“My baking started with the traditional cheesy story…” – Meet Cook And Baker

Supperclubs are ten-a-penny in London, so when something stands out, there’s good reason. Cook & Baker, a supper club focusing on food and travel, combines beautiful aesthetics, an ever-changing menu and some of the most stunning, un-sung locations in London and they’re only just getting started.

We sat down with Katie Brigstock and Safia Shakarchi, the best-friend duo behind the concept, to find out more about their top foodie travel tips, what they want from C&B and the inspiration behind their recipes.

So tell us more about yourselves and Cook And Baker – and which one’s which? 

K – “So, I’m Cook.”

S – “And I’m Baker. We were both studying Spanish at University – me with film and Katie with politics – but actually only met when we were on our year abroad in Madrid. After that, we spent the rest of the year either eating our way through the city or doing little trips together. When we finally finished uni we decided to travel properly and went on this long trip together to Indonesia and Australia and that was it. We always knew we both wanted to work in food but it was out there that we had this idea of doing something together.”

K – “That’s the reason we wanted to do the supper clubs based around our trips. The first one was based on the very first trip we did together to Marrakesh and the second one is based on Ibiza.”

So what were you doing before C&B?

K – “So throughout University, I would come down to London and stay in as many family friend’s or friends of friend’s flats to work as a recipe tester and food styling assistant on shoots with Delicious and other food magazines. Then when we got back from our travels, I was set on going to Leiths. I’d always wanted to go before I went to University but changed my mind at the last minute. I thought, if I still want to go to Leiths at the end of my four years, then I’d go. So I did and after that, I started doing stints in restaurants and more recently helped out with other supper clubs. Actually, we would both help out with Kino Vino and I worked a little with Jackson and Levine until finally, we thought this is the time to do it ourselves.”

S – “I went to Cordon Bleu just to do the initial certificate and get my foot in with some professional training but what I really love about patisserie and baking is teaching myself and learning by working in bakeries and kitchens.”

So how is it working with your best friend?
S –  “After we went travelling and spent day-in, day-out together – we had our worst moments and our best moments over those four months – I think that was the test to see whether we could deal with each other in any situation. In the end, I think we both felt quite confident that we could.”

K – “I think we realised that we’re both on the same wavelength, too. We’d be in these big meetings where people would ask a question to Saf and she would answer and say the exact thing that I would have said.’

cook and baker

What do you love about your job?
K- “That we get to meet so many amazingly interesting, super-nice people. It was always really important for us to be able to do something where we could meet loads of other young creatives, like the people from our launch. For example, GraceMcCarthy who did all of our plates, she’s now become a really good friend of ours.”

K – “I think why I love cheffing and the satisfaction of cooking for people so much, is because you get to see the results so quickly. It’s not like a job where you could be working on something for months and then you send it off and never really get to see the results. I get to cook for my friends or other people and you’ll sit down and someone might say ‘that was delicious’ and you think – great. I’m one of those people who can’t really sit still so cooking is also my way of trying to relax a bit more. Well, apart from maybe when I was at Leiths and being asked to cook a soufflé in four minutes or something *laughs* but most of the time I feel it really relaxing.”

What have been the highlights?
S – “The response from people. It’s been amazing to be getting emails saying that people actually love what we do. Plus the support from people we’ve helped in the past actually.”

Who inspired the way that you cook?
S – “My baking started with the traditional cheesy story of me baking Iraqui biscuits with my Grandma when I was younger because my mum does not like to bake or cook – it obviously skipped a generation. I’ve been thinking about it a lot because I don’t know where I fit in between British culture and Arabic cultures but I do know that food is the one thing I never question about that culture.”

K – “So the same as Saf, my Mum absolutely detests cooking; as long as her children had meat and veg and were healthy, then she was happy. I used to watch a lot of cookery programmes when I was younger and also my Grandmother was a really good cook. As soon as I got to that age where I could invite friends home I would have way too many people round to dinner –  it would turn into a dinner for 18 people at 16 years old, or a Christmas party making roast dinner for 25 people but I loved it and I think that’s where I initially got the buzz to do the whole cheffing thing. I still love that buzz of producing food for people.”

So obviously when you’re self-employed everything rests on you, how do you stay motivated?
S – “So actually something that stuck in my mind from a Curious Pear talk we went to was that, when you’re in a partnership, it’s not just your business on the line, its someone else’s. You can’t just not do something because you can’t be bothered. You motivate each other because it’s something you have to do.”

K – “It’s just nice to have someone who backs you up. Also, you come up with so many more ideas and have more confidence to go for things because we bounce off each other. Plus I think we both realise we have different strengths as well; so when one of us might struggle with something or feel a bit uncomfortable, then the other one can pick up the ropes a little bit. It’s nice to feel like you have that kind of support from someone that you know so well.”

Where do you get the inspiration for your recipes?
S – “For the event themselves,  it’ll depend on the theme. The reason why we got on so well when we travelled was because we’re not your typical travellers. We stayed in hostels but rather than go and see the most amazing temples, which we probably should have done, we were at the most amazing cafes. So we kind of ate our way through our journey. There were certain restaurants and food that we came across and so when we plan our menus, it’ll be based on something we’ve eaten in that city.”

