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At the end of a long shift in the kitchen, do top chefs hit the town for dinner and drinks or head home for TV and toast? Chef Skye Gyngell, from London’s Spring restaurant, reveals how she unwinds when service is over for the night...
I peel away when the kitchen quietens down at about 9.30pm. I go down to the office, answer emails, and maybe taste a few things. Then I get changed and head home to Shepherd’s Bush [London] at about 10pm. The rest of the team tend to socialise and go out together – but they are young! The oldest person in the kitchen other than me is 29. By the time I get home it’s around 10.45pm. I’m feeling tired but wired, and I have to do something that helps me move from the busy day to going to sleep.
My after-work drink of choice is a ginger tea, which I follow with a bath. Then I get into bed and read. If I’m really shattered, I might watch something instead. The light goes out before 12.30am, which is too late – but I’m lucky, I sleep really well.
Sometimes I get home and realise I haven’t eaten anything all day. It’s interesting because one of the questions people ask is, ‘How can you be thin and work in a kitchen? I’d be huge if that was me!’ The truth is that while you taste everything in a kitchen, you only eat the tiniest amount. I also think that the smells suppress your appetite so it’s not until you leave that you realise you’re starving. I’ll often have two boiled eggs on rye bread when I get home. I find eggs so comforting. That’s what I look for – comfort. I don’t enjoy ‘fast food’.
My mornings are my own. My kids have grown up, so I get up at about 7.30am, go downstairs and get a hot water and lemon, watch the news and speak to friends on the phone. I don’t hurry in the mornings.
I don’t have much free time, so I have a real desire not to see too many people outside of work. I just want to get home and have quiet time – that’s how I recharge. I’ll go for a long walk on a Sunday and visit a farmers’ market or exhibition. I do go to Pilates three times a week, which is really good for me. I stand up all day and it gives me a really good stretch.
A great meal is a combination of delicious food and warm service. The restaurant should uplift you when you walk in. But it depends on a great team – I could no more run the restaurant on my own than fly to the moon.
We tend to leap from crisis to crisis in the restaurant industry. One of the challenges of working in a kitchen is that you have a very fluctuating workforce – if you have two days in a row when everyone’s at work, that’s a bonus. I have an amazing team of 57 people, but the buck stops with me. It’s my name above the door. That can feel like quite a responsibility.
The truth is, I wouldn’t change anything. Life as a chef isn’t quite normal, so chefs do stick together. You run on a different schedule from your friends – but my work is my life. I’m really happy. I do something on my own terms. I can beat my own drum and I do what I love. I think that’s pretty good.