This month our Spotlight feature focuses on chef, cookery school owner and mother of four, Flora Gordon Clark. We find out what makes her tick and how she manages it all…
Tell us a bit about your foodie background
It has been a life long journey and I have been surrounded by truly great cooks for its entirety. My mum, my dad, my maternal and paternal grannies were, and continue to be, hugely inspirational. It was a weekend in Venice though at the age of 12 with my grandpa that cemented my LOVE of food – I had NEVER tasted pizza like it and Cipriani’s open lobster ravioli really blew my taste buds away.
I also worked at Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant in Cornwall when I was 17/18 but I wasn’t trained then and mainly worked as a waitress, although i couldn’t help myself from loitering in the kitchen at every possible moment! Prawns with mayo and chips was my favourite – those amazing pomme frites were nowhere else in the South West at that stage and nor was homemade mayo for that matter!
Although I didn’t actually follow my passion immediately. I enjoyed working in London selling furniture for David Linley for almost a decade and during that time I followed the love of my life, and my husband to this day, to New York.
How did you finally get into the food industry?
I finally managed to train as a chef in the Big Apple but not until I was 27. It was Melbourne next where I worked in a restaurant under a forward-thinking owner and an incredibly calm head chef and found it hugely exhilarating. I would have done it forever but it’s tricky with a small baby! Then we headed to Hong Kong and our family continued to expand. Back to England next but it wasn’t until the youngest of our four boys was at school full time when an encounter with a group of teenagers presented me with my chance. They were the children of my great friends and were leaving home and had NO idea how to cook so I simply said I would happily teach them….. and this is what I continue to do!
Why did you choose to specialise in cookery courses?
I love the young and the old and everyone in between so filling my kitchen with people is a joy. But probably more importantly I love to share my knowledge, short cuts, tricks and tips. I have never been the kind of person who leaves out the all-important ingredient or technique when sharing a recipe! I want everyone to be able to make truly delicious dishes.
Who are your clients?
Everyone! From as young as nine to those who have retired. I am happy to teach anyone.
Which recipe have you taught the most?!
This is a tricky one. It seems that my USP is creating bespoke courses and as everyone’s taste buds are different I am always creating new menus and recipes. This means no one thing seems to be on repeat although learning to hold a knife and chopping an onion is definitely the skill I teach with most regularity!
What’s your failsafe meal to keep the whole family happy?
Oh how I wish there was one dish that they all loved equally but there isn’t! This weekend is Louis’s birthday and he loves to eat chicken rice, a dish I have adapted from our time in Asia – it is a simple roasted chicken served with rice but the ‘gravy’ is full of Asian flavours. He was my Hong Kong baby so perhaps this is the reason why.
How did you find setting up your own business?
I haven’t really looked back to the actual setting up of Flora’s Kitchen until now. I have to admit that it was all consuming for a while. I was writing up recipes that were in my head, designing the website, structuring the courses, not to mention putting together all the necessary policies and procedures needed to run a school. I remember one weekend in August when I worked through the night not once but twice to get things done in time to join my family on the Isle of Wight. I really pushed myself but the reward for all that hard work was a business that seemed to take off quite quickly.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
I always like to challenge myself and set myself goals but to be honest it’s probably balancing being a wife and a mum of four boys with a career I love. I adore my family and love spending time with them.
So, how do you juggle running a business with being a parent?
With a great deal of organisational skills not to mention internal debate! I am lucky as my husband and family are HUGELY supportive and encouraging. I get my boys involved when I can and there are a couple of other amazing people who help me out too. I couldn’t do it without any of them.
What element of the business are you most proud of?
My students. It’s an honour to be given the opportunity to teach them.
What advice do you have for others wanting to get into this industry?
Make sure you are truly passionate about food and flavours and the people who will be your customers. It’s an industry that has small margins and takes massive amounts of time and uses up huge energy resources. But it is also a very rewarding industry full of incredible people.
Do you have a motto for life?
I try to live every day to the full and with no regrets.
Find some of Flora’s delicious recipes in our Recipes section here
For more about Flora and her cookery school courses visit her website here