Leiths Diploma Graduates Lilli Taviner and Ellie Seaton both landed jobs on the pastry team at The River Café in London shortly after graduating in 2021. Here they tell us all about working in the legendary restaurant.
How did you end up at The River Café?
Lilli: Anna Higham, the executive pastry chef, advertised it on her Instagram (@anna.atthetable) and I saw it and immediately got very excited and applied.
Ellie: Anna posted that they were hiring so I posted her my CV and arranged a trial. I went in for a trial and got the job that day.
What does your job involve?
Lilli: We make all the desserts, so the tarts, the famous chocolate nemesis, pannacottas; obviously we churn ice creams and sorbets every day; we make the bread. I’ll do prep shifts, also shop shifts – the River Café online shop was started in lockdown – so there are a lot of other things which we sell through the shop. Working with all the fresh produce is incredible. Whenever we get a new fruit in, that’s always really exciting. Obviously we’re coming up to a really exciting time of year for that now.
Ellie: Within the dessert menu there’s such a wide range of different things. We’re using lots of different skills every day. I’m learning so much mainly because it’s my first restaurant job – what it’s like to be a chef, how a restaurant is run. It’s a big restaurant: a busy lunch is 180 covers.
Why did you want to work at The River Café?
Lilli: It’s probably one of the most famous restaurants in London. Who wouldn’t want to! The food is delicious. I love the style as well – uncomplicated, elegant, really championing seasonality and quality produce. We have the pick of the best of the best which is incredible. There’s just no compromise. It just feels like it was so ahead of its time championing those things and really standing for it. It also has a reputation for being a really great place to work. So many people who work there including the KPs have been there for years which is always a good sign. Also, it’s a female-led place, started by two women; one of the head chefs is a woman; and there are a lot of incredibly talented female chefs there. As a woman, that’s very appealing.
Ellie: I can’t really believe that I’m working at the River Café. It’s such an iconic restaurant and within the industry it’s so highly regarded. It’s a beautiful restaurant and the people that work there are so friendly, it’s a really nice environment. The dessert menu doesn’t change particularly often and there’s a reason for that; the desserts we do are so good that people come back time and time again and have the same thing. Every dessert is the best version of what it is. It’s not particularly complicated food; it’s just executed really well.
How has your Leiths Diploma training helped you?
Ellie: The foundation skills have been really useful. Things like making pastry, different types of pastry, having that foundational knowledge has helped massively in feeling confident. Kitchen awareness as well. At Leiths, it does feel like you’re in a proper kitchen. The tools we use, how to move around the kitchen, that really helped.
Lilli: I use my training all the time, such as making custards as we’re making ice creams daily and crème pat for tiramisú. Also the professional skills – your organisation, professionalism, time management.
What would be your advice for the next crop of graduates seeking restaurant jobs?
Lilli: Be prepared to work hard but know that there’s a big pay off. It’s really good fun and you meet some amazing people. I think attitude is probably one of the biggest things. You don’t know everything when you finish the Diploma and you’re going to be learning constantly so go in with the right attitude
Ellie: I think you should do lots of different stages if you have the time. Restaurants are generally really happy to have people come in. I also think Instagram is really key. I know people don’t always love Instagram but it actually serves our industry. There’s lots of jobs posted on there all the time and there are specific hospitality recruitment pages like Countertalk (@countertalk).
Can you share your tips for the perfect Chocolate Nemesis?
Lilli: Buy quality ingredients, especially the chocolate. We’re using 70% Original Beans and are playing around with it at the moment. Also gentle heat, gentle cooking.
Ellie: Quality chocolate, that’s the main thing. Also letting it sit. Ideally we let ours sit overnight before serving them. Don’t rush to eat it!
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