the gentlewoman

Reader of the Month

Bonny Porter is the culinary mastermind behind Balls & Company, a thriving meatball-focused restaurant on Greek Street in the Soho district of London. For this year’s International Women’s Day, the 28-year-old Australian-native assembled some of London’s finest female chefs for an extravaganza of hearty food and sisterly solidarity. On its eve, the former Masterchef finalist put down her oven gloves for a quick clambake with The Gentlewoman’s Richard O’Mahony.

Bonny Porter

Richard: Tell me about the menu for tonight’s dinner.

Bonny: There are five courses, each by a different chef who’ll cook it on the night so it should be lots of fun. Sandia Chang from Bubbledogs is doing a crab pot sticker canapé; Olia Hercules, who runs Mamushka, is making a green, tall borscht, which will be complemented by Moldavian flatbread prepared by Roz Bado from Gail’s Bakery; Freddie Janssen of F.A.T. Pickles is doing a pink mole taco; Emily Dobbs is creating a pumpkin, chestnut and sage oil burrata. Main course is by Margot Henderson, who’s doing a braised squid and fennel with a side dish of Jerusalem artichoke purée, which I’m preparing. And to finish, Tanya Steytler from Snaps and Rye, will be serving up a Cornish bread and butter pudding with clotted cream.

R: Sounds delicious!

B: The dishes are inspired by the women who’ve influenced each chef’s career, for example, Olia’s borscht is an homage to her Ukrainian mother and grandmother, Emily’s burrata is a tribute to her mentor Skye Gyngell and Tanya’s dessert is a nod to her Cornish roots. The hospitality industry can still be a tough place for women to succeed so it’s about celebrating those women who have made it to the top and showing that it’s possible to do so.

R: Who inspired your artichoke side dish?

B: It’s a tribute to my mum’s efforts to get me to eat vegetables as a child! Growing up, my mum took real pride in putting on a great dinner. My parents would also take my two sisters and I to different restaurants at the weekends so that we could experience international cuisine like Ethiopian, Cambodian and Vietnamese. Sydney, where I'm from, is a real culinary melting pot and my mum and dad were very passionate about encouraging us to enjoy it.

R: It obviously worked. What do you enjoy most about being a chef?

B: I think it’s the instant gratification. There’s a real-time start and finish – in 15 minutes I can create a really beautiful meal. I mean, it’s hard and pressurised work, but I don’t think I could do something that would take years to complete. I love the mechanics of a well-run kitchen too. Chefs almost have a dance – it’s mesmerising to watch.

R: How long has Balls & Company been in Soho?

B: Nearly two years. I think, being an outsider, you can recognise gaps in the market and I’d seen that gourmet meatballs were doing really well in cities like New York and Sydney, but the approach of some of the restaurants wasn’t very subtle – lots of puns.

R: I can imagine.

B: So we’ve taken a more restrained and pared-back approach, where the focus is on quality, locally-sourced sustainable ingredients. I’m very passionate about supporting family-owned suppliers and producers – for example, our pork comes from Redhill Farm in Lincolnshire, which is run by a husband and wife team. So diners are getting a truly farm-to-table experience with no balls!

Interview by Richard O'Mahony. Photograph courtesy of Fraser Communications. Would you like to be the next featured reader? Then sign-up sister and tell us about yourself!