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By Isobel Van Dyke
In this new series, The Stack asks Londoners where they were sat when their lives changed for good. What they ate, who they were with, and how that meal and venue impacted their lives. We kick off our first column with Skye Gyngell, one of Britain’s most acclaimed chefs.
n 2014, Australian-born Skye Gyngell opened Spring, the elegant fine dining restaurant set in the heart of Somerset House. After growing up in Australia, Skye moved to Paris to study cookery under Anne Willan. She later moved to London and eventually went on to become head chef at Petersham Nurseries - where she earned a Michelin star.
Since she was a teenager, the food she's created has been inspired by the simplicity of nature, the changing of the seasons and what blossoms on the trees surrounding her.
When I first spoke to Skye I asked if she had a memory in mind for this column, she couldn’t have been more certain of the meal. Below, she tells us - in her own words - how it changed her life, inspired her obsession with simplicity, and gave her the greatest respect for nature’s beauty.
“The peach could not have been more perfect: so juicy, incredibly sweet, surrounded by the hot summer buzz of a city, whilst secluded by this little trattoria.”
Setting The Scene
Working in the food industry I’ve eaten many meals in many places. That being said, the meal that really changed my life was one I had when I was 19-years-old, with my father in Tuscany.
I remember it so vividly. It was a blisteringly hot day in what must’ve been very late Spring - the orchids and wildflowers were all in full bloom. I was part-way through my law degree at the time when I joined my father on a business trip to Florence.
I was at an inbetween phase of my life, studying law but for all the wrong reasons. Neither my brother nor sister had finished school and my father was one of the first people in our family to go to university, he had all these hopes for us. I felt like I had to take one for the team so I started studying law, which honestly, I didn’t enjoy at all.
When I visited Europe for the first time it felt like I had grown up in the wrong country. I was transported into this ancient world that had so much history and time behind it. I left Australia six months after that trip and have never lived there since - that was 38 years ago.
It was the most beautiful day you could picture. My father and I met a friend of his for lunch and the three of us went to a tiny Florentine trattoria and sat on the terrace. We ate a gorgeous, very simple meal, but dessert was the part that I will always remember.
After starters and mains - likely pasta of some sort - we were served a plate of perfectly ripe peaches, gloriously chilled on a bed of shaved ice. The peach could not have been more perfect: so juicy, incredibly sweet, surrounded by the hot summer buzz of a city, whilst secluded by this little trattoria.
It was at that moment I was struck by how perfect nature is in its simplicity. The colour was perfect, the taste was perfect, that peach was the reason I fell in love with produce in its purest form.
Since then my life has revolved around working seasonally. When I look back now, I was so in awe of the beauty of this peach that it became a career defining moment. My cooking is incredibly simple, very pared back, lots of negative space. Even now, during the summer I will serve a lone peach as a dessert at the restaurant.
It changed the way I think about a lot of things. I finished the year at university, dropped out, left Australia and went to cookery school.
That peach gave me the ability to focus on the micro, rather than the macro. Now I seek out the perfect flower, the perfect lettuce leaf.
The flawlessness and simplicity of that one dish changed my life and influenced my career in more ways than I could count. I’ll never forget it.
“Even now, during the summer I will serve a lone peach as a dessert at the restaurant.”
How a single peach changed Skye Gyngell’s life forever.
By Isobel Van Dyke
Galleries have reopened and the city is pulsing once again with the return of culture, art, music, people. We hear from the women leading the art scene on what galleries they’re heading to this summer and what they’re most excited to see