This week, I’d love to introduce you to Claire and Charlotte Chapuis from the Enrica Rocca Cookery School. (You can read my review of their Venetian cookery class here). Here, the inspirational sisters tell us what led them to take on the London outpost of the business from their mother, Enrica Rocca, and what they love about a career in the cookery business.
Tell us about yourselves….
Claire: We grew up in Cape Town, South Africa while our mother ran her eponymous Enrica Rocca Italian restaurant and have lived in London since 2002. We grew up surrounded by food and would hang out in our mother’s restaurant in our pyjamas where we would run around waitressing. When we got tired we would steal everyone’s cushions from their chairs and make a bed in a corner of the kitchen until someone carried us home to bed. We moved to London to attend a boarding school just outside of the city and at the age of 18 Charlotte moved to Lausanne, Switzerland where she went to the école hôtelière de Lausanne while Claire took time out to travel. In 2014, we both returned to London, and re-opened our mum’s cooking school here.
Who inspired you to get into the food industry and why?
Charlotte: Our Mum has definitely been the biggest food inspiration for both of us. We grew up in kitchens around the world with her, joining in on her passion. Her curiosity and knowledge of food is what has inspired us the most though. It’s not only the cooking that has played such an important role in our lives, but also the warm and sociable Italian atmosphere that she creates whenever she gathers people together and cooks for them. This is something we strive to recreate in all of our classes, inspiring us to keep cooking every day.
What’s the philosophy of the Enrica Rocca cookery school?
Claire: We aim to give people a different approach to cooking where people don’t have to feel intimidated cooking and can develop the confidence in a kitchen that allows for creativity. We want to change our guests’ approach to eating and this begins with grocery shopping. Instead of going to the market with a recipe in mind, we take guests there to see what’s available and in season. From there, we develop recipes that combine the freshest ingredients.
What kind of experience can guests expect from the cookery class?
Charlotte: Guests can expect to enjoy a warm, sociable environment where they feel comfortable to cook and be creative. We don’t cook with recipes, and nothing is measured out. The idea is to show people that adding an extra pinch of this or that won’t ruin your dishes. If you have some leftover herbs or bits and pieces in your fridge, why not try adding it and seeing what happens? We want to bring back the pleasure in cooking and show people that it’s not a chore!
What’s your typical day like?
Charlotte: When we don’t have classes we often have caterings so we’ll start our day with a trip to the market and local shops to stock up on ingredients that we need. This often follows with an argument because Claire wants to buy everything in sight! Then it’s usually a mix of gym, admin, emails and cooking. We often have people over for dinner so more cooking tends to follow. On days when we don’t have caterings we like to go to various food fairs around London and often visit small producers around the UK to learn about new products.
Where are your favourite places to eat and drink in London?
Claire: We are very much Notting Hill girls simply because like everyone else in London, we don’t like to venture too far from home. One of our favourite bars at the moment is Lisa’s on Portobello, which is a small Swedish place with live music on Friday’s and Saturdays and a very warm atmosphere. When it comes to food we can’t really recommend many Italian restaurants because nothing ever compares to our mum’s food and what we get in Italy so we rarely eat Italian out. But we currently love The Shed in Notting Hill which has great English food, Goode and Wright for a cosy brunch, Boom Burger for the best burgers, Taqueria for good Mexican and Ember Yard in Soho for Spanish.
What are your favourite things about your job?
Claire: The people and the food. We never wake up before a cooking class dreading the day ahead. We have such kind clients and guests and we always have a lot of fun in our classes. And working with food is great. Everyday we are learning about new ingredients and creating new recipes and it’s great to be able to share this with others.
What are your biggest challenges in your job?
Charlotte: Not becoming obese (laughs). No, it’s everything that comes with running your own business. Learning about food and doing the classes is the easy part because we love it. What’s hard is the marketing and accounting and keeping up with admin tasks. London is such a tough market and everything changes so fast, we just try and keep up with that.
What advice would you offer someone who is looking to run their own cookery school?
Charlotte: Learn as much as you can about food and teach the things that you are passionate about. Don’t get stuck into big sponsorships where you are using ingredients that you don’t believe in and teach your clients simple but delicious recipes that they will feel comfortable recreating.
Who are your biggest inspirations?
Charlotte: I know it’s cheesy but it has to be our mum. She was a single mum when she started the business in South Africa yet she managed to achieve so much. She is really passionate about what she does and it’s incredible talking to her about food because you can name any ingredients and she can tell you where it comes from and what it’s used for. Every time we see her she’s teaching us new recipes and showing us how to use different ingredients. She’s like our personal food encyclopedia.
Claire: I’m currently reading a very old cook book called Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well by Pellegrino Artusi, which is a great book because it’s a collection of traditional Italian recipes made the real way before processed food took over. These are the chefs that inspire us, the ones who cook traditional, wholesome foods with little fuss, just great ingredients.
What’s your plan for the future of the Enrica Rocca cooking school?
Claire: We would love to open more branches around the world but it’s tough to find people who you can trust to run them and who will use the same quality of ingredients that we do. Teaching people about real food is very important to us and we don’t want to grow too fast and lose that. We would also love to have our own deli in London within the next few years where we could sell great products from small producers and offer a few great dishes every day.