Words by Danny McCubbin
2012 was a milestone for Jamie, as Fifteen London, his famous flagship restaurant, turned 10. Now, in its 13th year, the restaurant continues to give unemployed youth in the UK the opportunity to become top-class working chefs.
Fifteen is and has always been at the heart of all of the great work that Jamie has done over the years, teaching people about good food and where it comes from. A great deal of magic goes on behind the scenes to make this happen, both in and outside the restaurant itself, and it’s this magic that makes Fifteen so special.
Every ingredient at Fifteen is sourced responsibly and with a great deal of care and attention, and many of the suppliers have been providing for the restaurant from the day the doors opened.
Head Chef Robbin Holmgren routinely orders a whole cow, and teaches the apprentices how to cook with every part – nothing is wasted at Fifteen. Marcelo the baker bakes fresh bread every day, including his speciality white sourdough made with yoghurt, and his baking skills are passed onto the apprentices, many of whom are inspired to follow a career in baking once they graduate.
Robbin maintains a very British overtone to the food that he serves at Fifteen. Recently, the team created a spectacular menu of classic Sunday roasts with a twist, with a whole rotisserie chicken for two (including all the trimmings and a very special bread sauce) being the highlight dish.
A particularly exciting element of the restaurant is the fact that a lot of the produce served is grown at the garden of Jamie’s family home in Essex. Head Chef Robbin says: “It’s incredible to have such amazing produce right on your doorstep. We work very closely with Peter, the head gardener, to grow specific food for the menu. This is definitely ‘farm to fork’ and you can’t get more seasonal than that.”To tie it all together, over the gleaming brass countertop of Fifteen’s beautiful bar are served some of the best wines in London, as well as incredible seasonal cocktails. The playful Rye Me a River, which is made from cherry liqueur and rye whisky infused with chamomile tea and lemon juice, is a firm favourite.
Food knowledge is the foundation of what the apprentices learn when they come to Fifteen. Not only do they study in a classroom to gain a hospitality qualification, but they also gain first hand knowledge about food from the chefs.
The Apprentice Programme has an outstanding success rate. Every year, 18 new apprentices are recruited, with 70% graduating and 80% remaining in the hospitality industry. The team behind Fifteen also make a positive impact on society by running the Fifteen Outreach Programme, through which in 2014 the team gave presentations and short ‘taster courses’ to over 1,000 people in the community who were interested in a career in hospitality.
All the staff at Fifteen contribute to the welfare and wellbeing of the apprentices, who are very well looked after, as they are both paid a wage and guaranteed a job at the end of their training, as well as having access to professionals who can help with everyday life’s challenges. This means that job satisfaction at Fifteen is very high, with all employees taking enormous pride in their work.
Fifteen also has a very active and thriving alumni community, with many of the graduates coming back to the restaurant for events, or to mentor current apprentices. The door is always open, and many of the graduates often return for career advice or for assistance if they are looking for work. Many of the graduates have gone on to enjoy great success, such as Anna Jones, who graduated with the second intake of apprentices. After working at top-class restaurants, both in the UK and Italy, she worked as one of Jamie’s food stylists, and, after seven years, went on to become a freelance food stylist and food writer. Earlier this year Anna wrote her first cookbook, A Modern Way to Eat, which has been both a commercial and critical success.
Photography by David Munns from the June 2015 issue of Jamie magazine, in which Fifteen’s head chef Robbin Holmgren discusses the approach that he takes in teaching the current apprentices. The article features a hand-picked selection of Robbin’s recipes, and also interviews with some of the current apprentices.