Think of all the people who have influenced you over your career.
I’m in the process of planning the next chapter of my career and I’ve gone round in circles and changed my mind so many times. There are so many factors to consider now. There is always a lot to consider but in a global pandemic with changing restrictions in the mix, it is proving harder to pin down exactly a) what I think will work, but more importantly b) what I want to do.
I see the next step as the most important decision I will make.
When making decisions, I normally talk with my friend and business mentor who is not in the hospitality industry. Although he isn’t in the industry, he gets me and is able to question my irrational want to make crazy decisions and offer a more level headed way of thinking that allows me to question myself and my rationale. All of this is so important when trying to make decisions.
For this decision I also decided to go back to where it all started for me. Albeit 5+ years into my career in the hospitality industry, I went back to when I truly knew what it meant to be a chef. I contacted my good friend Lewis King, who was my Head Chef back then and made a plan to go and see him.
I worked with Lewis back in 2001 in Cambridge. I was working at the University Centre in the main prep kitchen. Lewis was Head Chef in the Riverside Restaurant.
Chris Pope was the Executive Chef overseeing the whole business. He was another huge part of my career. I learnt so much from him on how to manage a kitchen and writing menus, but that’s another story. I was working in the prep kitchen for the canteen when Chris asked if I wanted to work a VIP evening event with him and the rest of the team for the restaurant. I still vividly remember we served a beef Wellington stuffed with a foie gras spear it was amazing. White truffles were ordered in and the fryer was drained, cleaned and filled with nut oil. Learning how much the truffles cost, filling a fryer with a specific oil to fry something in, tasting foie gras for the first time, there were so many new experiences in one night, it was completely insane to me but I loved it.
I started to pay more attention to what was going on in the restaurant kitchen and eventually an opportunity became available to work with Lewis so I was there in a flash! I remember him and the Restaurant Manager had been to the Fat Duck and were talking about a dish that was served to them on the back of their hands for them to eat along with other crazy things that again blew my mind.
John Campbell’s Formulas for Flavour had just been released and this was the go to book at the time. So like anyone who read it, we were roasting veal bones at 172°C and we made so many chicken, mushroom and foie gras terrines.
One day Lewis brought in a copy of his Charlie Trotter cook book. It was like no cook book I had ever seen. Big, with beautiful pictures on every other page. Ingredients I had never heard of and flavor combinations that seemed alien to me. But that book, along with numerous other things I experienced whilst working with Lewis changed the way I thought about food for ever.
Lewis eventually left and I took over as Head Chef under the watchful eye of Chris Pope. We have stayed in touch, I have eaten at most of the places he has since worked and we always comment on each other’s food on social media, but it had been a while since I’d seen him.
When I reached the point in my career where I was managing kitchens, I worked my holidays in Michelin star restaurants to gain more knowledge and experience. Constantly staying inspired. Even when you are at the top you need to feed from something to stay being the best. Eating out at other restaurants, reading books, whatever it takes, we all find different ways to do it but those at the top stay inspired!
I have written so many business plans over the last few months, some more spider diagrams than a plan, but in each one there was always something missing.
Then a few weeks ago I was lucky enough to spend a little time in the company of Matt Sankey who since the start of this pandemic back in March has been a huge inspiration. Watching what he has been doing through social media and the support he has given other business through knowledge of rules, legislation, etc it seems like he literally hasn’t stopped the whole way through this and it made me think. There is something about being around people like this, it’s contagious. I realised that for the best part of 7 months I have been uninspired. I have adapted and developed my business and done some great things but personally I haven’t been inspired. So I reached out to Lewis to see if he would spend a day with me to talk through my most favorable business plan.
Turns out it has been 8 years since we have actually seen each other, so I will be going to visit his restaurant as soon possible! After an 11k walk along the Norfolk coast I was not only certain the plan was the right one, I was also more informed about the things I needed to do to make it work. Most notably, I was inspired.
So surround yourself with likeminded people, keep learning and developing your skills and push yourself to be the best version of yourself. We all have flaws but what separates us is the is the ability to learn from mistakes and bad decisions and move on to bigger and better things.
Make sure you stay inspired. Meet up with the people that have inspired you, find new people to inspire you and though doing this you will inspire others!
This is a question I get asked a lot as a chef and up until now I would always just say I don’t have one, but now I think I may just have created it!
Thai spiced butternut squash with crab and coconut
Beautiful freshly picked white crab meat in a brick pastry tart topped with a Thai spiced butternut squash espuma
This is possibly my favorite dish that I have created, ever. I love Thailand and the flavours they use in their cooking so I have utilised some of these flavours in this dish.
I have been making the soup base for the espuma for years but the addition of the sweet meaty crabmeat takes the flavors to the next level.
If you would like this dish as part of your Supper Club please just ask or if you want to give it a go yourself here is the recipe to try it at home.
300g freshly picked white crab meat
¼ red chili (finely diced)
8 sprigs coriander (finely chopped)
Zest of 1 lime
Juice of 1 lime
2 spring onions (finely chopped)
5g galangal (finely chopped)
Mix everything together and season with salt to taste.
Thai spiced butternut squash espuma
300g butternut squash (roughly diced)
½ onion (finely sliced)
2 cloves garlic (peeled and sliced)
¾ red chili (finely sliced)
20g galangal (finely chopped)
4 lime leaves
1 stick lemon grass
1 tin coconut milk
20g coconut oil
Salt to taste
Place the coconut oil into a large saucepan on medium heat. The add everything else except for the coconut milk and water. Place a lid on the pan and cook on a low heat to sweat everything down until soft stirring occasionally to ensure nothing sticks.
Then add the coconut milk and water, bring to the boil and simmer for 1 hour.
