A Friday Chat With Senior Sous Chef At The Gherkin, Luliana Ispas12 November 2021
This week, we sit down with Luliana Ispas, who has worked across the Searcys portfolio since 2017. After the pandemic, Luliana took on a new challenge in joining the Gherkin’s kitchen team as Senior Sous Chef, heading up the events side of the kitchen operation and working with the team to re-launch The Gherkin’s exciting range of events. From weddings to corporate dinners, Luliana’s passion for the kitchen translates into everything she does.
Hi Luliana, tell us about yourself and how you started out?
I have always had a passion for food and discovering new foods and recipes. I started working for an events company back home in Romania, prepping all the basic items, then they moved me to the main kitchen to prepare the main dishes. I then moved to work in a traditional Romanian restaurant, working there for two years. I learned a lot about combining flavours and pastry dishes, and it was great preparation for my work here with Searcys.
And how about your career in London?
I started at Searcy’s in 2017 as a freelancer, and after 3 months, I became a permanent member of the Searcy’s team at the Barbican. After the lockdown, I joined the Gherkin, running the events side of the kitchen operation. This has been a great challenge as I continue to grow as a Chef.
What’s something your colleagues might be surprised to know about you?
My passion for cooking is never-ending, and they might not know that I also love to cook even on my days off. My son loves to eat classic Romanian recipes, so mum is always cooking!
Who is your culinary inspiration – a chef or cuisine?
I love Chef Oli Harding in Canada. I love the way he uses seasonal ingredients and their naturally great flavours to enhance his dishes. His food is not fussy but it is beautifully presented.
The best meal ever… where did you have it?
That’s simply impossible to say! I love to eat out, but I love a home-cooked meal with great company even more. One of my favourite meals to cook at home is a good pasta Bolognese.
What is your favourite ingredient to cook with?
I love garlic! I love it for its strong smell and the pungent flavour that brings to the dish.
A dream dish for your restaurant would be…
I enjoy fish the most. Something with halibut or red snapper would be my inspiration for a dream restaurant dish. I love to mix fish and meat, so perhaps halibut with pork lardo and braised cabbage. I find fish so elegant to cook with and present. I love delicate sauces which are rich in flavour.
Champagne or wine? Which do you prefer with your meal?
Wine, and specifically a great glass of rose.
Tell us your three favourite things about the Searcys venue you work at?
Well, the view is breathtaking across the whole of London. The food concept we serve grows and with time, and we get better and better which I love to see. And most importantly, the team that supports me as we grow together.
What is your favourite dish to prepare at your venue?
I love the slow-cooked beef and ale pie we serve in the restaurant at The Gherkin. It has an amazing combination of flavours, and the presentation is simple and clean.
What is your favourite meal of the day and why?
I don’t really eat breakfast, so dinner is my main event. I love pork neck and homemade fries. In Romania we make garlic water, which is blended garlic cloves, salt and water we use this to dip or chips in… it’s amazing.
What about the customers? What is the most popular menu at your venue and why?
Post-pandemic it is great to see people returning to our venue, and our events are really taking off again. It’s lovely to have weddings back especially. People love our canapes and bowl food – the feedback is always really good.
What has been your most unusual customer request?
Nothing is unusual for us anymore at the Gherkin! We serve so many different requests from guests from all over the world.
What are you working on at the moment?
We are really excited about the Christmas season this year as we didn’t have one last year, so it’s going to be bigger and better than ever. We are preparing to launch our Christmas events package, which I’m really looking forward to too.
As Searcys is preparing to celebrate its 175th Birthday, what are two or three words that describe Searcys for you?
My two words would be Exhilarating and Challenging. I have had some fantastic opportunities and been part of some great events. Every day brings something new and unexpected, keeping things exciting.
And finally, what is the advice you’d give someone wishing to become a chef?
The advice I’d give is simple: “Work hard, stay positive and believe in yourself!”