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Q&A: Jordan Frieda and Tim Siadatan

Categories: Features

Following the opening of their new Borough Market pasta restaurant, Padella, Tim Siadatan and Jordan Frieda talk to Market Life about tradition, nose to tail eating, and their struggle to create the perfect pici

Interview: Ellie Costigan
Images: Joseph Fox

You’ve both had interesting careers so far—how did your paths first cross?
Tim: I left school at 16 and got straight into cooking. I was lucky enough to get on to Jamie Oliver’s first group on the Fifteen Apprentice Programme, and that was the catalyst for transforming what was a hobby into a profession. After there I worked at St John, which to this day is where I really learned the most: the techniques, the ethos, the nose-to-tail side of things in particular.

I hadn’t been exposed to that before and I learnt how to really utilise an animal and make it taste amazing. They are superb chefs and I was young and inexperienced, so I really absorbed a lot from them.

Jordan: By the time we went into business together, we were already friends. Tim left St John to set up a farm with a restaurant with his former head chef from Fifteen—a brilliant but ultimately doomed idea. In the interim he worked in a restaurant nearby in Oxford and I asked to come up and work in the kitchen one day, just to see what I could do. I was working as a bookkeeper and studying for an accounting degree at the time.

A year later, a position came up in the restaurant and I spent a year working there as a commis. Tim trained me. It was there that we built a way of communicating. It all stems from that time in Oxford, really.

Jordan, you also worked at The River Café, and Tim, you worked at both St John and Moro. How have those renowned establishments influenced Trullo, your first restaurant, and now Padella?
Tim: Fergus Henderson and the team at St John do not play around with food. They only care that it tastes good. Even if it means a dish isn’t beautiful on the plate, the taste of it is always out of this world. Working there opened my eyes to that—that it isn’t all about the aesthetic; it’s about sourcing great ingredients and knowing how to cook them well.

Jordan: One of the things those places taught us that has proved absolutely golden is not to let food go out unless it’s perfect. We spent time around truly ground-breaking chefs and those incredibly high expectations have rubbed off on us.

You mentioned nose-to-tail eating, Tim—is that something you’ve carried over to Trullo and Padella?

Tim: For sure, yes. We nearly always have offal on the menu.

Jordan: Pasta is probably the greatest dish in the world—well we certainly think so!—but it’s a dish that came out of necessity, it came out of hunger. If you look at all the great pasta sauces, they make use of the stuff you have a lot of, the stuff no one else really wants, and it isn’t expensive. A prime example of that is the beef shin ragu we have on our menu. It’s a cut that’s often left over and you can make something from it that is just pure gold. It’s Tim’s most famous dish.

Tim and Jordan

What else can we expect to see on the menu at Padella?
Tim: We have six pastas, four antipasti and a couple of desserts. These are dishes that we have tried and tested for six years. They’re the humdingers, the greatest hits, based on what we’ve heard from customers at Trullo. We’re sticking with those for now.

Where do you source your ingredients?
Tim: We use British produce where we can. Of course we can’t get lemons and olives in England, we get them from the right places in Italy, but for example the smoked eel that we have on today is from the Lake District, our beef is from either Herefordshire or Scotland, and all of our fish comes from British waters.

Jordan: Humane treatment of animals is something that we both feel strongly about. We are rigorous in the questioning of our suppliers. That’s the real challenge of Padella: creating an affordable menu that’s accessible to most people, but doesn’t piggy back on the inhumane treatment of animals. A lot of fast food chains have a problem with that question, but it is possible to create affordable food that does not rely on the pricing that comes out of intensive farming techniques.

Often in London, quality food comes with a hefty price tag. How are you tackling that at Padella?
Jordan: If you’re selling fillet steak, it’s going to be a certain price. Pasta, like pizza, can be amazing, but the cost of the ingredients doesn’t have to be high. Secondly, you’ve got to have a place that can serve a decent amount of people—you need to have enough customers coming in and out.

But to be honest, with this style of food you don’t want to hang around for two and a half hours. Generally, people are coming in, eating, then going out, or they’re coming in for a quick bite before heading home, so it tends to work. But you have to have the right product.

Would you say your dishes are ‘authentically’ Italian?
Jordan: Some dishes are classics that we’ve played with—we have our own version of tagliarini with nettles for example, which a lot of people are doing— but dishes like the smoked eel, lemon, cream and parsley, that’s a dish that Tim thought up. What’s Italian is the approach; thinking, we have this great product

in the UK, how can I use that in a pasta? Historically, that’s what Italians have done: they use the best of what’s available.

Italians themselves can’t even seem to agree what’s ‘correct’...
Jordan: There is no such thing as ‘Italian food’ in the broad sense. We have had Italians come in and say “this isn’t an Italian restaurant” and we say, “what is a real Italian restaurant?” What they mean is, it’s not like the restaurant in their particular village.

Tim: One really good example is the pici that we do here [a long, hand-rolled pasta, like a thick spaghetti]. We went on a trip around Tuscany and probably tried it in eight different places: in the home of a local, in a fine dining restaurant, in a little trattoria.

It’s always the same ingredients, but done in a different way and each cook or chef was adamant that theirs was the exact way it should be done—anything else isn’t right. And you get that all over Italy. So what is the ‘right’ way?

Jordan: There have been rows. They say, “you cannot create this dish with this ingredient!” We have had an Italian tell us that our pici is wrong. We almost took it off the menu! The amount of passion is brilliant, but the great thing about being British is we’re open-minded.

By saying you can only make a dish a certain way in some ways is great, because you have that integrity, but Tim is a creative chef and he enjoys coming up with new things, he needs freedom. That’s been our real challenge: to define our points of integrity.

So what is the Padella ethos?
Jordan: Inspired by Italy, cooked in England. And doing what Italians have always done: wherever they lay their hat, they use the produce that surrounds them and then create something using experience and tradition.

The ‘theatre of food’ is a big thing at the moment; there’s been a real move towards open kitchens and being able to see your food being made. You’ve got bar seats overlooking the kitchen, and we’ve seen your chefs making pasta in the window—what was your thinking?

Jordan: It was partly because Padella is a really tight space and to be able to keep the menu at the price point we wanted, we needed to fit a certain number of chairs in here. Utilising bar space works well for that.

Tim: Equally, we wanted to show people our way of making pasta—fresh, and from scratch. We wanted that to be something people could see. It’s both practical and creative. It worked.

Jordan: Also, it’s sometimes quite nice to go somewhere to eat on your own but if you have to take up a table for two, you might think ah, I’ll just go and get a sandwich. Because this is a real working area, we thought it was a nice option to be able to sit at the bar.

We do see a lot of guys coming in on their lunch break, sitting down with a paper, having a plate of pasta and having a bit of time to themselves. It’s soul food, pasta. Sometimes you just need something to pep yourself back up—it’s the ultimate comfort food.