How has the way that you cook changed as your career has progressed?
When I started cooking, I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to work at Claridge’s, one of the oldest hotels in London. One of the most influential chefs of our time was Chef Auguste Escoffier, whose contributions to the culinary arts were fundamentally important to the profession, from inventing the brigade system to penning down foundational recipes on paper. His restaurant was very set on classic French gastronomy, and that’s what I learnt at Claridge’s. Today, not many young chefs learn the basic classic culinary skills; everyone wants to learn the new techniques. They forget that there’s a past in gastronomy. Learning the classic, fundamental techniques of gastronomy at such a young age whilst working alongside progressive chefs, has allowed me to fully understand what it is to cook. I’ve learned so much more because I learned the fundamentals.
Where and how do you find inspiration for your work?
I find inspiration everywhere – from my staff, customers and travels. Even my childhood memory, that’s why the food at Tippling Club is fun and childish in a way. I like to use the same ingredients my mother used in her cooking, to recreate the same comfort food that I had as a child. I travel often for work and when I visit obscure places and encounter a dish or ingredient that I do not know of. I will research about it and develop something out of my own ideas based on that dish or ingredient. But I will never replicate a dish and I don’t read cookbooks or rely on food trends for inspiration.
Did you grow up eating mushrooms? What is your earliest memory of eating a mushroom or a mushroom dish?
My love for mushrooms started at a very young age. In my hometown, Devizes, Loxam, just across the street from my house were open acres of fields and forest. As a young child, I would go into the fields to pick mushrooms and my father would sauté them with garlic, butter and salt. My fondest memory as a child was travelling with my father on tour during his professional cricket days. On one occasion, we visited a pub where they served a grilled garlic butter field mushroom bigger than a 30inch plate, with a slice of toast and bacon. The wild flavors of mushrooms remind me of my childhood and that is why I rather eat a mushroom over a steak.
Do you see mushrooms as a luxurious ingredient or a humble ingredient?
It depends on how you prepare the mushrooms. There are humble mushrooms like your button mushrooms, which cost $8 a kilo, and the luxurious morel mushrooms, which cost $165 a kilo. It is up to your imagination what you do with it. Mushrooms contain natural glutamate umami flavor and when you pan-fry it, the flavor profile you get is similar to eating meat. What I like about mushrooms is that it is an amazing ingredient that can be manipulated into whatever you want.
For the rest of your life you can cook with, and eat, only one variety of mushrooms, which variety would you choose, and why?
Simple field mushrooms. If it was caramelized correctly and cooked the same way that my father did, with garlic butter, it will taste almost like meat. I would rather eat a pan-seared mushroom with chips over steak with chips.
What’s the secret to getting the most flavor out of fungi?
Caramelizing the mushrooms in a right temperature pan. It is important not to season the mushrooms until it is finished cooking. By adding salt, you are drawing out moisture from the mushrooms and losing caramelization. Without caramelization, you are losing intensity of the umami flavor from the mushrooms. To me, cooking a mushroom is like cooking a steak. It is always good to treat it with a little bit more respect like meat. A simple and classic way is to add a few drops of lemon juice, a lock of garlic and chopped parsley. For a little boost of umami and caramelization, just a pinch of salt, and a few drops of lemon juice will really appreciate the mushroom in its best moment.
If you’re cooking mushrooms at home for yourself or your friends how do you like to prepare them?
I will take a kilo of basic, generic button mushrooms, chopped into quarters and pan-fried with butter until I see color. Next, I will add fresh garlic, chives and maybe spring onions. Let the butter burn so you’ll get that nut flavor. Lastly, serve it into a bowl with the oil and top it off with freshly grated parmesan cheese. It makes a perfect side dish to anything, steak or fish. It works for all. It is jampacked with umami flavor from the mushrooms and parmesan cheese, almost like a umami bomb.
Can you describe a memorable experience involving a glass or bottle of Krug?
When I first started working at Claridge’s, I was only getting a monthly salary of 190 pounds. But I saved up a year’s worth of salary to fly to France and eat at one of my idol’s restaurant. It was Alain Ducasses at the Le Louis XV and I had only saved up enough for the meal. Thus, when the champagne trolley came up, I couldn’t afford a glass. But the sommelier said “no pressure” and gave me a glass of champagne. That was actually the first time I drank Krug, and I am now lucky to enjoy Krug fairly regularly. To look back at that experience and remember my first taste of the best champagne in the world, was Krug, was one of the best moments of my life.
What is the dish you have paired with Krug Grande Cuvée?
Foie Gras and Black Truffle stuffed Morel Mushrooms with Confit Cocks Combs and Wild Herbs Morel mushrooms are hard to find because they only grow in certain climates in Europe. It is one of the most sought after mushroom because of its depth of flavor. The beauty of the morel mushroom is that it looks like a pinecone and it is hollow in the centre unlike most mushrooms that are a solid mass. The hollow centre allows you to stuff them with ingredients. For this dish, we’ve made a foie gras, black truffle and chicken mousse that we have filled with the mushroom. We lightly poached and seared them with salt. The mushroom is served with poached cocks combs, which is one of my favorite ingredients and they are very hard to come by. We then salt them for 12 hours, confit for about 24 hours and lightly pan-fry them in chicken fat. It is a time-consuming dish but it uses simple ingredients, mushroom with chicken, fresh herbs and parsley puree.
Please explain the inspiration behind the dish?
The inspiration is based on very classic French techniques. People often try to over-construct certain dishes. Whereas for me, I really wanted to showcase the mushroom, with the beautiful underlining tone of chicken from the cocks comb. When you poach the morel mushroom, there is a gelatinous texture you will get because of the chicken mousse. This works very well with the cocks comb because you get a nice blend of earthiness from the mushroom and fattiness from the chicken.
Why does it pair so well with Krug Grande Cuvée?
The notes you get when you drink a glass of Krug are very similar to that of the earthiness of any format of mushroom. By adding that note to the gelatinous texture of the cocks comb and fattiness of the chicken, you get this beautiful balance of the earthiness and fattiness of the meat, cut through by the mild acidity of the Krug Grande Cuvée. Underneath that, you get this salty characteristic from combining mushroom, meat and fat together. Krug Grande Cuvée has this beautiful effect of cleaning your palette and elevating all the notes you find within the champagne at the same time.