Growing up in London, Karen Hubrich hated traditional English food.
Fortunately, her Austrian mother and Hungarian father made sure she ate well.
When she was 21, she got a job serving meals at the prestigious Foreign Press Association, near Buckingham Palace. She looked at the first plate and thought, “This is diabolical.”
Soon — without any training whatsoever — she became the organization’s chef.
It was one more stop on a life that had already provided plenty of surprises. And would offer many more.
Four years earlier — just 17 years old — Karen had “escaped” to New York. She found work as a nanny. “It was a horror story,” she recalls. “I worked 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, and lived in a closet.”
The Foreign Press Association job was a step up. But Karen longed to return to New York. “I didn’t have a pot to piss in,” she says. But she came back, lived with friends in the West Village, and — after spotting an ad in the New York Times — landed a job as chef of the MetroTech faculty dining room in Brooklyn.
She had no green card. Back in the day, there was a simple solution: Her employer sponsored her.
She biked to work, had “bankers’ hours,” and weekends off.
After a couple of years though, she got the urge to move. Another Times ad led her to apply to be chef at the Williams Club.
She got the job.
She also moved to Westport. She knew the town well: Her stepfather lived here, and she visited him often each summer.
She commuted to work by train. She had one son, then got pregnant again. The Williams Club offered her a great severance package. She took it.
Her next gigs were closer to home: Food for Thought, the health food place on the Post Road near Norwalk, then 5 years as chef at the Fairfield County Hunt Club.
For the third time though, Karen found a new job through the New York Times. This time it was at the Times — they were looking for an executive chef for their dining room.
So it was back to commuting. She soon ran the the entire food service. It was a great job, in the Times’ historic old building.
But when the paper moved to its new office, an outside firm came in to handle the food. Karen was soon “a single mom with 2 kids, unemployed, and stressed out.”
Fairfield County Hunt Club hired her back. She was there for another 5 years, until Pequot Yacht Club came calling.
Oh, yeah: In between was another 5-year stint, as the personal chef for Michael Bolton and his family.
“He was a great guy — very pleasant to work with,” Karen says. He lived right down the street, in her Old Hill neighborhood.
And she also did catering, and prepared meals to go. Plus all the prepared meals at Double L Farm Stand (which she still does).
These days, Karen is 62. Naturally, she’s on to her next project.
In mid-May, Karen opened a restaurant — her first ever. It’s at 2217 Post Road in Fairfield, just before South Pine Creek.
Warm and cozy, she designed it herself. It’s called Gruel Britannia.
In a nod toward the way life can take unexpected turns, she specializes in English cuisine. The same food Karen loathed as a girl.
Now she makes shepherd’s pie, fish and chips, bangers and mash, Yorkshire pudding, mushy peas — all simple, classical, with her own special twist.
Karen serves breakfast too: English bacon spread with butter and HP sauce, scones, and coffee — specially roasted by her son Lucas.
“The food in London is now unbelievable,” she says of her decision to feature a cuisine she once called “diabolical.”
That’s jolly good.
(Gruel Brittania also offers prepared foods, soups, baked items and frozen selectons. Click here for more information. Hat tip: Darcy Sledge)