She may have been steered away from ambitions to become a chef, but Sam Pollard’s love for all things culinary never went away.
So when the mum-of-two from Finchley wanted a career change after more than 25 years working in IT, there was perhaps little surprise she settled on swapping the office for the kitchen.
The 49-year-old took the plunge two years ago to set up her own catering business, Kitchen@ Sam Pollard, and hasn’t looked back since.
“I’ve always wanted to cook,” she tells me. “I first got interested as a child, when my dad used to take me to a gastronomic club at the catering college in Portsmouth. Every few months we would go for this 14-course meal and it was just amazing. My step-dad was also a chef and my mum’s a great cook, so there was always wonderful food in our house.”
But when Pollard told her parents that she too wanted to be a chef, her step-dad warned her that long hours, low pay and tough kitchen environment might prove too much for her.
She instead became an IT project manager for investment banks, a world away from catering, but one that instilled her with a love for organisation, logistics and planning, all skills that would prove more than useful when she thought of setting up her own business.
Encouraged by a friend who is a successful restaurateur, Pollard launched her business from home in 2015, catering for friends and small parties.
Through word-of-mouth, her company has steadily grown and now caters for everything from formal dinners to bar mitzvah lunches and corporate events for 150 guests.
Her “kosher-friendly” menus, which are tailor-made for each client and exclude pork and shellfish, comprise a tasty and vibrant selection of Middle Eastern and Modern European dishes.
Buffet canapes include croustades of tuna tartare with sesame and avocado, and Asian style halibut skewers, while for mains clients can choose from za’atar roasted aubergine with sour cream, herb and pomegranate dressing or a platter of seared and roasted rare fillet beef with a piquant pomegranate dressing.
Her top priorities are using seasonal, quality ingredients, as well as edible flowers to bring vibrancy and colour to her dishes.
Desserts are equally her forte. “My signature dishes are probably my meringues and my salted caramel chocolate mousse with a salted pistachio praline – I don’t think I’ve ever done an event without those two, they are always the most asked for dishes.”
As for whether Pollard is happy she made the career change, there’s absolutely no hesitation in her answer.
“I love being in the kitchen and I love the process. There’s also great satisfaction knowing that people are happy and you’ve done a great job. That’s very rewarding.”
Sam’s Pan Fried Sea Bass with Tahini Whip
The secret to sea bass fillets with perfectly crispy skin is to make sure the fillets are dry, the pan is hot and to use just a little olive oil in the pan.
1 tablespoon of olive oil
8 medium fillets of bass
plain flour for dusting
100ml Greek yoghurt
2 tablespoons of tahini
2 tablespoons of toasted pine nuts
Flat leaf parsley to garnish
Salt and pepper
First make the tahini whip. Mix the Greek yoghurt together with the tahini. Cut the lemon into 5 wedges, keep one and reserve the remainder for garnishing. Add a good squeeze of lemon juice to the whip and stir well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Put the whip to one side.
Dry each of the fillets with kitchen paper and then dust lightly with flour and season well with salt and pepper.
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a non-stick pan until it’s nice and hot. Then add the fillets, skin side down, two at a time.
Let them cook for 3-4 minutes until the skin is crisp and golden brown, then gently flip them over and cook the other side for a minute until the flesh is cooked. Once done, place on a warmed plate to rest whilst you cook the remaining fillets.
To serve, lay two fillets on each plate, place a good spoon of tahini whip on the side and scatter with the toasted pinenuts and parsley.
I like to serve this on a bed of giant Israeli cous cous in winter, and a tomato salad on the side.