The Michelin starred chef patron of The Olive Room and Seafood and Grill in Ilfracombe reveals why, for him, food is like music and perfume – and why fussy eaters “break him”
Which foods take you back to childhood?
Growing up in Woolacombe near the beach we would have a lot of summer barbecues in the garden, so it would be potato salad, tomatoes, lamb sausages, burgers and Dad’s crispy chicken.
What does home taste like?
Quite cakey. During the school holidays my mum does a lot of baking with her grandchildren so when I go back to visit there is always some kind of baking going on.
Grazer or three-meals-a-day-er?
I’m a picker. When I was a younger chef I was always told off for constantly eating but, to be honest, I think it helped train my palate. A lot of the things I’ve created have been the result of accidents – maybe I’ve been picking at something and not actually finished eating it before grabbing something else. I remember eating crab and at the same time nibbling some golden beetroot and thinking, ‘wow this works really well’. I later developed a dish with crab and golden beetroot.
Is eating an emotional experience for you?
It’s a lot like music and perfume in that food has the power to bring back great memories – and painful ones. If you’ve broken up from a relationship where you ate certain foods together, they can still evoke memories.
What do you like to cook at home?
I’m much more likely to look in the fridge and pick at a few things than rustle up a meal. I spend so much of my time making dishes in the restaurant that I just can’t be bothered to do it for myself.
What would you never eat again?
It used to be avocado. If it’s a decent avocado (not over-ripe or under-ripe and with a good texture) I can actually handle it now. When I first ate an avo I didn’t see what the fuss was about – it was just mushy. Other than that – nothing. That’s probably why I’m a chef: I just adore food. You meet a lot of fussy eaters and I just can’t stand it. It breaks me!
What’s in your fridge?
Milk, cheddar or smoked cheese plus beetroot, smoked mackerel pâté and cured meat. I like picky and summery salad food rather than stodgy stuff: fresh, nice, easy and unprocessed. And there’s always mayonnaise and salad cream. It’s the kind of thing you might be served for lunch in France.
What do you eat when no one is looking?
A lot of chocolate and sweets like Love Hearts. At the moment I’m obsessed with jaffa cakes – that’s a fairly weak spot. I also eat a lot of cherry Chupa Chups which you can get in exchange for a ticket won on a local arcade machine.
Self control or self indulgence?
Two years ago it was definitely more about self indulgence and I was a lot bigger. As a chef it can be really hard because there are always going to be brownie trimmings left over or a pudding to test. You think you’re having a really small spoonful of everything but over the course of a day and an evening you’ve probably eaten about three puddings. Now I keep away from the pastry because if I try it, I don’t stop.