In her 12 years cooking for the restaurant attached to the prestigious auction house, Sotheby's, Laura Greenfield had to adapt the menu depending what art was going under the hammer.
Creating 600 different menus in her time as head chef at Sotheby's cafe in London's exclusive Mayfair, Greenfield cooked indulgent dishes with high price tags when Russians dined there for a Russian art auction. When the Old Masters went under the hammer, the bidders dined at the cafe, eating dishes like peasant and custard.
"When contemporary art was being auctioned, the ladies who lunch came in and they'd want a menu with no carbs," says Greenfield.
The chef won't be adapting her menu to such extremes when she opens her first eatery, Field and Green, on Wellington's Wakefield Street. There, she and her partner, Raechal Ferguson, formerly of Waikato, will offer a small lunchtime menu reflecting seasonal food and produce, all adhering to the theme, European soul food.
Months in the planning, many of Greenfield's experiences at Sotheby's are reflected in the menu and the restaurant too. She will cook some of the dishes she served to the wealthy clientele who attended the weekly auctions, which have been printed in a Sotheby's Cafe cookbook she orchestrated during her time there.
When she was choosing a site for her Wellington eatery, the chef was determined she wanted an open, light-filled kitchen with a breakfast bar. After 12 years cooking in a basement beneath Sotheby's Cafe, sending the food up and down to the restaurant via a dumb waiter, she says: "I really wanted to see my diners rather than via a tiny camera."
Field and Green will have a small, regularly changing menu, reflecting what Greenfield says is a new food trend in London for smaller menus. Some of the dishes are a nod to English fare - the debut menu will boast a dish of potted duck, green peppercorns and prunes, red onion marmalade, and toast, along with a smaller dish of Mount Eliza cheddar and Welsh Rarebit.
Some of the dishes are old-fashioned and nostalgic, such as salt beef with bubble and squeak, roast carrot and parsley sauce, along with homemade crumpets and jam.
But they don't share the Sotheby's Cafe pricetag: lunch dishes will be at least half the price of items like the $50 lobster club sandwich currently on the menu at Sotheby's.
One of Greenfield's specialities is ice cream, and she'll make different varieties, such as a marmalade ice cream, and peanut butter, chocolate and salted caramel. "I love seeing people's eyes light up when they see ice cream, and I like the idea that you create it from start to finish."
"I'm also going to do a frugal and feast special, a cheap dish and a more indulgent one. The menu is European, but European means dishes that hail from England, Russia, any parts of Europe, even Anglo-India such as kedgeree."
Greenfield says there are London eateries now serving just a couple of items, such as one that only serves burgers and lobster for NZ$40 - diners choose one or the other - and another called "Bubbled Dogs", serving champagne and hotdogs.
While those are extreme examples and, she thinks, a sign of busy Western lifestyles, she says: "I really like the idea of a small menu rather than pages and pages of stuff. Diners think they want a lot of choices but they don't actually."
Ferguson, an architectural designer who will now work in the restaurant, adds: "It picks up on the idea of not wasting food, too. Our menu will be seasonal and we'll do it well."
Greenfield trained as an actress and worked in theatre before she decided to retrain as a chef. Before she cooked for Sotheby's, which was set up in 1744 and is now one of the world's most prestigious auction houses, she cooked for a cafe in another auction house, Delfina Studio, in London Bridge.
The couple returned to New Zealand last year, drawn to Wellington because it has a heart and a soul. "I couldn't do anymore at Sotheby's," says Greenfield. "We thought we would try a complete life change. We really like this particular area around Blair and Allen Streets, it reminds us of Soho."