MEET THE WINNERS OF OUR MALDON MASTERCLASS COMPETITION – pt. 2.
Last week we took a dive into Megan and Jack’s stories, two of the six lucky winners of the Maldon Salt x Countertalk masterclass at London’s iconic Fortnum and Mason, hosted by Michelin chef Lisa Goodwin-Allen and our own Ravneet Gill. It was an incredible event – the room was full of foodies and chef friends held in rapt attention by the stories, the insights and the incredible technique and dishes being created – and none more rapt than the front row, filled with six up-and-coming chefs – the lucky winners of our competition. Here we are spotlighting Naimah and Gvida’s stories, to give a little insight into why we chose them from the deluge of applicants.
Naimah Sachak-Patwa is a Chef de Partie at Forza Win. Gvidas Piscikas is a Commis Chef at Malverley’s Farm and Dining.
NAIMAH: I always loved food and cooking and thought about being a chef. After uni, where I studied French and Hispanic studies, I decided to give it a go! I didn’t have any professional kitchen experience but I sent my CV and cover letter to restaurants I liked in the local area. I had an interview at Taco Queen and got my first job – I didn’t do a trial shift, which isn’t the norm, but it worked out!
When I made the decision that I wanted to try cheffing I didn’t know where to begin. I discovered Countertalk in lockdown and it had the career advice and guidance to get me started. It’s a frank, informative and community based resource that really gets into the nitty gritty of the industry. I also found my next and current job via the platform too – Forza Win. Since Countertalk helped me start my journey, this feels like a cool moment!
GVIDAS: I honestly wish I had some sort of cool story with a background in food, but I just needed a job after finishing university, so I started kitchen portering for the Dusty Knuckle. After a few months, I was splitting my time between the kitchen and the sink and finding myself more and more drawn to the cooking side.
NAIMAH: For me the biggest challenges are learning how to manage stress in the kitchen, taking critical feedback and not fixating over mistakes. Also the long hours and maintaining focus and high standards when physically and mentally tired… But that’s always evened out by the biggest joys: learning new skills and recipes, and working at Forza with an amazing team of super talented chefs who are really supportive and want to share their knowledge. We have lots of fun and make delicious food together!
Recently I got a dish put on the menu for the first time: Pistachio and Chocolate Tart. A layer of white chocolate and pistachio, a layer of dark chocolate and then topped with crushed pistachios – and Maldon salt (very appropriately!).
Pastry is very difficult, but it is definitely the most rewarding when it goes right. Chocolate work is my favourite thing in the kitchen; I particularly love making the chocolate pots – it’s chocolate therapy! It’s a job where you have to give 100% of your attention so you can’t worry about or do other prep.
GVIDAS: The stress of a busy weekend service is always something that brings me immense anxiety and euphoria at the same time. Learning how to stay calm when things around you are going wrong, things that are out of your control, is something that has always been a challenge for me, but something that I find great joy in when I manage to overcome it! Having to manage your time effectively to be able to finish your prep list is something that I am still getting used to, time is such a rare commodity in a kitchen that it has to be appreciated and worked out to the second, and I have never worked in such a place, so it’s definitely something I struggle with but have gotten my head around a lot more.
But I love the controlled chaos of a kitchen. I feel like I produce my best work when I am in a demanding and pressurised environment, striving to push myself when I don’t have that much left to give, you really learn what kind of person you are.
NAIMAH: As well as all the women chefs who are smashing it in the industry and changing what it means to be a chef, my mum has been my biggest inspiration. She is an amazing home cook. She cooks a lot of different foods, but I really love the Indian home cooking that you won’t find in restaurants – Khichdi Kadhi with Padpad is one of my favourites when I go home. It wasn’t until my early 20s when I became really interested in Gujarati cooking and began to fully appreciate it.
But of course I find home cooking and restaurant cooking very different. At home I like to cook leisurely and take my time. In the kitchen it’s a totally different experience- quick, efficient and with a paying customer waiting! But no matter the context, home or restaurant, always made with love.
GVIDAS: I honestly did not have an interest in food before starting to work in a kitchen so I have a very limited list of culinary inspirations but if I had to pick one I would have to pick out my head chef Hugo Harrison. The food he comes up with on the fly that tastes amazing and wows customers when it arrives on their tables is just unbelievable. Being able to witness how he uses ingredients that I would not have even thought go into food is mind-blowing every time. Sorry to get too soppy Hugo but I’m running out of superlatives to describe his cooking.
I absolutely love making anything that reconnects me with Lithuania, where I spent the first 6 years of my life. Potato pancakes with sour cream bring me an immense sense of nostalgia and childish joy that a steak tartare would not be able to hold a candle to. The simplicity of flavour in a dish like that is something which is unapologetically Lithuanian and always used to be one of my favourites that my grandma or mum used to make so when I cook it for myself it’s not really the same but it will always hold an incredibly special place in my heart. It has even got an old house-mate to start liking creme fraiche, which is a necessity in any self-respecting Baltic person’s fridge and being able to leave a little bit of Lithuania in someone’s life with a dish as simple as that makes it a favourite in my heart to cook for myself and others.
NAIMAH: I really loved learning some new dishes, new tekkers, and of course eating them too. The salted sheep’s milk ice cream was my favourite! What stood out the most was the different curing techniques, and the power of salt. How versatile it is and how to choose the salt you want for your dish or culinary process. Oh, and the boiled-and-blitzed egg technique for mayo. I like how the techniques showcased were adaptive and could be applied in many ways beyond the dishes and ingredients at the masterclass.
GVIDAS: Being able to chat with two people who have achieved so much in such a fiercely competitive industry was just amazing. The way Lisa glided through two stunning and quite labour-intensive dishes, providing knowledge and charisma with every sentence just awed me. They both made it so entertaining to watch whilst still providing priceless nuggets of information.
During the main course, Lisa made a point of saying that every dish you make should have a little bit of yourself and your food preferences in it. That has stuck with me immensely. As someone who lacks confidence in their cooking, to hear from a chef like that that the food you make should taste great to you personally first and foremost, and not just be from a recipe, that has really changed the way I approach food.