Laura Karall – Starfish and Coffee

Name: Laura Karall

Occupation: Head chef at Starfish and Coffee

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

I’d worked for 15 years in Italian hospitality and three more in England. I started as a kitchen assistant. It was just a summertime job but I liked it. The year after, working as a Chef de Partie, I fell in love with Italian cuisine, with seafood and fresh pasta. I worked in different places, and in every place, I learnt something new.

At Fantini club in Cervia, working as a senior sous under Debora Fantini, I learned about molecular cuisine and different cooking techniques. And about making fresh pasta. At the Waldorf Hotel, a 5 star luxury hotel with a fine dining restaurant, I worked as sous chef to Ignazio Brancato. I came to understand all aspects of the sous-vide technique. I then worked as head chef at an organic coffee shop where we prepared macrobiotic meals. Through this I gained deep knowledge of Japanese cuisine and how to create Japanese and Italian fusion.

From 2018-19, I was an executive chef of a fine dining restaurant called M.E. Beach where we catered some events too; weddings, private birthday parties and dinner shows. I moved to Brighton in 2019 and, after a short period of time, I started working at Riddle and Finns in the Lanes. It was a great experience to learn more about French-based cuisine and English hospitality.

In 2021 I had an opportunity to change my lifestyle by working only morning shifts at Starfish and Coffee. I still work there and Tony, the owner, has given me the opportunity to organise a monthly supper club which I set up with my friend, chef Mattia D’Aurea. Our idea is to create an experience that makes fine dining more sociable and still has the warmth and homeliness of a great supper club. We serve up a seasonally-changing seven course tasting menu.

Describe your job in three words:

Creativity, curiosity, fun.

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

Never stop learning, stay curious and don’t lose your passion.

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

I actually have two pieces of advice:

  1. Be curious and ask questions. It’s important to study and never stop learning. I have had opportunities to learn from great people but 50% of my education comes from my personal studies and wanting to deepen my own knowledge. Having a deep understanding of cooking techniques like sous-vide, the chemistry of food, smoking, pickling or marinating, the chemistry of food pairing, spice science, fermentation, antique cooking techniques and different types of cuisines, gives you all the tools to be more creative and confident.
  2. It’s a tough job, the pressure is high, the hours are endless. The fatigue sometimes can seem infinite. So when the pressure goes up, breathe and don’t lose control. And when you finish your shift, leave everything behind. Don’t carry your stress with you. find a way to release the pressure and don’t bring it home.

Favourite aspect of the job?

Creativity, that there’s always something new to learn, to try, to experiment.

The toughest aspect of your job?

The working hours, the stress level, the expectations and pressure – sometimes it’s all a bit much.

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

Now! Setting up L&M supper club with monthly events has been a really great experience. Making an Italian-Asian fusion fine dining style menu with seasonal and local ingredients requires a lot of preparation. It’s a small place with limited seats so we can concentrate on every aspect and detail to make sure everything is perfect.

Who have been your mentors?

Debora Fantini who was a member of the Italian National Chefs Team at the time I worked with her. She was preparing for the Bocuse d’Or (a world chef championship), and the world Chef Olympics. I learned a lot from her about molecular gastronomy and different cooking techniques.
Also, Ignazio Brancato who’s an ambassador chef of the olive oil company Olitalia. He taught me every aspect of sous-vide, marinating, pickling and the base of fermentation.

Who has inspired you along the way?

It’s probably going to be a very common answer but I’d have to say my Mum and her passion for cooking. Also, my girlfriend’s joy of eating inspires me every day. In hospitality it’s NOMA, Rene Redzepi and his team. I’ve been following them for years. I have always thought that they are pioneers and two steps ahead of where hospitality is in the rest of the world.

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