Estate Sous Chef, Charlie runs The Flint Barns Dining Room on our Sussex Vineyard. Working closely with Head Chef Chris Bailey, Charlie has really helped to carve an identity for the Flint Barns which is now open all year round, offering seasonal dining experiences: from summer Vineyard picnics, to Harvest feasts, winter Sunday lunches and weekly evening meals from the Dining Room restaurant. A great knowledge of handling and respecting the raw ingredients means Charlie and his team passionately deliver produce-led, innovative dishes for our guests.
Words by Charlie
Monday is one of my days off, otherwise known as the hospitality weekend. Generally, this day includes some sort of fishing trip or kicking a football but I’m never too far away from a cook book and usually spend a few hours relaxing and flicking through, my girlfriend does a very good job of keeping my bookshelf topped up. The kitchen is always on my mind so you will often catch me stopping what I am doing to scribble down a new dish idea or method I want to try.
Tuesday is the big prep day at work. Everything is started from scratch on Tuesdays after being closed but it is one of my favourite days. The day usually starts by trying to hunt down my ingredients as the Estate is vast and we have a few different buildings. A lot of our ingredients come by courier service from local suppliers and those further afield around the British Isles so we can source the very best. For example, all our fish comes from Flying Fish in Cornwall who we think source the best fish a chef can get their hands on. Once everything is in order, I can start cooking. One of the jobs is making our panzanella salad made from juicy sweet plum tomatoes, rich olive oil and sourdough bread to soak up all the juices.
On Wednesdays we serve our picnics to guests and with a bit of luck the sun comes out. We usually have some Motown music playing and the atmosphere is nice and relaxed. But if you cut back into the kitchen, we will be preparing for our first dinner service of the week so there is plenty of running around. This week my jobs included filleting fish, making ice creams, sauces and more intricate garnishes like our sourdough crackers for our burrata dish, made using the trim of sourdough loaves from dinner bread service. We don’t like waste! I also play kitchen DJ so there is plenty of dance music to keep the pace up so all the work gets done and everyone is happy.
Thursday is paperwork day which may sound boring but once I have done rotas and ordering I will speak to suppliers, write draft menus, produce and test recipes and usually have a meeting with Chris to make sure things are ticking over nicely and guests are happy. In these meetings we often discuss and find solutions for the current challenges in hospitality like the lack of staff coming into the industry, rising food costs and ways we can keep our current staff happy and motivated.
Friday signals the beginning of the weekend and this is where we start to get really busy. It’s a day of head-down cooking getting everything ready for what can be more than 250 guests across the whole weekend who need to be served either breakfast, lunch or dinner.
The busiest day of the week is usually Saturday, which makes it the most exciting for me; I enjoy nothing more than the fast-paced buzz of a full dinner service as we work in unison to make sure every guest is served delicious food in good time. Everyone moves around the sections which are split into pass, sauce and larder. This week I was on sauce which is my favourite section. Busy services are hard and there is no room for error but the Flint Barns Dining Room has an open kitchen so seeing all the guests happy and enjoying their food is very satisfying.
Sundays are different depending on the time of year. In the summer I am lucky enough to have these off but once November comes, we start our Flint Barns Sunday Lunches so you will catch me up at sunrise cooking roast beef, potatoes in lots of dripping, vegetable wellingtons and fluffy Yorkshire puddings ready for our guests.. We also deep clean the kitchen on Sundays so every inch of the kitchen gets scrubbed back to perfection ready for the next week to begin when we return from our days off.