Florence Knight, Head Chef at Sessions Art Club
Florence has recently opened Sessions Art Club, in Clerkenwell, with painter Jonny Gent and co-founder of St. John, Jon Spiteri. It’s something that she’s been threatening to do since she left Polpetto, where she really made her name, in 2015. Not that she’s been sitting back since then, becoming a mother of two and a Sunday Times columnist.
Up to that point she had already packed in plenty of experience. Originally, she studied at the London College of Fashion before switching paths to study at Leith’s School of Food and Wine. By the age of 19, she was working as an assistant baker at The Bertinet Kitchen, before joining Raymond Blanc, initially at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons then as pastry chef at the Diamond Club in the Emirates Stadium. Soon, she was head chef at private restaurant St. Clement’s, before arriving at Polpetto, above the French House in Soho. Her reputation soon saw the restaurant outgrow the 26 covers at that location and while new premises were established in Berwick Street, Florence took the time to write One: A Cook and Her Cupboard, her first cookbook.
That brings us back to now, and Sessions Arts Club, which is already winning acclaim for its food, as well as its elegantly distressed look and the infinity pool upstairs.
We took a little of Florence’s time to ask her about her new restaurant, food in general, and what the future holds.
Do you ever wonder what would have happened if you’d stayed at the London College of Fashion?
Texture and structure are crucial to my cooking and I believe my time at LCF gave me a better understanding of this. It’s fundamental that a sauce needs a good stock the same as any garment needs a strong design and pattern. Without these, both have nothing. There are many more parallels than one would imagine.
Timeless good quality classic clothes will always be something I love even if I’m in chef whites most days.
Did food always play an important role in your life when you were growing up?
Yes, the kitchen table is the place everyone was and is. It was central to the house and my upbringing.
Did your family often visit restaurants?
We are a large family of seven in total, including my parents then. Each holiday we ate out in tavernas, otherwise dining out was mostly for celebrations. My own children have practically grown up in restaurants.
How important is art for you and the restaurant, especially when it comes to the decor?
Art obviously has a big impact also, as Jonny is a painter.
Jonny Gent and I share a love in art and food. We wanted to create something unique, a true collaboration between painter and chef.
How did you land your first professional cooking gig?
A lot of hard work. I started washing dishes and doing stages. This gave me an opportunity to see how kitchens function and work. I learn very visually and I wasn’t afraid to get my hands dirty.
Has Covid had an impact on the opening and set up of the restaurant?
Huge impact and nothing good. Ingredients and wine prices have increased, some doubling, and finding staff has never been so hard.
Have you tried the pool?
No, I haven’t yet.
Where do you find inspiration for new dishes?
From the seasons and produce around me. Although the food might look simple, I like to layer and coax out flavours from the ingredients.
What would you recommend from your current menu?
The menu changes quite a lot, but my favourites at the moment would have to be oyster, fig mignonette, squid, tomato calamarata and the chocolate tart.
Where do you go out to eat?
I haven’t dined out much this year. Right now, I would have to say a bacon bap or brodo from Max and Al at Scotti’s on Clerkenwell Green.
What does the near future hold for you and Sessions Arts Club?
Only time will tell.
Imagery: Beth Evans