Ahead of her appearance on Great British Menu this evening, we caught up with Nat Tallents, executive chef at the Box, Plymouth.
What was your best subject at school?
Art – I was always drawing as a kid. In school I lived in the art block
What was your first job?
My family had a mechanic business, so my first job was cleaning cars for my dad. He would give me £5 per car but knock 50p off for areas I missed – so most the time I would end up owing him money! I got better at it over time, but I'm still not up to his standard
What was your first job in hospitality?
At 14 I started as a waitress in a restaurant near my house. At first I hated it as I was painfully shy, but it really helped me to come out of my shell and it was the beginning of my love for the hospitality industry
What do you normally have for breakfast?
Coffee! That's the first thing, then I've really got into smoothies over lockdown: fruit, ginger, almonds, yogurt, peanut butter – I have that for proper breakfast mid-morning
What do you do to relax?
Cook! It's my favourite thing to do, on a good day or a bad day. I'm also guilty of watching a lot of American TV shows while I'm cooking. I also do a bit of yoga and I like to be outside as much as possible
Which is your favourite restaurant?
Paul Ainsworth's Café Rojano in Cornwall – it is really good food and service, and just a relaxing place to be. Best affogato you will ever have!
What is your favourite drink?
Coffee – a cortado is my favourite. Or gin and tonic, preferably a local one
What is your favourite food/cuisine?
Mexican. I went to Los Angeles last year and found some amazing Mexican restaurants and Mexican fusion food – it blew my mind
Which ingredient do you hate the most?
Salmon. No matter how its cooked I can't stand the taste or smell. I grew up with my mum giving me salmon paste on sandwiches, so I blame her for that!
Are there any foods/ingredients that you refuse to cook with? If so, why?
I'm not a fan of foie gras – I don't really like the taste and I don't like the whole process involved. I love nose-to-tail eating and think you can do some great things with offal instead
What flavour combinations do you detest?
I'm not a fan of aniseed-type flavours, but I can't think of a combo I hate
What do you always carry with you?
A pen – I love technology but I'm old school. I like to write lists in notebooks – that's how I create ideas
How would you describe your desk?
Literally the tidiest, most organised desk you've ever seen, I'm a little obsessed about it
Which person in hospitality have you most admired?
Massimo Bottura. I went to his restaurant two years ago and it was mind-blowing. He was so humble and poetic about food. Plus, he is doing a lot to talk about food, food waste and community projects, which is inspiring
Which person gave you the greatest inspiration?
I would say my first mentor was Tim Bilton. He gave me a job with virtually no experience – I couldn't even make an omelette when I walked into his kitchen. He really inspired me and motivated me to explore food, taste things and really become a chef
Cast away on a desert island, what luxury would you take?
I think it would be a notebook or a radio. I can't go anywhere without a notebook and pen, but I also listen to the radio a lot – usually Radio Two
What daily newspaper/website do you read?
I'm not really into newspapers, but I like to look at industry news when I have the time
If not yourself, who would you rather have been?
I would rather have been born a couple of decades earlier, so I could've worked for Marco Pierre White or alongside some of the old school chefs like Michel Roux Sr, or even Escoffier
If you had not gone into hospitality, where do you think you would be now?
I wanted to be an architect as a child, but I think if I hadn't been in catering, I always thought I could be a barber. I did toy with tattooing at one point, I have tattooed myself a little bit!
Describe your ultimate nightmare?
I have nightmares about not being able to finish orders in the kitchen a LOT. It's like the same dream trying to find an ingredient or a mixing bowl. But I think my living nightmare would be if someone said I had to stop cooking or stop working with food. I wouldn't know what to do with myself
When and where was your last holiday?
I went on holiday to Spain in February 2020 just before the lockdown. I was so relieved to have done that before all this happened. It wasn't a very warm holiday, but it was great to have some time away and I didn't know it'd be my last for so long!
Tell us a secret...
I'm a trained archer
What irritates you most about the industry?
I think feeling that you must choose between the job and the rest of your life. Finding work/life balance in the industry is difficult; it's getting better, but it still seems like you must miss out or choose and that's quite hard. Especially when you love what you do, like I do
When did you last eat a hamburger?
It's got to be years ago, and probably on a hangover. I made a rule at the end of the year to only eat meat if I know where it's from, like the actual farm, so I haven't eaten much meat at all
What's your favourite film?
The Matrix – it was the first DVD I owned and it came free with the DVD player, so I watched it over and over. I have a few Matrix-related tattoos and I could probably voice over the whole film
Who would play "you" in a film about your life?
I often forget what gender I am, so it's hard to know who to pick! For a while I got told I looked like Antoni from Queer Eye and he's a chef – so him!
What's your favourite book?
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. What a legend and what an inspiring book. I've read it so many times and have bought a lot of copies for other chefs throughout my life
What is your favourite prepared product?
Crumpets! They are my go-to on a bad day or good day, sweet or savoury – I love them!
Who would be in your "fantasy" brigade?
Prep chef: Tim Bilton, of Cannon Hall Farm, Yorkshire; sauce: Grace Harrigan-Clough of the Waterfront, in the Midlands; on pass: Ben Mack of the Box (my head chef); on larder: Andrew Dudley, the Plume of Feathers at Mitchell, Cornwall; on pastry, Martyn Lipp, who is retired, but he's one of my first mentors and the best pastry chef I have ever worked with
If you had more time, what would you do?
Travel more, eat more. I don't feel like there's ever enough time to do it now!
Photo credit: BBC/Optomen Television Ltd/Ashleigh Brown
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