It was either training to be a chef or being a professional cricket player. My aunt was a big influence on me. She was the ultimate hedgerow cook and it's very much because of her that I chose to be a chef. She was very kind, had a great palate and embraced my love of food. She shared her knowledge willingly and encouraged me to cook with her. Her nettle soup and Sri Lankan chicken curry, along with my gran's cold fried pork belly with bubble and squeak, form some of my earliest food memories.
Do your research - being a great home cook is not the same as working in a professional kitchen. But that said, it's a great career choice. It certainly has its lows, such as working long and anti-social hours, but it's hugely satisfying and rewarding. I have no regrets. I enjoy what I do and always have.
Shortcuts and rushing will do you no good in the long term. I'd encourage young people to take their time and master their skills. Look to a good kitchen with a proven track record that takes good care of its employees and trains them well. Don't take a higher position if you feel that you have more to learn from your existing situation. Keep your head down and work hard, but also make sure you take the time to have interests outside of the kitchen. It's important and healthy to switch off.
We are a serious global contender on the food and restaurant scene, which is something that would have been laughed at 20 years ago. The nation's love of food has soared beyond all recognition. I think it's great that chefs and the industry we're in are now seen as more credible career choices. The media is certainly one factor that has played a major part in helping in the success of restaurants and chefs. Social media has been a great platform for chefs, too. Everything is more accessible, but it's important not to make slapdash decisions that you might regret further down the line.
Local food in season is the most important composition of a menu. Local means fresher, closer to the door and supporting the local community. Seasonal means food is at its prime and most reasonably priced. It gives me great satisfaction to source local goat, meat, and indeed most ingredients when composing our menu. It is of paramount importance, and as chefs we must not forget this. We should do everything we can to support our local suppliers and communities.
Le Champignon Sauvage is my wife's and my life. It takes dedication, hard work, passion and enjoyment. We're lucky because, despite the usual frustrations you'd expect from hospitality, we genuinely love what we do and wouldn't have it any other way.
One Michelin star was a dream, and then when we won two stars back in 2000, that made a big impact. It's incredibly humbling to see guests who have come from all over the world to Cheltenham to eat at Le Champignon Sauvage. Since the beginning we have been totally dedicated to giving our customers the best dining experience. We want to make our menus accessible to everyone.
You can't rest on your laurels and your cuisine needs to evolve. I'm constantly reading cookbooks written by chefs from all over the world; picking up ideas and seeing how I can incorporate them into my menu. Inspiration comes from many sources: eating out, eating with friends, reading, the internet and looking on the shelves of Indian, Chinese and Japanese shops for ingredients.
My guilty pleasure? Hobnobs with Marmite and mature Cheddar
1987-present Co-owner and head chef, Le Champignon Sauvage, Cheltenham
2014Good Food Guide Chef of the Year
2007 Catey Chef of the Year
2000 Second Michelin star
1996 National Chef of the Year