If the onslaught of melodramatic TV cookery shows is anything to go by, we have a pretty strange idea of what actually goes on in a professional kitchen.
Swinging between the Tourette's tornado of Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares and This Morning's insipid roster of cheeky chappy chefs, the people making your coq au vin are either unhinged psychopaths or the kind of person who'd quite like to invite themselves into your home and lay a gentle hand on your shoulder as you peel carrots. Which is kind of the same thing, when you think about it.
For most chefs, professional life is a lot less complicated: namely, people trying to make badass dishes with ingredients they think will taste good. And indoor voices.
"Even if we did disagree, we're both way too polite to say so," says James Henry of Paris' Bones, who was invited by Lyle's chef, James Lowe, to begin the London restaurant's programme of chef collaboration dinners.
"You just always hope that the people you pick have an open mind. I can't see myself inviting someone who, for example, works for Gordon Ramsay. There's no point," says Lowe, who will host chefs including James Beard-nominated Ignacio Mattos as part of The Guest Series. "I'm always slightly apprehensive about having people in my kitchen because chefs are naturally competitive."
"It can be really off-putting. I've done a few things like this in the past and you do see that, like, Oh really, you're gonna prep that like that?" agrees Australian-born Henry. "But apart from sharing the fact that you're cooking together, you're also sharing ideas. You see lots of little tricks which benefit you in the long run if you keep your mind open."
After bonding during Bones' opening week and drinks in a "really horrible Paris pub where you could smoke inside," the two James discovered a shared appreciation for seasonal produce and uncluttered dining. In November, Lowe invited Henry to work on Lyle's GAME, a two-dinner event celebrating game season and giving foreign chefs the chance to cook with British wildfowl. When launching this year's Guest Series, he knew who to call.
"We wanted to get people outside London and I asked James because I really liked Bones," explains Lowe. "I invited people who I liked and felt were in a similar place."
"We can relate to each other," adds Henry.
The chefs' Guest Series menu is a kind of edible bromance. Henry brought a piece of ham he began curing 14 months ago and Lowe added a British slant with monkfish and smoked eel. The pair tempered the meats with wintery bitter leaves, turnip, and cabbage.
"It took us about an hour to work on the menu. It's kind of limited by the season, it's not like we're here in the spring and there's lots of asparagus and peas or different herbs," explains Henry. "We're coming out of winter so there's still a lot of root vegetables. The palate isn't too big, we just work with what's best at the moment, and go from there."
"It was nice because I was happy to go in and wing it last minute and say, 'Yes, that'll be good,' and James was comfortable with that too," continues Lowe.
Lyle's "Guests" aren't just guys, either. Mexico City chef—and Latin America's Best Female Chef 2014 title holder—Elena Reygadas cooks with Lowe in April, and Le Servan's Tatiana Levha is in talks to bring her Asian-inspired take on French Cuisine in October.
"You can learn so much just from having someone in your kitchen, and it's also good for the staff. People work really hard in restaurants and they don't have very much money, however we try to pay them in the early days," says Lowe. "I think its really important to travel, eat in different places, and see food from other countries. This is kind of a way for them to see interesting things and meet different people."
And besides, lumping a chef and an aged piece of charcuterie over from Paris is a lot cheaper than a full staff holiday to France.