Published: 06:00, 10 November 2020
| Updated: 15:01, 12 November 2020
Being drawn to his nan's kitchen surrounded by the smells of baking and family Sunday roasts is everything chef Robbie Lorraine remembers about his childhood.
It's the relationship with food, family and those fond memories which has taken him to the cusp of opening his first restaurant having cooked for Royalty and movie stars in his career.
Robbie, who lives with his family in Ebbsfleet, grew up in Camberwell in south London during the late 80s and 90s with memories aged nine of freezing wet Sunday mornings spent with his grandparents on the market stalls at 5am followed by bacon sandwiches and steaming cups of tea at nearby greasy spoon cafes.
And it is those early days experiencing the community feel, enjoyment of food and childhood favourite dishes which has fed into his work as a professional chef.
"We'd be out in the cold and then go and get a bit of breakfast in the greasy spoon cafe which was the highlight of my day because it involved food," says Robbie from his kitchen in the Only Food and Courses restaurant due to open at Pop Brixton after lockdown ends.
"There was a real family and community feel and I think I decided then it was a career I wanted to pursue.
"I didn't see myself running restaurants but certainly knew I didn't want to be out there at 5am the rest of my life.
"The experience opened my eyes to food and the hospitality industry and just those snippets sitting in the cafe, it was just such a great feeling."
After school Robbie trained in the classical techniques and joined kitchens in junior roles including as a kitchen porter and commis chef.
He joined the Roux brothers' fine dining catering company and started working his way through the ranks, learning Michelin star techniques, visiting some of the best restaurants in London before running kitchens himself.
Robbie's 20-year career has seen him take on roles at Chelsea FC, The Shard and Royal Ascot before running a fleet of luxury Thames boats, one of which was owned by The Queen.
"One of the highlights was doing an event for Prince William and was good fun and we recreated the Orient Express with different stations," Robbie, 42, says.
"I also cooked for Will Smith who was promoting Seven Pounds at the time and the launch was on the boat.
'I wouldn't say no to a Michelin star but a successful restaurant creating memorable experiences is what I aspire to...'
"He was quite specific and wanted a chicken salad – so I did a chicken Caesar salad which was quite basic for me – but the feedback was it was the best he'd ever had so I was pretty happy about that."
Robbie's nostalgic menu harks back to his childhood tweaking classic and retro dishes from the 70s, 80s and 90s with the touch of a classically trained chef inspired by some of his most esteemed and innovative peers.
He says recreating those memories is everything he wants to achieve in his restaurant by taking those flavours and putting his own fine dining, modern twist on the plate.
Prawn cocktail and Duck a l'Orange are some signature dishes as well as adding more out-there combinations to the menu such as lobster doughnuts, confit duck eclair, and crab scotch egg but all inspired by home favourites.
"The concept is based around nostalgic and retro comfort food," Robbie explains.
"It's my background and it comes off the back of my early experiences with food and the nostalgia of the dishes I would have around my nan and my mum.
"It was always comfort food and taking things like a chocolate eclair – my favourite desserts in the early 90s which we'd always have on a Sunday afternoon with a cup of tea – and reinventing it as fine dining.
"We've turned it into a confit duck eclair and taken out the cream, filled it with confit duck and a nice glaze to go over the top.
"We've taken other things I've got very fond memories of like pop tarts and turned them into modern interpretations and made them fine dining dishes.
"We do a lobster doughnut. Anyone lucky enough to have lobster loves it and everybody loves doughnuts so we fused the two together.
"It's taking that era of pop culture in the 80s and 90s and reinventing those dishes in this classic cafe environment and those comfort foods when we need a nice warm hug is what drives my cuisine.
"To put my food into a category is very difficult and taking the dishes we know and love and recreating a modern style in familiar surroundings but unfamiliar presentations."
He has been trying out the menu at pop-up dining events, including one recently at the Jolly Drayman pub in Wellington Street, Gravesend. He now has his sights set on his own restaurants.
"We've got aspirations and looked at a few sites. It's early days but we'll definitely be looking to open some outlets in Kent," Robbie says. "We've not shut the door on the pop-ups but the restaurant is taking precedent."
He was due to open earlier this month but has been set back by the second lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic.
Growing up in the 80s and 90s, Robbie remembers watching the late Gary Rhodes all the time and then being inspired by the likes of the Roux brothers, Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing.
He says since becoming a chef he's really inspired by Nuno Mendes in London and Rene Redzepi, whose Noma restaurant in Copenhagen is one of the most renowned in the world and holds two Michelin stars.
But for Robbie gaining one of the coveted stars is not "the be-all-and-end-all".
"It would be very nice recognition," he says. "But it's more about creating experiences – memorable experiences because my fondest memories are attached to food.
"Having a successful restaurant is more what I aspire to.
"I wouldn't say no to a Michelin star that's for sure, it would massage the ego and guarantee bums on seats. But having a successful restaurant with repeat custom and people who want to come back is more what it's about.
"There's not many people out there doing it," Robbie adds. "I'm a massive believer in having fun in everything you do and that element of surprise is the difference.
"This has been something I've had a vision for for many, many years and actually almost being at the point of coming to fruition is super exciting.
"I've always wanted to do my food in this kind of environment, not in this climate, but I can't tell you how excited I am about this.
"Leading up to the pop-ups it was really whetting my juices and getting excited having opportunity to test out ideas I've had in the back of my mind for many years.
'It's my background and it comes off the back of my early experiences with food and the nostalgia of the dishes I would have around my nan and my mum...'
"This is tenfold now because this is my day to day outlet to express myself in terms what I believe great food is and how I see the food landscape.
"I think there will be a shift in dining habits and how people decide to go out.
"We're putting in layers of checks. Once we open we hope people have enough confidence in us to want to come back again.
"It's about the confidence of the precautions you're putting in place."
The restaurant is taking bookings ahead of opening on December 3 following the current national lockdown restrictions.
For more visit www.onlyfoodandcourses.co.uk or follow on Instagram @onlyfoodandcourses