A Borough life: work

Categories: Reflections and opinions

Chef, food writer and Borough Market blogger Luke Mackay talks about his life-long relationship with food, cooking and the Market

As regular readers of this series will agree, after single-handedly discovering Borough Market and putting it on the map, funding it with my pocket money for 15 years, and giving assorted ladies of London distinctly average romantic experiences beneath its wrought iron arches, it seemed only right that eventually, I got something back in return.

And so it was that I ended up in a car park cooking offal in the snow.

A good friend of mine had done some photography for the market and kindly put a word in with the ‘right’ people that I might have something to offer. I met with them and we talked about the new demo kitchen where chefs cooked recipes for the passing public using only Borough Market produce. My very first demo was offal—I cooked a heart and kidney curry in the freezing cold, and loved every second.

In those early days, all we had was a car park, a couple of gas burners, a table and a big umbrella, but it was so lovely to cook for a handful of genuinely interested and passionate punters, talking face to face without a microphone, letting them taste and question and chat. My favourite memory of the first phase of the demo kitchen was a group of 17-year-old catering students who came to my chilli demonstration. They puffed out their chests and chomped down some habaneros: “Nah bruv, that ain’t hot.” “Oh, okay—try this little naga jolokia from Spice Mountain, then. That might be better.”

Reader, they cried.

Luke Mackay

Not James Martin
Phase 2 of demo kitchen was in Three Crown Square. I did a demo for the grand opening after the big refurbishment. Prince Charles saw me through a crowd, wandered over and said, “Ah, of course we’ve met before, haven’t we?” I will go to my grave certain in the knowledge that he thought I was James Martin. I, in a panicked attack of sycophancy in front of TV cameras, said, “I don’t think so, sir. I think I would have remembered that…”

Phase 3 is the current incarnation, all glitzy with Vogue-era Madonna microphones, fridges and nice pans. Situated in the stunning Market Hall it has become a real centrepiece. I love doing demos here, though I once set a pan of oil on fire, necessitating fire stewards, and the very next week cut my finger down to the bone while explaining to 100 people how to chop an onion.

To work in and for Borough Market has been one of the great pleasures and honours of my professional life. For God’s sake don’t tell them, but I’d have done it free of charge: the routine of arriving, a coffee at Monmouth and a breakfast sausage roll from The Ginger Pig; half an hour, just watching the Market come to life; shopping, planning and then cooking and talking to hundreds of like-minded shoppers. It’s a dream and I’ve been doing it (unbelievably) for six years now. I hope to do it for many more.