The best food and catering on the River Thames
London is amazing, our staff are great, the boats are brilliant…but the food…WOW! We are lucky enough to have our own superstar chef working exclusively with us on the river, creating great food and cooking up lasting tasty memories for our guests and yours.
I spent an afternoon with our head chef Skye Coxe at her East London kitchen, taking a few pictures of some of her Street Food dishes, chatting about all things foodie, and even tucking in now and again. We are proud of the food we serve our guests on our fleet of London charter boats. Here is an insight into the world of the Thames Leisure kitchens, the food that comes to your table on the boats, and what motivates and inspires our head chef. I fired a few questions at Skye between mouthfuls and pictures. Here’s what she had to say.
An interview with Thames Leisure chef SKYE COXE
Guy: What part of your job do you love the most?
Skye: It’s the physical side of the cooking itself, getting my hands stuck in and creating something from raw, to finished product. And the colours! The colour of food, and how it contributes to the experience is important to me.
Guy: We think your food is amazing; Why do you think your food may have the edge over many other good caterers?
Skye: Because I love food! I just think that I love flavour. And the more you put in the more you get out. A good chef has a flair for food and that has to go all the way to the menus you create. That’s the key to having the edge. I am all about the flavour…and the look! The look is important. Even for simple food, you can make it special. I’ve been told more than once my cottage pie is the best in LondonI
Guy: What’s your favourite ingredient?
Skye: I tend to be drawn to what’s seasonal generally. Right now, it’s all about the root veg. heritage vegetables too – so good for the colour as well as the taste. Especially if you slow cook them for the sweetness you can get which comes with that delicious earthy edge too. Oh, you also can’t beat a good quality slab of meat of course! …unless you are a vegetarian…! And then there’s the mushrooms. (We then go off on one, talking about mushrooms for more than our allotted time. I get a top tip from Skye for cooking mushrooms which she swears me to secrecy on. Which I will respect. And yes it does work…incredible mushrooms on toast for me from now on!)
Guy: You of course have staff help you run the kitchens and your wider operation. How now would you describe your role in the Honey & Thyme operation?
Skye: Managing, directing…I am the handle behind the cogs! It evolved because I am a chef so have always controlled the food at every level., and that grew into controlling every aspect of a bigger operation. It got bigger and bigger and bigger. You can’t not manage! It’s vital for keeping the food quality as high as it should be. But we’re so busy of course I am also cooking loads! I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Guy: Give me three words to describe your approach to catering
Skye: Seasonal; colour; organic – we cook as much as we can with organic produce and ingredients. The taste really is better, and also it is much more nutritious
Guy:What’s your favourite dish right now?
Skye: It’s always going to be something with goat’s cheese! Maybe combined with some good beetroot and mushrooms…or a nice piece of turbot simply done. I would possible cook that with some Gin somehow. Gin goes really well with fish, it’s the juniper flavour which works subtly but so well.
Guy: How do you see the food scene developing in London over the next 5 years?
Skye: It’s going ever more experimental. Powders, smokes…lots of dried food and re-hydrating. This is interesting and with it flavours are getting stronger I think.
Guy: What are the biggest challenges about catering for hundreds of event on boats with us on the river?
Skye: Do you want the honest answer??! (Guy: yes!) …OK, the ovens! Dealing with gas bottles rather than a connected land supply, and with this keeping on top of temperatures of the ovens, especially when doing large seated dinners on the William B. Staying on top of the timing and organisation for it takes a calm head! Also loading on at the piers can be ‘fun’! On the rare occasion it snows in London and that coincides with a very low tide and so a steep pier gangway down to the boats – it’s…well…interesting!!
Guy: how old were you when you started cooking?
Skye: very young, but professionally when I was 17. It was at a French restaurant called Le Mesurier in Old Street. This was classic french cooking and I learn loads. By 19 I was the head chef!
Guy: What do you cook for your family at home? Do you have a favourite family dish?
Skye: We cook everything. My eldest son loves Moroccan flavours: slow roast lamb, Mezze too – lots of ‘mini bowls’ for kids works really well. It’s always nutritious. They eat anything. They know a lamb roasted for 8 hours in pomegranate molasses when it’s served up to them and will tear it apart!
Guy: Are there any food trends you just don’t get?
Skye: Well, on the whole I love classic, I’m a classic chef, so I’m quite glad to not be seeing quite so many foams about now! I do find some of it quite pretentious….cooking stuff in bags…pots and pans have not evolved that much for a reason!
Are any of your kids future chefs?
Skye: Yeah, quite possibly. They all love cooking. If they are bored, they make cakes. They love pancakes, executing the perfect flip! We also do a lot of foraging as a family, for mushrooms for example. Recently we foraged pine cones for the pine kernels and made our own pesto – it was delicious!
Guy: How do you keep ideas and disheS fresh year in year out?
Skye: It all starts with the produce. I have really good vegetable and meat suppliers They often give me new things to try. My butcher gave me some incredible Ox Cheeks to experiment with the other day, just great. I;m really inspired by my suppliers all the time..and I get creating!
Guy: What’s your favourite food ‘hack’ (Here Skye swears me to secrecy on her earlier mushroom tip again. She looks fierce, I reassure her…to the grave)
Skye: You can do so much by focusing on ‘finishing’ food. This is something extra on your finished dish to really ‘complete’ it. Quite simply a drizzle of chilli oil on the right dish sometimes. Or if you have something sweet and sour, some pomegranate molasses to finish work wonders. It’s all about finishing with something to enhance visuals and the senses. Beetroot powder is another great addition for a really vibrant colourful and flavour-packed finish.
Guy: Christmas – excited or dreading it?
Skye: Love it. Even all the cooking I’ve got lined up!
Guy: Sprouts – yes or no?
Skye: Yes, always. I cook them normally in boiling water, then reheat perhaps with chestnut puree and pancetta butter, sometimes adding a bit of gravy (always homemade of course) for a really flavoursome finish.
Guy: What was the best place you worked before setting up Honey & Thyme?
Skye: That’s a difficult question. I’ve not had a lot of jobs…maybe 12 places. Le Mesurier was my classic french start, then i was at Boisdales where i learnt twists on top quality ‘English’ cuisine. Then there was Manna in Primrose Hill where I had my eyes opened to the possibilities of vegetarian and vegan food. Then i worked in Amsterdam baking cakes before coming back to London to work in Director’s dining rooms. This was a learning curve of putting more management into the food. I also saw a lot of very bad event companies! They showed me how not to do it! Over this time my grasp of the logistics of cooking developed along with my cooking skill. Then I went freelance and here I am now working with you guys and other amazing venues! Back to the question….I don’t know a simple answer!
Thanks to Skye at Honey & Thyme, exclusive on the River Thanmes to Thames Leisure and our fully catered fleet of London charter boats