Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Market Restaurant

Roberto Flores has the toughest job in quite possibly the busiest spot in the entire city of Chelsea. Flores wakes up everyday at 6:30 a.m. in his one-bedroom apartment on the outskirts of Chelsea overlooking the River Thames. When he has time he stops at his local café to pick up the fuel necessary for the hectic day he has ahead. Flores gets to work just as the sun is peaking through the morning sky and won't go home until it is just beginning to set in the west.

Flores is the manager of The Market Restaurant, by far the most frequented attraction inside the Chelsea Farmers Market. The restaurant opens for breakfast and coffee at 9 a.m. and serves lunch and dinner until it closes at 8 p.m. Flores arrives at the Chelsea Farmers Market before anyone else, around 8 a.m. when he begins his workday, and won’t stop until closing 12 hours later. 

Flores hails from Sicily, where he lived before coming to England 13 years ago. Now, at 41, although his slender and muscular physique makes him look much younger, he has found a home at the restaurant that he has managed for more than 6 years. “In Italy you have the weather, food and drink. England has everything. There is always something to do here, and that’s the way I like it,” he said while standing behind the bar, which is built no more than 10 feet from the kitchen.

Inside the kitchen is where Stuart, the South African chef operates. In a genuine, yet joking manner Flores says, “Stuart is one of the best chefs in all of Chelsea,” loud enough for him to hear and give a slight chuckle.  “Thank you, Roberto,” he cheerfully shouts out while preparing a soon-to-be-happy customer’s lunch.

The restaurant is located on Sydney Street where the traffic from buses and cars can easily be heard coming from Kings Road right around the corner. On beautiful days like today, everyone dines outside, where there are tables numbered 1-29. Each wooden table, with benches on both sides, has a little 8-inch square dish that contains ketchup and mustard in red and yellow squirt bottles, salt and pepper, and an ashtray.

The set up brings me back to Rockville Centre, New York, my hometown where on warm summer days there is a bevy of outdoor seating that I feel only enriches the eating experience. The atmosphere just encourages a peaceful mentality to me. Anyway, back to Chelsea.

The people start filing in one after another after another around 1 p.m. until all 29 tables are full of hungry locals and tourists alike, waiting eagerly to be served their food. The sun shines from everyone’s smiling faces as they sip their drinks and relax before heading back to work or continuing to explore the neighborhood. If some prefer to sit in the shade, waiters rush over to the table and in a counter-clockwise movement, open large green awnings that are spread out among the area. One thing is certain, everyone who works for Flores, from Stuart the chef all the way down to the waiters, strive to make every customer happy.

Everywhere I look there is green. Plants varying from light to dark green go around in a big square, surrounding the eating area with beautiful scenery. The big green awnings hang above tables. Even the actual building where people go up to pay and order drinks from the bar is covered in forest green.

The aroma from the food makes me feel like I should be in Paris or Rome, rather than in a small farmer’s market in Chelsea. Dish after dish come from the kitchen, each one looking more and more delicious as I sit at the bar.

“Roberto is a fair man that makes working for him very enjoyable. Everyone that works here has respect for him … and that leads to a good environment,” said the chef from the kitchen, where a big, rectangular window allows him to receive and deliver orders.

I feel very relaxed and safe at the restaurant: something that isn’t always the easiest for someone in a new place. “We want people to think of the Chelsea Farmer’s Market as a must-see attraction as well as a great place to go with friends and family,” said Flores. “You have to be kind to everyone, whether it is people who frequent often or tourists such as yourself.”

Jim Connelly, a resident of Chelsea, says he loves the restaurant. “I come here four or five times a week because the food is delicious, the people who work here are kind, and it’s a great place to bring my dog,” he said. “Thank you very much, sir; we hope to see you again soon,” Flores said, wearing a big, genuine smile.

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