Tommaso Barera, manager of Conran Kitchen, on his relationship with food
Interview: Ellie Costigan
Images: James Critchlow
1. I come from a typical Italian family, always having huge dinners together. On Saturdays, my father and I would go to the market for ingredients and would cook for my mother. To be honest, I have this job because of my father—he loves food, he loves to eat. He travelled a lot and would always bring me back something to eat or recipe books. I should thank him, because he gave me this love for food.
2. We have some special suppliers who make sure our food is fresh every day: fresh pastries, cakes, sandwiches, salads. The supplier of one of my best-selling cakes only uses Sicilian products. We only deal with small suppliers—they take care of us, and we take care of them. And we work on the menu together.
3. The gluten-free quiche is one of our best sellers—in the past a customer has come in to place an order for 10 of them! They had tried it in the cafe and loved it.
4. I started here two Christmases ago. Before, I was running three restaurants, which was completely different—in a restaurant you are cooking, running a kitchen and a floor, it’s like another reality. But it is still crazy here, even with just one coffee shop. The menu isn’t huge, but we are always trying to make it the best possible, which isn’t easy.
5. Every corner of London is different. Marylebone is a very interesting area. It’s a big family, and people are very dedicated to it. It gives it a nice vibe.
6. We have a lot of regular customers. Sometimes they come in just to say hi and chat about the weather, which is lovely! You get to know people and when you do, you can take good care of them. That is what I wanted to bring here—that personal customer care.
7. When I change the menu, the most important thing for me is my customer feedback, but I want feedback from the staff too. For every new menu, I will do a tasting with the staff. It is a nice chance for us to get together.
8. I worked for a catering company in Venice. We did private parties and events for companies like Vanity Fair. Catering develops problem-solving skills. You have to think fast and find the best solution for the customer. They aren’t regulars, you can’t take care of them another time, you can only take care of them once, so you have to provide the best experience.
9. We are planning to have events here where a supplier shows customers how they make things—it is always nice to see how what you are eating is made and meet the person who made it. For me, as a customer, it makes me smile. I want to bring that smile to people.
10. I have a huge international market next to my place in south London that sells traditional Polish, Indian, Thai, and Italian food—a mix of everything. I use my neighbourhood for inspiration: it is full of cocktail bars and small restaurants, so it gives me a lot of ideas. That is what I spend my spare time doing—eating!
11. If the food is good but the atmosphere is not, you are not going to appreciate the food. You have to provide a good experience—that is what hospitality means. The Conran Kitchen provides that. It’s the best of both.