This April (2013) iconic ‘80s hangout, Barbarella, in Fulham, London, launched an ‘80s-inspired menu, priced at ‘80s prices. The head chef behind the concept is Lauren Clement Delbos, who previously worked at Ottolenghi. I caught up with Delbos to find out about her unusual journey to becoming a chef, why keeping a happy kitchen is important and who she most admires in the food industry. Don’t forget to check out the rest of An Interview With Chef series in the Chef’s Corner…
Did you always want to be a chef?
Not really. I didn’t really plan to be. I was travelling with my boyfriend and despite being together for years, after two weeks away we broke up. I found myself in India and penniless. The only way I could stay, and I really wanted to because I loved it so much, was to get a job in an Indian restaurant teaching them to cook English food, while they taught me how to cook Indian food. That way I got my board for free. After that a hotel owner in Goa asked if I’d move to his hotel for a while. Then I moved on to Thailand and did the same thing. When I came back from travelling I loved cooking and that’s when I realised it was what I wanted to do.
How did you break into the food industry here?
Initially I got a job at Clifton Kitchen which is a lovely place. It was run by a couple who were really kind to me. They let me do whatever I wanted to do whenever I wanted to do it. Then I moved on to Ottolenghi. After that I founded my own catering company, Sugar and Spice, in 2007.
Now you’ve joined Barbarella as head chef, how did that come about?
Sugar and Spice was really successful. I did all of the cakes for coffee shops and restaurants in North London. We did a lot of weddings and birthday parties, corporate functions and events. Then I started working in Barcelona regularly but I sold the company just before I became pregnant. I haven’t worked since then until the offer of Barbarella came up. I’ve known Toby [co-owner of Barbarella] for years. We’d worked on quite a few projects over the years. He asked me to come on board as soon as my maternity leave was over and I jumped at the chance. It’s a really exciting opportunity.
You launched a new menu in April, can you tell us a bit about it?
For the launch we created an ‘80s-inspired menu. We did three starters, mains and desserts from the original Barbarella menu and added three of our own into the mix. Everything was priced as it would have been in the 1980s. We wanted to get people trying and tasting things. The menu launched on 25th April and ran for four weeks, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. The menu is predominantly Italian but because of my travels I like to add a few twists in there by using spices, different flavour combinations etc. The meats are excellent. My sous chef, Miguel, is Portuguese and meat is so much a part of their culture he really knows his stuff. We have a lot of sharing plates, cicchetti, which is a very famous southern Italian thing, you have lots of plates on the table, and everyone eats together and talks about food.
What’s your kitchen ethos?
I like to have a happy team. In my kitchen I always enforce a please and thank you system. The kitchen is a hugely stressful environment but here people genuinely look forward to coming to work. You can taste that when you eat the food. You don’t want people cooking if they are stressed, unhappy or hacked off. If people enjoy what they’re doing and if they are inspired to add their own touch to something, beautiful things can happen.
Do you have one ultimate career highlight?
Launching my own business and selling it was quite a major thing for me but to be honest, I’ve enjoyed every different part of my career for completely different reasons. I feel more at home here than I have anywhere else which is quite a good feeling.
Are there any chefs you admire?
I think what Bill Granger has done is fantastic. I love Nigel Slater. Everything he does is so in season, one-pot, no fuss. I hate pretentious food. Everything here is big portions, not huge, but a full meal. Anyone else who cooks like that gets bonus points in my book.
What’s your most memorable meal of all time?
This is going to sound quite wacky but in a Malaysia there’s a creature in the sea, I don’t know quite what, but when you put your feet in the sea, they move and suddenly glow. It really looks like there’s stars under the water. I was sat at a table with my feet in the water and they got a fish from the sea, marinated it and grilled it. I have no idea what it was because he didn’t speak a word of English. It was by far the most romantic and beautiful setting to eat food.
Other than relaunching Barbarella, do you have any other plans for this year?
Tony Gilbert, one of the owners of Barbarella, is setting up a project in Ibiza at the end of the summer and he wants me to be involved. That should be interesting. Otherwise, it’s just all work and no play!
Barbarella 428 Fulham Road, London SW6 1DU
Tel: 020 7920 6430