Remove the lemon grass and blend until smooth, and then pass through a fine sieve into the espuma gun. Gas with nitrogen.
Brick pastry tart
6 x12cm round sheets of brick pastry
Lay the brick pastry in a tart mold, and cover with cling film. Fill the Clingfilm with rice.
Bake in the oven at 200°C until evenly golden brown (15 minutes ish).
Remove and allow to cool.
Fresh coconut flesh
Place the brick pastry tart in the center of the plate.
I have intentionally ignored all modern cooking techniques over the last 5 years and gone back to basics. Some of the modern techniques are over used and you can’t beat good old-fashioned simplicity.
This approach has served me well but recently I have had more and more private events being booked and so I am going to re-introduce some of the newer techniques I have learnt over the years along side the more traditional methods.
These newer techniques will help to enhance the experience for our guests so whilst keeping my feet firmly grounded in the classic cooking style, I can’t ignore the potential of some relatively simple bits of kit.
The first new dish will be a delicious light celeriac mousse using this ISI espuma gun.
While foams get a lot of negative press, the theory behind foam allowing the flavour to hit all taste receptors in the mouth at the same time is a great technique to fully exploit the flavours of a dish so I will be using the bamix to add some highly flavoured garnishes too.
To make sure I keep the balance of old and new, I am also going to add some home made pasta to our menus too.
Lots of exciting things on the way so keep an eye on my social media.
I started with six people in Sulston’s Kitchen and they were mainly friends and family. This slowly grew to eight people and then to ten. Eventually, we had to put on two nights per month and soon people were booking a month in advance. December 2018 we struggled to fill one night but by December 2019 we had a Supper Club every Friday and Saturday through the month in the lead up to Christmas.
Over this time I have teamed up with The Old Fire Station to cook one of the first Secret Supper Clubs in Tonbridge at Haywards Farm Shop cooking with all their amazing produce. It was a chef’s dream. This was followed with a Secret Supper Club at Neptune in Tonbridge, cooking on the Range Master in their showroom and serving from what would normally be their central till area. The guests were seated around the cooking area on Neptune’s beautiful dining room furniture; this was a really special night.
The whole idea of the supper clubs was to bring people together through the love of food, likeminded people that may have just moved to the town or those who wanted to be social and get to know new people. Everyone sat around one large table and one of the courses was always a sharing course, this helped create conversation and interaction. The open kitchen in close proximity to the guests was perfect as it gave me the ability to interact with the guests helped to add to their experience. It was the perfect way to describe the dishes, answer questions about the food, talk about the local suppliers and the amazing produce as well as general chat about new businesses in the town, up and coming festivals and events and so much more.
It was always BYO, which I feel, made the evening a lot more relaxed and also less expensive and this is partly what helped create the relaxed environment.
In these challenging times, much of what made the supper clubs so successful is still possible except now I run them in the comfort of your own home.
We will have monthly menus of 4, 6 and 10 courses for you to choose from for 6 – 8 guests (currently only 6 in line with government guidelines).
We are currently booked up every Saturday in October but free all other evenings so for more info and to book just head over to our online shop.
This is one part of the next chapter and I look forward to cooking for you and your guests.
Like most people in the UK, I have been drinking since my early teenage years whether in Europe on school trips, raiding spirit cupboards and making some serious cocktails that Dale DeGroff would have been proud of, hanging around a shop until someone would buy us a case of stella. The list goes on.
I talk openly about this with numerous friends and the social culture in this country that revolves around the pub and drinking.
To be honest I like the feeling of being drunk, on numerous levels, I like that first pint in the sun. I like the first pint after a long day at work. I like the pint in the airport at 5am. I like the glass of wine with a nice meal; the champagne to celebrate an achievement, the glass of whiskey with a friend, the mojitos on holiday in the pool. You get the picture.
So after an extremely heavy 2019/20, on Monday 3rd August I decided to take a break from alcohol. I’ve done it before and managed a year around 2013. Presumably not by chance, this was when I was training at my peak and competing at high-level jiu jitsu competitions. At the time I also ranked in the top 20 for my age bracket in sprint distance triathlons and I was completing a Foundation Degree in Culinary Arts. All whilst I was working full time as Executive Chef.
In theory, to break most habits you disconnect with people you associate with the thing you want to stop. But it seems everyone drinks alcohol so unless I want to stay in on my own this isn’t going to work. It’s hard though and I get tired of explaining why I’m not drinking. Especially when the person asking you is drunk. Tbh, when it’s round the other way, I’m no better.
I stopped drinking on a Monday and of course I had already arranged to meet a friend that week for a drink, so the first hurdle was telling my friend I’m not drinking. He said he was actually looking to have a break for a bit so I sighed with relief and we met up for a non-alcoholic drink. I thought for a moment this would be the answer. I could be everyone’s excuse not to drink; maybe everyone was looking for a reason to have a night off?!
Last time I stopped drinking I remember wanting to feel different in the mornings. To be honest I didn’t feel much difference, but that’s ok.
From experience, when making big life changes like this it is important to have goals and a focus. Create a reason not to drink. I have signed up for the Tour de Cambridgshire in June next year, which is a 100 mile fast paced race around Cambridgshire and I am looking to head to Denmark in spring 2020 to cycle 820 kilometers in 7 days around the Baltic Sea.
There will always be excuses and reasons to drink and for me it is important not to feel bad if I do, it is a marathon not a sprint. If I have a drink I will just reset the next day and start again. If by this time next year I have drunk 10 times, it is better than to have drunk 365 times. The following year I can hopefully get it down to 5 times and so on. Who knows I may be able to just stop completely.
I will post a blog in 6 months time for anyone that is interested to see how it’s going.