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Alumni Stories: Katja Tausig

What took you to Leiths?

“I went to Leiths because of my stepsister Eleanor Maidment who at the time was food editor of Waitrose Food which I thought looked like a very cool job. She said, “If you want to do something like this, you’ve got to go to Leiths first.”

How did you enjoy your Leiths experience?

“Michael was my teacher. He was amazing and I learned loads. I really liked how we’d do lesson plans, figuring out how to cook everything in a structured way so that it all made sense. It taught me a lot of organisational skills and was a really good grounding. When I left Leiths, the idea that I could go and work at Waitrose Food seemed bonkers to me. I didn’t feel that confident so I decided to go into kitchens. I realised that I had this really great framework and was able to learn very quickly. In kitchens, there are a million shortcuts and you need to learn why things work or don’t work and why the shortcut is a shortcut. I felt like Leiths gave me that base knowledge.”

Where did you work?

“The first place I worked was Trullo [an Italian restaurant in Highbury]. I was placed there by Leiths List. Whilst I was at Leiths, I was a coatcheck girl at Quo Vadis, where I met Jon Spiteri who became a mentor to me. He introduced me to Koya and I went and did a stage there. It was completely different from anything I knew. Shuko [Oda] asked me to come and work for them, so off I went and worked at a Japanese restaurant for four years. It was not an intended path but it was a really lovely place to work.”

Where did you go from there?

“During my time at Koya, I did some private cheffing and cooking on boats which was an amazing way to travel and cook and work abroad. Then I went to Japan to do a residency, came back, and it was lockdown, which gave me time to really think about where I wanted to work and who I wanted to learn from. I very quickly became head chef at Koya so hadn’t really been learning from anyone for a while, so I went to work at 40 Maltby Street which I’d identified as a restaurant where there was a chef owner who was there every day. I worked there for a year, then my friend Rav called me up to ask if I wanted to speak to Yotam about working in the Test Kitchen. I’d been wanting a nine to five, and had been thinking I’d like to work in a test kitchen, so hilariously I wound up doing what I had initially intended which was to a be a recipe developer.”

What does your role involve?

“I am a recipe developer and I develop recipes for editorial. The role involves social media, recipe development and quality control. We come up with recipes that we send in to the delis and restaurants and then if they’re having issues with them we’ll help them figure out why. It’s both a creative and a practical role. At the moment, I work on the New York Times and the Guardian columns. There are others who work on the books.

The day begins with a catch up about what everybody’s working on. We might brainstorm column ideas and content for the columns, then we’ll go off and do some cooking. We tend to work individually on different recipes which we will then all taste throughout the day. Everyone will present and taste together. You then keep refining the dishes until you’re happy with them then write them up and edit them. There is a lot of collaborative brainstorming about different ideas and creative ideas for the company. My colleagues are incredible. I am just in awe of everybody that I work with. I feel so lucky to be able to taste dishes with them and get their feedback. Probably the best part of the job is to cook a dish that’s not quite right and then somebody makes a suggestion and it goes in a completely different direction than you expected.”

What would your advice be to somebody who would like a job like yours?

“I would say Leiths is an amazing foundation for anything like that; I would always say try and get some experience in restaurants. Knowing how to work and move confidently around a kitchen is a great skill to have. It used to be that everyone there came up through the company but as they grow they want people who have different backgrounds and can bring different things to the table. I had quite a broad knowledge having worked in lots of different cuisines which I think is what made me attractive to them.”

You also have some other personal projects on the go. Can you tell us about them?

“I’ve been cooking every Thursday at Wilton Way Deli in Hackney, just a very cheap menu, £25 a head, for 25 covers. I do the prep at home, and it just feels so nice to cook slowly with nobody else there. It’s very therapeutic. I do miss restaurants but I don’t miss the hours or the stress. I’ve worked at an Italian restaurant – I’m not Italian; I’ve worked at a Japanese restaurant – I’m not Japanese; I’ve worked at a modern British restaurant, but I don’t really see myself as that English even though I am as my family’s eastern European. I have always asked myself ‘What is my food?’ so this for me feels like a nice outlet to just cook what I feel like cooking and invite a few people to share it with me.”

And you also do beekeeping?

“I started beekeeping when I was still in restaurants because I was feeling a little bit like a restaurant robot and quite understimulated. I inherited some beekeeping equipment from a relative so did a beekeeping course at North London Beekeepers and it just kind of snowballed from there. I now have eight hives, which I keep in Lewes at Namayasai Farm, which supplied vegetables to me when I was at Koya. It is a really lovely relationship and really lovely full circle for me.”

You can follow Katja on Instagram at @katjatausig