Award winning food: in the kitchen at BAFTA

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 12th May 2013
With the TV BAFTA awards taking place this evening, The Staff Canteen spoke to the head chef at BAFTA headquarters, 195 Piccadilly. Anton Manganaro is a 41-year-old chef from London who has cooked for some of the most famous celebrities in the world as well as having worked with top chefs like David Nicholls, Gunther Schlender, Paul Gayler, Gary Rhodes and Paul Merrett. It’s obviously a busy time for BAFTA; what does your position involve on a day to day basis? We have a restaurant upstairs for the members’ club serving modern British brasserie-style food with about 80 covers for lunch and dinner, so it’s running that, as well as writing the menus, sourcing the ingredients and training the staff. We have several function rooms in the building so we do a lot of functions that can see up to 300 guests, most coming from the media and advertising industries. We also host screenings in our theatre so if a new movie comes out, we create a bespoke menu to match the theme And how often do you have functions? Because of our heritage, we are a very busy venue. One week we might have 200 for a film preview and dinner in the evening while preparing for 300 guests for a  canapé reception  the day after.  Then we might have an awards dinner for 200, and then a wedding for 180 people at the weekend that will take over the entire building. We do have fixed seasonal menus for the functions but we are also flexible, so for example if we have an Indian wedding, we can tailor the menu and theming to match. That sounds like a lot of stuff going on! How many people are in your brigade? I’m incredibly lucky that I have a very strong and reliable team of 14 regular staff. I also have part-time pool of chefs that I can pull in when I need to. What’s the most number of covers you’ve ever done? For a sit down dinner we’ve done about 280, with 230 downstairs for a function in the David Lean Room and 50 upstairs in the member’s restaurant. We also did a brilliant event for the Bourne Identity film for 300 people, which was partly held  in the garden of St James’s Church next door. We created a massive barbecue with whole roasted pigs, lamb hot pot in mess tins, cocktails served in tin cups; wild boar sausages, hickory chicken skewers; as if the food was being eaten outside round a campfire. Our waiters were dressed as bodyguards in snow suits – there was fake snow sprayed everywhere and there were stuntmen abseiling down from trees. When  guests came indoors to The David Lean Room they were served laboratory  themed  food inspired by the film, such as flavoured granitas in lab beakers  flowing with dry ice; flavoured dessert jellies that looked like experiments growing in petri dishes; test tube milkshakes in various flavours.  It was great fun. We also have similar film themed events coming up with Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Chocolat the movie, so it’s very interesting. How do you develop menus for the more out-there events like the Bourne Identity one? For every event, we meet the client and talk about what they want. After that, I go back and work on it with my team in the kitchen to  see how we can put their ideas into practice. Then we have a tasting with the client to ensure they are happy with it. The whole process will take a couple of months. You also advise on the menu for the BAFTA film awards; what is your input into that? Nigel Boschetti, Executive Chef at Grosvenor House Hotel sends his suggested menu. We then go to Grosvenor House for the tasting and to discuss the dishes with him  - what we like, what we don’t like and what goes with what. I work with Claire Brown, BAFTA Head of Production and her team. Nigel then has to execute the chosen menu for two and a half thousand people, so you have to make sure that yes it looks and tastes good but also that it can be served at the same time to everyone. You must have cooked for some pretty famous people in your time? Yes that’s true. We cook for all the award winners so that’s quite a lot of famous people. People come in and out all the time for meetings for BAFTA. We don’t just have famous celebrities but also people just starting out in the industry as well. It’s a relaxed setting for people to meet with colleagues in the industry. Do you ever have any ‘divas’ with odd or difficult requests? Not really, we get some really famous people in and they’re all really friendly, really polite. There’s no kittens in the rider, no requests for blue M&Ms or anything like that. Sometimes you get the odd request but it’s nothing more than dietary requirements, nothing too strange or diva-like at all. In terms of your career, you’ve worked with some amazing chefs? What did you learn from them? All of the chefs I’ve worked with have been very helpful throughout my career. David Nicholls really pushed me on and inspired me from a young age. Gunther Schlender was a great chef who really understood ingredients and taught me how to properly cook. Paul Gayler was a great chef before his time. At the time he was cooking at Inigo Jones it was an inspiring place to go and eat. Gary Rhodes was a great chef; he was right there side by side everyday chopping and cooking away. Anton Mosimann was a fantastic man. I did events with him and a bit of travelling. Paul Merrett took me to the Interlude to be his Sous Chef where we gained our star and after a brief break I went back to help him at the Greenhouse where we got another star. We’re still close friends and work on projects from time-to-time. I’d say he’s probably my longest lasting influence! Your job at BAFTA sounds incredibly exciting but also incredibly busy, how do you fit it all in? I’m not just a chef; it’s all-encompassing - from developing menus, to buying ingredients, to showing the trainee staff how to cook it and serve the food. I also help with service and get involved because we always have some talented trainees in the kitchen and it’s important for them to watch someone with experience.  I’m at home at twelve o’clock at night researching recipes; It’s non-stop, but I love it and I love working at BAFTA because it’s something different; it’s not just a club, and it’s challenging from day to day. I’ve been a chef since the age of 18 and I still love it. I’m on the stove every day, cooking with the staff and making sure the standard is always the same because that’s what’s important to me. There’s always something new to learn.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 12th May 2013

Award winning food: in the kitchen at BAFTA