The Loft Project: Kitchen Sharing, Chef Swapping

Clarise Faria turned her home into the Loft Project, a high-profile supper club that helps up-and-coming chefs reach a new audience.

The Loft Project: Kitchen Sharing, Chef Swapping
Photograph by Chris Floyd Photograph by Chris Floyd

Curator, The Loft Project


Faria, 32, turned her home into the Loft Project, a high-profile supper club that helps up-and-coming chefs reach a new audience.

“We set this up as a test kitchen for a restaurant that my partner, Nuno Mendes, was opening. It generated quite a bit of buzz for him, and we wanted to give that opportunity to other chefs and allow them to present their food — not that of a head chef they work under — to customers. Until recently, this was our personal space, but now it is the chefs’ temporary kitchen and home. Each cooks for three nights and can stay for as long as a week — we’ve hosted 18 — and we provide a budget for food, serving 16 customers per night at $190 apiece. A lot of bankers and investors come to eat at the Loft, and many are looking to invest in new talent, which is why this is a great platform for young chefs without the means to open their own place.”



Online Extended Q&A

Fast Company: What inspired you to launch the Loft Project?

Clarise Faria: My partner, Nuno Mendes, and I started this
project over a year and a half ago. He’s a chef and was in between
restaurants and in need of a space to be creative. We set up the project
in our home as a test kitchen for his new restaurant. We were surprised
when it took off and became a success. A year later when he moved on to
the new restaurant, we had the idea that the Loft could be beneficial
to new chefs, and give them the opportunity to express themselves
creatively without the constraints of a head chef.


FC: How does this work? How long do chefs get at the Loft?

CF: They cook for three nights, typically a Thursday, Friday,
and Saturday. Many do a ten-course tasting menu, but we’re trying to
reduce that a bit. The chefs get very excited and sometimes it’s just
too much food! We don’t like to put too many restrictions on the chefs;
we try to encourage them to use a set up that works for their menu.

FC: Can anyone dine at the Loft?


CF: We serve 16 customers each night, for $190 apiece for the
menu and wine pairing. The customers depend on whether the chefs are
local or not. If they’re from out of town and don’t know anyone, it’s
completely open. People ask if we only select from the creative
industry, and we absolutely do not. It adds to the experience when there
are many different people around the table, from shoe designers to
other chefs to bankers. And if the chefs do know people in the area,
they’re of course welcome, and eager, to invite them.

FC: Are you still living in this space, or has the project’s success pushed you out?

CF: We
lived here until recently. It just became too difficult. We’re
attracting more and more chefs from abroad–we recently hosted a chef
from Copenhagen, and two hours after he left a chef from South America
arrived. So Nuno and I have made a nest not too far away, and the Loft
is now the chefs’ temporary kitchen and home.


FC: It’s amazing that people are traveling around the world to spend three days in your kitchen—what’s the appeal?

CF: This is a way for them to show their food off in London.
They can come for press events, but it’s not every day they actually
have a space to cook in. It’s exposure, and it’s a new audience. It’s
most exciting for up-and-comers. They don’t have the means to open their
own restaurant, so they’re always working for another chef, cooking
another chef’s food. A lot of bankers and investors eat at the Loft, and
many are looking to invest in new talent.

FC: How do you select the chefs? Do they pay you for the use of the space?


CF: As this grows, we are getting more and more applications,
but we invite a lot of chefs as well, based on word of mouth and
recommendations from friends in the business. And we don’t take any
money from the chefs. We, in fact, pay them. It’s not a huge amount, but
it’s something. We also provide a food budget, and many
chefs—especially the more established ones—will pass on payment in favor
of a larger food budget. We’ve hosted world-renowned chefs including
Mark Best and Mauro Colagreco.

FC: Aside from the top-notch cooking, what do customers enjoy about the experience?

CF: Communal dining is really important to us, as is the fact
that the kitchen is completely open. Guests can watch the chefs prepare
the food, stand, watch, ask questions, be as interactive as they choose.
Some groups get completely in there, and others just chat at their
table. I like that each experience is unique, and I think that sense of
family and sharing has been lost a bit. There’s something so formal
about sitting alone at a restaurant. But this is homey. This is
someone’s home.


FC: Since the success of the project took you by surprise, how long do you think you’ll keep it going?

CF: We’re playing it by ear for now. We always thought this
would be temporary. We even used the term “pop-up” when we started. And
we haven’t marketed at all—it’s been all word of mouth, bloggers, press.
But the exposure was so helpful to Nuno as he was opening his new
restaurant, and created so much buzz. That’s what we want to offer to
other chefs.

This interview has been condensed and edited.


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