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National Theatre Blog

Behind the scenes of the Foodwork restaurant with Polis Butkus

Polis Butkus in the Foodwork Kitchen for Network

Some of you may know that the set for our production of Network features a fully functioning restaurant called Foodwork, where on-stage diners are served a six-course meal throughout the show. What you may not know is that it’s run by the National’s Head Chef of our in-house restaurant House. So that’s a Foodwork within Network within a theatre that has an in-house House.

Let’s cut to the chase. Who are you and why are we in a kitchen?

I’m Polis Butkus the Head Chef at House restaurant at the National Theatre. I’ve been working here for two years, and my job is to create the dishes and the menus.

What’s your involvement been with Foodwork?

At the same time as running House restaurant I’m also running the on-stage Foodwork restaurant for the entire run of Network. I make sure that every service is right and everything goes smoothly.  

[Foodwork restaurant]

[Foodwork kitchen]

How does a day at Foodwork…work?

Well it’s pretty challenging for us because the service in both the restaurants happens pretty much at the same time. Prior to Network starting we have a busy service in House restaurant, when the show starts we have a busy service on stage in Foodwork and then after the show we go back to House restaurant for a busy after-theatre service for everyone who has seen all the other shows at the National.

Wow. Can’t you just get loads of microwave meals and heat them up?

The food preparation takes place in House restaurant on the day and then we cook everything live on stage. It is different because although it is a fully working kitchen, there’s less equipment than we’re used to in House restaurant. We have to be very careful not to miss anything as this could upset the balance of the performance. In the beginning we had to rehearse the service with the actors and pretend customers in the on-stage restaurant until everything started going right. In an early performance someone had to run from Foodwork back to House restaurant during the show to grab some lemons.

[Restaurant staff preparing the courses on stage in the Foodwork kitchen]

[Restaurant staff preparing the courses on stage in the Foodwork kitchen]

 

Juicy. What’s it like cooking on a stage, during a performance – do you feel like you’re an actor?

I don’t feel like I’m acting because I’m just doing my day-job as a chef. But before the show starts the Foodwork customers come up and take photos and videos of us in the kitchen which is weird. We’re basically in a big glass box so we’re pretty visible.

Aren’t kitchens really noisy?

We discussed with stage managers what noises would come from the kitchen and the changes we’d need to make so that we’re not disturbing the play. Sometimes it’s fine because the service starts before the actual show does or there’ll be a loud part where we can slide plates but there are some scenes which are really quiet so that can be really tricky not to interrupt them.

[Foodwork kitchen]

Do you get stage fright from doing your job in front of an audience of 900 people every night?

I feel really good being there because I feel close to the art. I’m also a big fan of Bryan Cranston so it’s nice to see him every day. I’m constantly impressed how each time he can be so good emotionally and execute his scenes so well.

Are you actually working or are you just watching Bryan?

I got to watch the full show once in the dress rehearsal because it was a dry run without the food so I could just watch it. At the time I couldn’t imagine how the on-stage restaurant would work at the same time as the show. But it works really well and the feedback we’ve had is that everyone in the Foodwork restaurant thinks it’s brilliant – and of course they enjoyed the food as well.

[Polis and restaurant staff preparing the courses on stage in the Foodworkkitchen]

Tickets to Foodwork are now sold-out, is there another way to sample the menu?

In House restaurant we have the a la carte menu and within that menu there are dishes that are also in the Foodwork menu as well. We cook it a little bit differently because in Foodwork it has more of a classic 60’s, formal feel where as in House it has a more modern touch and relaxed dining feel.  I also post loads of photography of the dishes on the House restaurant instagram so you could check out the food that way!

What is everyone’s fav from the Foodwork menu?

The most popular dish is the Portland Crab Cocktail and the Black Forest Gateau.

[Restaurant staff preparing the courses on stage in the Foodwork kitchen]

 

Network at the National Theatre’s on-stage restaurant – a food critic’s verdict: ‘We weren’t just occupying part of the set; we were the set.’ (read the Guardian review of Foodwork here)

To try the Foodwork menu at House restaurant, bookings can be made here.

Or take a look at the House Restaurant on instagram