A minute on the clock: Jason Atherton

13 October 2005
A minute on the clock: Jason Atherton

New London eaterie Maze has been open only four months but has already claimed several awards, the latest of which was Time Out's gong for Restaurant of the Year. Emily Manson caught up with head chef Jason Atherton

How did it feel to win the award? Fantastic. It's very rewarding after such a short period of time to get such an award. Obviously staff have been working really long hours so it's a great reward for them and makes them proud to work here.

What makes the restaurant so special? We focus on quality ingredients, simple presentation and cooking for the customer. It's not just about the chef or the food, though, it's about making sure the whole concept works from the minute customers walk in. Serving the food in modern, tapas-style portions captures the imagination of customers and gives them control.

You completed a stage at Spanish restaurant El Bulli. What was the most important thing you learnt there? Understanding the "wow" factor of a restaurant - going beyond the food, capturing people's imagination with something original and dynamic that's not been seen before. I knew if I got that right at Maze then it would be a success.

You use some styles and techniques from El Bulli - who are your other key influences? Gordon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White taught me precision in cooking, clean presentation and the essence of flavour. It doesn't matter how original or wacky the food combinations are, you need to be able to taste the ingredients' actual flavours.

What has sparked the demand for tapas-style menus? As people eat out more, they're becoming more demanding and adventurous, and restaurants have to keep up with this. People want an alternative to the traditional three courses, so here you eat the same amount but with 10 dishes - it's just more exciting.

You're appearing at the Chef Conference on 18 October. Why do you think it's important to go? It's important to mix with people like Andoni Adriz and see what they do - they're seriously talented cooks, and to be picked to do demonstrations with them is amazing. I always watched any demonstrations I could when I was younger - it's inspiring to see great chefs and you learn so much. It's an alternative way to grow your knowledge base.

Do you like working in London again? It was tough the first time, but I worked with great chefs like Tom Aikens and Eric Chavot. Now, coming back, it's great to be associated with Gordon Ramsay and it's very humbling to mix with so many exciting people. Robbie Williams and Matt Lucas came in the other day and were mucking about in the kitchen - you just stand back and go: "Wow! Is this really happening?"

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