The group executive chef of M Restaurants, which has just launched its Bar & Grill in Twickenham, tells Janie Manzoori-Stamford about staying true to his food philosophy of focusing on a single ingredient
I’ve always wanted to cook. I was the strange kid baking fairy cakes and apple pies with my mum at the weekend – and I loved it.
No one in my family has a cheffing or a hospitality background. My parents moved to the UK from the Caribbean, where they are not sought-after industries, so they were not on-board with the idea of me becoming a chef. So I did well at school and went to university.
I spent more time working in a brasserie than at lectures. My student loan was spent in the first few weeks and I couldn’t bring myself to tell my parents. I walked into a local restaurant and asked for a job. A year later, I was smashing
it and loving every second. When I graduated, I knew cooking was what I wanted to do.
These days too many chefs don’t know the basics of food. A lot of young chefs know only what they were taught at their last restaurant. I did a modern-day apprenticeship at the In & Out Club in St James’s in London, where I learned the foundations of cooking.
“If you don’t improve and get quicker, you won’t even be good enough for a job at McDonald’s.” These were the words of my executive chef when I was an apprentice and taking too long over prep. They really hurt because I was
doing 6am to 1am five days a week and working hard. But every time I have one of those repetitive jobs, those words come back to me. It was a real turning point.
Working at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay and Le Gavroche was like the chef equivalent of military school. You didn’t go there to have fun and banter, but we enjoyed ourselves through the satisfaction that came from what we were producing. I learned precision, attention to detail and to not accept anything other than perfection. It shaped me as a chef for the rest of my life.
If I’m spending 14 hours a day at work, I want to have a laugh. I’ve found a way to get the best of both worlds. All my kitchens have the same level of discipline in terms of set-up, prep, quality and respect for the produce. And we have amazing staff retention in our kitchens for three reasons: we pay well, we teach them and they enjoy coming to work.
You can do phenomenal food without being an idiot. I’ve worked for chefs in the past who were just bullies. I will not tolerate that in my kitchens.
My cooking style is about showcasing the best of produce. At the M restaurants in the City and Victoria, it’s international produce and I get to draw on my experiences from travelling. With the new M Bar & Grill concept in Twickenham, it’s all British. I wanted to do a pub where it’s more about simplicity on a plate while staying true to my philosophy of taking one ingredient and showing what can be done with it. M was my first venture where it was 100% me and my food.
The garden is where I come to relax. We’re ripping up the riverbank alongside the restaurant to grow our own fruit and veg. My head chef, Semone Bonner [previously of the Set Restaurant in Brighton], has run a kitchen garden before and we’re going to train our team to pick and maintain what they need for their sections. It builds respect for the produce. If they’re going to go out there in the mud every morning, you’d better believe they’ll look after it.
Great British Menu is the most nerve-racking television I’ve done. It’s bloody hot in that kitchen with lights and cameras in your face. It’s intense, but it’s fun.
2014-present Group executive chef, M Restaurants, London
2014-2015 Head chef, Jardin Tan, Melbourne, Australia
2010-2013 Group executive chef, Gaucho, UK/Dubai/Beirut
2007-2010 Head chef, Gaucho, Richmond and O2 Arena
2005-2007 Chef de partie, Gordon Ramsay Holdings
2003-2005 Chef de partie, BaxterStorey