Photography by Chris Osburn
As a child, Flori Johnson learned firsthand about “old fashioned” cooking on her family's farm in Zimbabwe. Add to her upbringing Flori's first professional gig - working under Heston Blumenthal at his famed Fat Duck restaurant - and you've got a nice blend of tradition and innovation. These days Flori is executive chef at upscale grocery shop and kitchen, Melrose and Morgan. With its “range of seasonal foods, hand-prepared with premium ingredients”, Flori reckons she's found a job where the “enjoyment of cooking” is high. Here's more about Flori's love of professional kitchen life:
How long have you been in London and how long with Melrose and Morgan?
I've been in the UK for six years. I moved here to work at the Fat Duck. After two years there, I worked for Admiral Crichton catering. I've been with Melrose and Morgan for over two years now.
What's your background and what led you to pursue a career as a chef?
I grew up in Zimbabwe. My family was very interested in food, and I learned early in my upbringing that food didn't just appear. There were no ready-meals. I was taught a lot about cooking from my mum and others in my family.
From Zimbabwe, I moved to Cape Town where I studied in a two and half year course at a wine estate. From there I came to England to work at the Fat Duck. It's taken eight or nine years to make it to my position as an executive chef. I might have been able to achieve similar things sooner if I'd stayed in South Africa, but I thought that in the long run the opportunity to work under Heston Blumenthal and to develop as a chef in London would be more beneficial.
How does your working at Melrose and Morgan differ from being in an ordinary restaurant kitchen?
Since we're not a service-based restaurant, there's more time for cooking great food and much more creative freedom.
Things are more fluid. There's no strict/stuck menu; we're able to focus on the produce and seasonality.
We highlight small artisan producers and are always aware of where our products and produce come from. We strive to keep the air miles down and to offer free range and organic products. We're mainly British with our dishes but recognize continental influence. The owners of Melrose and Morgan are keen to keep things seasonal, British and well sourced. If there were ever something on our menu that was out of season, we'd be in trouble for it!
Who are your customers? What's popular?
We have a very steady lunch crowd with lots of local shop holders and office people. We don't really encourage eat-in purchases, and being in such a wealthy residential area, much of what we do is provide takeaway components for lunch and dinner to the Primrose Hill/Hampstead set.
Our sausage rolls and our quiches are very popular. And I'd say, being next to Primrose Hill and Regents Park our “Cheeky” and “Posh” picnics are our biggest selling points.
Christmas is the biggest time of year for us. We're already marinating fruits in brandy for our puddings.
Melrose and Morgan's second shop just opened in Hampstead. Was like having your workload double?
Our second shop opened in June. With two shops, more of my time is spent dealing with management, logistics and staffing concerns. We went from ten employees to having a staff of 22 people. But I'm still in the kitchen four out of five days. My cooking days are way nicer than the office days.
Your thoughts on London?
On the food front, it's dynamic and diverse. Work-wise, fiercely competitive. London is an inspiring place to be in this industry. The downside is that so much of everything is hurried. A large percentage of people here are unaware of what they're eating or just lack general food knowledge.
Care to share any of your personal favourites of shopping and dining in London?
Honestly, when I need something nice, I usually just get it from here. But up in Hampstead there's a butcher, Meat Naturally, who supplies our shops. It's a great place for quality meat. As for my weekly shopping, I'm Waitrose through and through. I occasionally visit Borough Market. I don't eat out a huge amount. At the end of the day, I usually just have a salad with great seasonal produce.
Melrose and Morgan is located at 42 Gloucester Avenue (NW1 8JD) and Oriel Hall, Oriel Place (NW3 1QN). Visit them online at www.melroseandmorgan.com.