Amanda Powley

Amanda Jane Powley – Terre A Terre

Name: Amanda Jane Powley.

Occupation: Founder chef co-owner Terre à Terre.

Please can you share a whistle-stop tour of your career?

My mum was the most amazing intrepid cook with absolutely no fear of experimenting (that’s a whole story in itself) and as a family we ate out often, particularly when my parents lived in France. They knew how to live, party, and eat. So very early on I developed a love and respect of hospitality, good food and a desire to know how to cook. As a teenager back in the UK, school and I never hit it off, to say the least, and that relationship ended abruptly. 

I found a job in a local hotel which produced the most amazing food. The hotel had a magical dining room, a dance floor and a cocktail lounge, beautiful kitchens, and a very patient Swiss Head chef at the helm. He employed me … to wash up. I would work all the hours under the sun and dreamt of getting into that main kitchen with all those proper chefs, with starched whites with their names on and tall hats, all with a unique part to play in the mechanics of this well-oiled food opera, where there was a regimented rhythm and a deeply professional environment run on trust and respect. I would have done anything to become part of it, in the thick of it, the real action. I wanted my own starched whites with my name on and a big hat. All I wanted was to be good enough to be part of their team. Eventually I was allowed into the kitchen, but at night. I did the night prep shifts to make the bread, base sauces, pastry prep and butchering all ready for the next day. 

It was sold to me as a special privilege, but now I know now that I was given the jobs and hours that nobody else wanted to do, and that they didn’t want me in their team. I thought all the heckling, jokes and getting locked in cold stores, whipped with ice towels and filleting 10 kg of whitebait in a dark shed, was all friendly banter. I’m older and wiser now, and realise it wasn’t. I learnt how to pack a punch and give as good as I got. For some unfathomable reason I was still buzzing with naive excitement, inspired, and totally hooked on the adrenaline pumping around that beautiful kitchen. It was like clockwork… magic. I never got the hat or the whites there, but I did leave skilled-up with a searing fury that turned into the motivation that propelled me to prove myself.  

I knew I wanted to cook professionally and was keen to progress within the profession but without any qualifications and being a woman, despite having the skill, in those days (80’s) it was hard even to get to the interview stage. So I did the Cordon Bleu training followed by an apprenticeship. Things changed and life opened up for me. I cooked in several places in London then took my skills abroad and worked in France, Canada, America, and Brazil. It was absolutely the best life. I began to question how and where we got meat. I had had serious doubts about the meat industry and how we treat livestock, and I had already become a vegetarian. I stopped cooking meat and in theory my career was ‘ON HOLD’ shall we say. My ideas were not terribly well received by my employers. I don’t blame them really, I was a bit of a punt.  

I moved to Brighton and worked for a couple who showed me real kindness and restored my faith in humanity and hospitality. So with renewed vigour, and even more determination to try to change people’s minds about a diet without meat,  I hired a stall in the old market with a like minded friend. We  made all of the dishes and delicacies on the fourth floor of my flat –  not for the faint hearted, but just bonkers and brilliant. We then just lived the market life until we bought an old burger van and converted it into ‘The wild oat wagon’ a culinary cacophony of meat free delights on wheels, a regular feature at Glastonbury and at all of the festivals and markets that would have us. It was extremely hard graft and a very exciting voyage of discovery, but all good things came to an end. With a mortgage to pay I needed something that wasn’t on wheels and that gave me a payslip.

I saw an advert for a chef wanted in a restaurant called Food for Friends, and this is where I met Phil Taylor, a kindred spirit with the same ideas about shaking up the prevailing beliefs about the limits of meat free cooking. Together we hatched a plan to start cooking the type of vegetarian food we wanted to eat ourselves. We found a small run-down property in Pool Valley, did it up with the help of our wonderful friends and family, and opened up Terre à Terre

Describe your job in three words

White knuckle ride…particularly these days!

What has been your philosophy that has seen the successful development of your career? 

I’m an inveterate optimist so I like to think, it’s either good or it’s going to be!

Words of encouragement for women who aspire to reach a senior position in hospitality?

Be kind. 

Don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice. If those above you are good leaders, they’ll want to share what they’ve learned on their way up.

Trust your gut instincts. I’ve often been told I can’t do something, and it’s made me stick to my guns even more, and do it!

And always do your homework so you’re fully prepared for anything.

What excites you most about your role? 

There are so many great things about my job…

Making people happy by feeding them well.

Changing people’s preconceptions about the limits of meat free cooking.

Meeting all the incredible, inspiring individuals who’ve worked with us along the way.

Is there a moment in your career that stands out above the rest? 

The opening of our first restaurant almost 30 years ago. Just a 40 cover BYO but we took Brighton by storm. We met the best people and had so much fun.

What are you most proud of?

We’re proud of so much…our lasting relationships with our customers whose babies are now grown up and coming in with their own babies!

Our relationships with so many of our staff over the years… such a privilege to have grown the restaurant with their help.

And so proud to still be surviving in the business after so long 30 years at the end of this year.

My dad saying that I had done well on the opening night.

What has been your biggest challenge?

Our greatest challenge has been negotiating the repercussions of both Brexit and Covid. It’s not been an easy few years at all, but we’re still here.

Who has inspired you along the way?

Inspirational chefs from way back are Roger Vergé, Charlie Trotter and Elizabeth David. The most life changing book I ever read was Diet for A Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé which changed everything for me, but I’ve also been inspired by so many of our own chefs and FOH team who have brought their brilliance and creativity to Terre à Terre. 

Do you have a go to or failsafe plate of comfort food?

That’s easy… A cuppa Chef’s tea (tepid and strong) bread and soup. Always!

Favourite restaurant in Brighton.

Fourth and Church, Hove, owned by Paul Morgan and Sam Pryor. Paul was our Head Chef and General manager for years and his sheer brilliance is evident in this flawlessly executed labour of love. Sam worked with us too, he is a culinary wizard

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