July 2012

Head chef at Polpetto, the young and very talented Florence Knight talks us through everything from bread hedgehogs to seasonally inspired dishes served on mismatched, traditional plates.

We caught Florence in a rare period of rest, while Polpetto re-locates from Soho’s French House. But don’t worry, if you come away from the interview feeling hungry (as we did), not one to rest on her laurels, Florence will be cooking with Rowley Leigh on 1st August at Le Café Anglais for his Cooking with Rowley series. And with the new Polpetto opening soon, one way or the other, we cannot wait to be back at one of Florence's dinner tables.

Can you remember the first recipe you learnt as a child?Bread Hedgehogs (mini loaves of bread in the shape of a hedgehog with currants for eyes and spikes made with scissors).

What do you like to cook for your family and friends? And what do they like to cook for you?My family love my brownies. Mum makes me one of my favourites - her macaroni cheese with sweet corn.

What do like to do when you’re not in the kitchen? I just got Guinevere, a new puppy who is keeping me very busy. But I love to eat out as much as possible or spend a Saturday pottering around Maltby Street Market or Lillie Road antiques.

Having studied at LCF, are you still tied up in the fashion world at all?I recently took part in a panel discussion at "Fash on Food" at the London College of Fashion about the parellels between fashion and food – Sheila Dillon of Radio 4’s Food Programme was chairing - and I enjoy adapting my clothes to my own taste. I still knit and sew bits and pieces here and there.

Other than food, what inspires your cooking?My surroundings, my mood - but above all, the seasons.

Are you involved in sourcing the ingredients? Is there anything that’s particularly hard to get your hands on?Yes – it’s really important to have a good relationship with my suppliers because I know that’s the way to get the best from them. I've found it really quite hard to get hold of Goat Ricotta recently. Rare Italian produce is hard to get in small amounts.

As a 25 year old woman in a male-dominated industry, how do find commanding a kitchen?I've hand-picked and trained my team and they all want to do the best they can do. This makes a big difference.

What differentiates your kitchen at Polpetto (both at the French House and regarding your plans for the new location) from those of other chefs? The French House kitchen where Polpetto was located had windows and looked out onto Dean Street. It was also quite unusual to have a kitchen above the dining room. I'll miss it! But I’m excited about the new site.

What are the key factors that you consider in terms of the presentation of your food? What about the plates and cutlery? Do you think it changes the customer’s experience of the food?I like to plate loosely and naturally. I don't like to over-work the food. I like to use mismatched old, traditional plates that have character but don't take away anything from the food. I think this makes the look a bit more individual and perhaps a little more personal.

Other than Polpetto, what’s the best setting to eat your food in?At home with my family around our big table, with the dogs trying to nibble our toes.

What’s your secret ingredient?I always like to have an unwaxed lemon handy.

-To book for Florence’s dinner on the 1st AugustClick here: Le Cafe AnglaisOr call 020 7221 1415