cater for.
The masterclass finishes at about 6.30pm. We break off and have a few glasses of wine with cheese and bread from our suppliers, and then at about 7.30pm everyone disperses. I get home about 8.30pm.
If the kids are up, I spend time with them before they go to bed. My wife’s a chef as well, so we take turns making dinner. I enjoy cooking at home – I pick up a lot of produce when I’m out to bring home and play around with, to take new ideas back to work.
I think sometimes there’s a blinkered view on contract catering from suppliers and the restaurant and hotel trade. It used to be beneath a lot of chefs – they wouldn’t dream of contract cheffing. But it has changed now – the food style’s changed, the quality of chef has changed. It’s a lot more attractive now.
Just a minute…
What do you most fear happening in your job? Walking into a site where there’s no love for what people are doing. If that ever happened, there would be a few slapped wrists – and maybe a trip to the walk-in fridge…
What would you say to Tony Blair? I’d target him on intensive farming, battery hens, and being able to support the countryside. British farming’s among the best in the world, and yet we end up buying mass-produced, bland rubbish.
What would your last supper be? Very good fresh pasta with top-quality fish – possibly some I had caught myself, asI love fly-fishing – cooked simply, with a refined sauce.
Imperial House, Oaklands Park, Fishponds Road, Wokingham RG41 2FD
Tel: 0118-989 0330
Web site: www.halliday.co.uk
Profile: Halliday is a leading contract caterer with clients ranging from the Department of Trade & Industry to pop music channel MTV.
interview by Fiona Macdonald