“For example in Marrakesh, there’s a restaurant called Nomad. We were only there for a weekend but we actually went twice because we liked it so much. So the menu for our event was inspired by the things we’d eaten there but also other dishes that we’d had around the city. Really it’s the food we’ve loved along the way and we’d like to share with our guests.”

cook and baker

Where were the standout places in your travels to eat?
K – “Oh that’s a big question…So Nomad is one of our favourite places ever, we’ve been back to Marrakesh since and went there straight away. We have our favourite places in Madrid but we have different places…”

S – “Mine is Dray Martina yours is Juana la Loca. Although yours is typical Spanish food – well, high-end, really good tapas – a lot of restaurants in Madrid do a lot of Spanish inspired food, which can be more European or a mix of things using Spanish flavours, which is more Dray Martina. There’s also Chin Chin in Australia, which is our all-time favourite restaurant in the world, without a shadow of a doubt. The peanut butter Massaman Curry, I still dream about that.”

K – “We went to an amazing restaurant in Bali which was called Locavore. It’s probably the one slightly smarter restaurant in Ubud but they just have the most amazing atmosphere and create really colourful, flavourful Indonesian food with a European influence. Bali, in general, the food is incredible.”

S – “Also apart from Chin Chin, Australians do brunch like no-one else in the world. There were three restaurants called The Kettle Black, Top Haddock and Higher Ground that were the most amazing all-day brunch places. One of them was in an old converted house with typical federation architecture; it’s really, really pretty. Then one of them was this massive warehouse they’d turned into a restaurant. Even other places in Melbourne like Lune, the croissant place -”

K – “We got up at I don’t know what time in the morning to go there because they sell out by about 10am. They do carrot cake stuffed croissants. They’re unreal.”

Best place for coffee?

S – “I’m a sucker for a Grind, I feel like they’re really mainstream now but they’re great. Plus they’re such good working spaces and you can always find one because they’re so dotted around now. I also used to go to this place called Fleet Street Press on my way to the library from university. It’s such a tiny little coffee shop on Fleet Street with a really cosy spot underground, so there’s nice too.

K – “See, now I like Brickwood.”

So where in London are your favourite eating spots? 

K – “Our list gets longer and longer. People keep telling us about places to go and we put them on our list and never make it but one of my favourites is The Dairy in Clapham, that’s just amazing. Also Carousel, they have such interesting chefs who come in to do the residencies.”

Favourite green space?
K – “I don’t know whether this counts but I love that part of Richmond Park that’s near Petersham Nurseries. I grew up in proper, proper countryside so I love it there because it feels like you’ve kind of escaped London. Also going back to Madrid, it’s such an amazing city but it only really has one big green space. When you come back to London, you realise how many little bits of green space there are without you even noticing.”

S – “Totally. Even in Central London, you’re always around green space. You don’t have to walk that far to find a tiny square like Hanover Square or a communal garden. I don’t think I’ve been anywhere that compares to London for green space.”

So what do you Khoollect?
S – “Plates. I actually have a plate wall in my room, where I try to get a plate from everywhere I travel and add it to the wall. I have Madrid, Paris, Marrakesh, The Cotswolds, basically everywhere but I forgot to get one in Australia. We’ve also realised we’ve become hoarders for props and ceramics.”

K – “My mum used to get really frustrated with me because I used to take up all of her cupboards with plates, all not matching – which she couldn’t understand. However, I’m a bit of a hoarder with candles. I actually do burn a lot of money.”

Do you have a favourite item?

S – “There’s a plate I got recently from a woman’s pottery studio under an arch in Richmond, which I use in all of my photos.  I love it because I bought it straight from her. I also just got a Grace McCarthy plate, which I’m so excited to use.”

What are your tips for a perfect supper club?
K – “Food-wise, the biggest thing is choosing something that’s not too complicated. As much as we love creating really amazing, complicated recipes and spending loads of time in the kitchen, the worst thing for a supper club is being so stressed beforehand that you’re not able to talk to any of your guests. So we’re really trying to make sure that we’ve picked things that are simple, seasonal and light with enough elements we can prep beforehand.”

S – “Think about the details and the little things. I guess with Cook & Baker, everything that food brings is what we try to bring to our supper clubs, too. So not just what’s on your plate but everything around it. The talking points, what the food is served on, the flowers, a really beautiful table setting – just making it a real evening out, not just a meal out.”

Do you have any advice for people who are on the verge of starting their own project but not quite ready?

K – “Do it, you never have anything to lose. I remember being at that stage when you’re worried about approaching people, thinking ‘what happens if they think I’m silly or why would they want me to help?’ Just have the confidence to email them and if they don’t email you back email them again. I mean, even when people contact us we’re so grateful and so flattered that people want to help us. ”

S  – “Something the Meringue Girls said when I was working with them was: ‘helping other people will never affect your own business negatively. If anything it’ll help improve it. You should always support everyone and grow together.’ That’s always stuck in my mind. So if people are scared of getting in touch – just do it.”

K – “We still haven’t figured out a plan but I think you just have to go for it!”

 

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