Samantha Harvey might well be the busiest person at Divertimenti, South Kensington’s beloved kitchenware shop/cookery school hybrid. As cookery school and events manager, she’s responsible for planning and scheduling the packed calendar of classes; liaising with the small army of visiting chefs who teach them; keeping the kitchen stocked with the best seasonal ingredients; and making sure that everyone student who steps out the door comes out with a smile on their face and some new skills under their belt. Somehow, she also finds the time to teach many of the school’s courses herself.
Born in Australia, Samantha has divided her career between Sydney and the UK, honing her skills in Michelin-starred kitchens of the upper echelons of the restaurant industry, and developing an extensive understanding of supply-chain relationships with farmers and food producers – handy when you’re organising a lengthy roster of guest tutors, each with with different culinary traditions and ingredient requirements.
We stole five minutes from her schedule for a quick Q&A…
How did you end up teaching cooking?
It just happened to be a natural progression from going a chef in restaurants and hotels to assisting at the cookery school– and then I ended up teaching.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
Probably not knowing who is going to turn up to the class and managing their expectations and abilities.
…and the best?
Seeing the excitement on a student’s face when they have produced something they never thought possible, as well seeing them improve on a skill that at first they might have really struggled with.
Do you have a favourite course or topic that you teach?
I like teaching a variety of things but teaching fresh pasta to kids and teenagers probably gives me the most enjoyment.
What do you think is the trickiest dish/technique that your teach in your classes?
It’s really not that tricky but it does require some practice – knife skills. Using a chef’s knife correctly and efficiently make such a difference no matter what dish you are making.
How would you describe the atmosphere in the Divertimenti kitchen?
Relaxed and informal but busy!
What do you think makes the school stand out?
The wide variety of teachers that come and teach and share their skills. Everyone comes from such a different and varied background and are all so talented in what they do.
Do you think some people are just bad cooks? Or can everyone be saved?I strongly believe that everyone can be saved but you do need patience (both the student and the teacher!) and a little bit of interest in cooking.
Be honest now: are there any ingredients that you use in your classes that you don’t actually like?
Anchovies! I appreciate the balance and depth that they bring to many sauces but I really DO NOT like them!
How often do you introduce new classes, and how do you decide what to teach?
New classes are being introduced all of the time and really deciding what to teach and narrow it down is so tricky. We take inspiration from the seasons, new fashionable techniques, new books and general feedback from our students.
What are your three desert-island dishes?
Yorkshire puddings; my mum’s lasagne and peas; and pavlova!