The very distinctive and individualistic works of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo have undoubtedly influenced many other artists and designers over the years.
Now, as part of an exhibition launch in the Victoria & Albert Museum, where an extraordinary collection of personal artefacts and clothing will be displayed to the public some 50 years after her death, Kahlo’s influence will stretch to the hospitality arena.
Luxury catering company Rocket Food, which is an accredited supplier at London’s most prestigious venues, will be serving up the event in west London and its director of events and marketing, Charlie Grant Peterkin, is taking inspiration from the iconic artist.
“We are very lucky to work in museums such as the V&A,” he says. “For example, we are putting together creative ideas for menu and design and style for the Frida Kahlo exhibition in June. As a Mexican artist who did incredible things in portraiture, she gives us a wonderful influence for designing parties.
“We can work with that Mexican influence on the food and the drinks and we can look at her colour palette and think about how to present the food and how to style our food stalls.
“Plus, there are plenty of opportunities with cocktails.”
Having been founded in 2000 by a brother and sister duo, Michael Symonds and Caroline Hall (née Symonds), Rocket has grown to cater for more than 400 events, with a turnover of £7.5m in 2017 and is an accredited caterer to leisure venues such as The British Museum, The Design Museum, HM Tower of London, The National
Gallery, The National Portrait Gallery, the Natural History Museum, the Science
Museum and the Tates.
“Our creativity can often come from what is going on within the exhibition scene within the venues that we work in,” says Peterkin. “Be it Frida at the V&A, or when we have Picasso going on at the Tate Modern and Monet at The National Gallery. We have to create a product to take to market at any given time.”
The Rocket name is already highly regarded throughout the wider hospitality industry, having collaborated successfully with many renowned chefs such as Ottolenghi, Simon Rogan, Angela Hartnett, Fergus Henderson, Mark Hix, Stevie Parle, Albert Roux and Joël Robuchon.
And with 80% of its turnover coming from events, Rocket has to be on point with every occasion.
“They vary in size from small exclusive drinks parties, up to large gala dinners,” says Peterkin. “Some 60% of the business is associated with the Unique Venues of London, of which the V&A is one of our most prolific clients.
“We actually work with the V&A in two ways. Firstly, it can be used as a shell to hire, so we have clients who will take over the spaces as the backdrop to their event.
“And the other style of event would be with the museum itself, when they have a new exhibition going on. Throughout the year they will have private views of the many different exhibitions they have going on, or directors’ dinners. And we are called upon to work directly with the museum as our client to do something special.”
With the venues often being public spaces and listed buildings, the Rocket team have to scope out each individual space and the requirements that go with it when putting on catered events.
“All venues follow very strict guidelines and we have to go through a lengthy tendering process to make sure we are match-fit, and suitable to work within these spaces,” says Peterkin. “I am a big fan of the V&A from an operational perspective because you can roll everything in from Cromwell Road. It works very well from a practical sense.
“There are other venues which are more challenging because of lifts, for example, or because the floor needs to be protected, or so many other things.
“Each and every venue has its little nuances, which you have to be hot on.”
Rocket caters for parties ranging in size from 20 to 2,000 guests, offering everything from pre-event menu tasting and developments to event canapes, food stalls, bowl foods and sit-down dinners.
“It’s quite extraordinary,” says Peterkin. “We can set up a kitchen and cater from a broom cupboard. To a marquee or empty gallery space. We bring everything we need.
“Our offices and kitchen are based in Battersea. All our preparations are done, and the food is made here before being transported to the venue.
“At the V&A, for example, we will set up a field kitchen and finish off the food to be plated and served.
“Very few of the Unique London venues have their own kitchen. And those that do, they are designed to look after the in-house requirements, they are not
designed for a dinner for 250 or party food for 300. So you tend to always set up a field kitchen.
“The way we dissect the events space is pretty critical to how we run the operation.”
Trends are constantly changing and with Rocket trying to constantly both wow its customers and deliver the things guests want to eat and drink, having an eye on the movements is key.
“When we started catering, it was almost a dirty word,” says Peterkin. “But now, catering is so fashionable. Ten years ago, graduates wanted to get involved in television, but now we have so many who want to get involved in the world of catering and events.
“It’s fabulous, but because of this interest our clients are much more discerning, particularly in London. There’s so much choice out there and so many wonderful restaurants and there’s a real foodie culture with all the celebrity chefs and food festivals. And that means we have to be absolutely on point with what is on trend.
“But it is beyond that, we have to be a trailblazer in the world of events, and not just today, we have to know what is going to be cool and be making the right narrative for tomorrow. So we are always developing, creating and innovating.”
Executive chef is Tom Duffill, who started his career under the command of Shaun Hill at The Glasshouse, before moving through the ranks to be appointed head chef at Anthony Demetre’s Arbutus, and then on to The Galvin Brothers at Bistrot de Luxe.
Duffill, Caroline and Michael and discovered they shared the same philosophy about food – quality of ingredients and good, simple cooking are the key.
Some of the stunning dishes created over the last year include sautéed black bream, Café de Paris butter, grilled fennel, Israeli couscous, parsley and capers; game tortellini, woodland mushroom chicken consommé, wild shoots and herbs and black truffle; Balmoral Estate saddle of fallow deer and pithivier, roast quince, creamed celeriac and parsnip pommes anna; oak-smoked SW8 trout, sour yoghurt, smoked roe, pickled cucumber and dill seaweed crackers; and sweet spiced cured Gressingham duck, Kent blackberries and radicchio, chestnut and ruby beetroot salad.
In the past year, the team have also worked at large events, including offering international trackside hospitality for Mercedes-Benz F1, The National Theatre Olivier Circle Gala and The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition Preview Party.
Rocket has also become the catering partner for Thomas’s Café, Burberry, in the West End, which looks to provide F&B for shoppers.
“It is trendy, particularly in the luxury sector, Ralph Lauren has done it, too, and Fenwick’s. It’s all about creating that 360-degree experience in leisure,” says Peterkin.
“Rocket is at an exciting phase as we are growing and we are recognised as a leader in the event catering world, and other opportunities may lie in other fields, too.”
As well as afternoon tea, Thomas’s Café offers seasonal dishes such as Cornish brill, Berkswell cheese and herb crust, caramelised endive and orange; and Sutton Hoo chicken, leek and girolle pie; as well as classics including whole or half lobster with chips; oysetrs; or traditional ploughman’s.
A team of 35 full-time employees, split across sales, operations, marketing, HR , accounts and chefs, who expand with a front-of-house part-time staffing pool for events, are well briefed on the Rocket philosophy, no matter which venue they operate in.
“We are talking about some of the most landmarked galleries in the country, if not the world,” says Peterkin. “Guests have to have an experience that is 100% in synergy with the environment around them, with the exhibition or the client’s brand, and the food and drink has got to be on a par with all those things.
“We offer the talking point. When you throw a party, you want the guests to leave talking about it and feeling that they have had a very special experience because of the surroundings, the exhibitions, the people they met and the food and drink and how they were looked after by charming, smiling staff. Every detail is so important at this level of the game.”