View from the stalls: Germana Forlenza

Categories: Behind the stalls

The manager of Gastronomica shares her thoughts on food and life at the Market

1—I knew while I was still at school that I wanted to work in restaurants and hotels. I started in the kitchen but soon realised that I wanted to move front of house because I liked dealing with people—that’s why I love this job so much.

2—I decided to come to London because of a missed opportunity. I had a chance to work in a hotel in northern Italy and went to the interview with a friend of mine. There was only one position and they gave it to my friend because he could speak better English. So I said, “Okay, I will go to London for three or four months to improve my English.” I never went back. I started at Borough Market in 2009.

3—Working here, you have the chance to talk with customers and build relationships with them. For example, an Australian regular was here earlier and he stayed for half an hour talking about his life, what he’s up to, it’s really nice. At Gastronomica, we have regular customers from many parts of the country, they know a lot about food and they like to try different things. The nice thing is every day we have something different to recommend for them.

4—I have learnt so much about food since working here. My boss is crazy about food. Earlier today he told me he had found another cheese in Italy—a kind of fontina—that “you must try!” “I cannot try it, I’m not there,” I told him. “I will send you a taste,” he replied.

5—It is really important for me to know our products. I need to know the seasons, how things should look and taste. Sometimes the transport might damage the product and I need to be able to spot when this happens, whether it has affected the look, flavour or texture. I need to know the shelf life and how to store things. I love this level of involvement. This is why I am still here after nine years.

6— I get asked a lot for cooking ideas by customers. For example, on a hot and very humid day, I definitely wouldn’t want to be in the kitchen for ages. I would go for something very fresh and easy: some burrata, some roast seasonal vegetables and nice bread. It might be a bit hot for charcuterie, but maybe some bresaola, which is made from beef. That would be delicious.

7—Winter is my favourite season in the Market. The best time for eating cheese is in the winter—and I absolutely love cheese! Once I start talking about cheese it is difficult to get me to stop. Winter is also much better for the charcuterie products like porchetta. I really like Christmas at Borough Market. There is a wonderful atmosphere with both the customers and traders and it is very busy, with people preparing for Christmas dinners and parties. We also sell a lot of food as presents.

8—One of the really nice things about working here is the relationships you build with other stallholders. The guys from Northfield Farm are good friends and they sell wonderful meat. The people at Ginger Pig, Brindisa, La Tua Pasta, Ted’s Veg and Paul Wheeler are just some of the friends we have made. We buy some products from Grovers, the wholesalers. Turnips, too—they are very good friends of my boss as well.

9—There is a real community with the traders. We all buy products from each other. When we have new products, we ask each other to come and try them. You discover so many new things this way. We usually meet other traders after work on Saturdays when we have a beer and we talk about the week.

10—It’s very hard to leave Borough Market because working here is unique and the people are so friendly. I have seen people leave for other jobs but many of them return. It’s completely different to anywhere else. Each morning I spend half an hour getting through the Market and into work. I drop by to say hello to my friends from other stalls. Every evening, I leave from the other side, because I need to say hello to the people working over there. It’s a kind of routine: if I don’t, people will wonder what’s happened.