The Saturday Kitchen stalwart and head chef at Pearl Restaurant in London is near to finishing a month-long Street Kitchen tour with Mark Jankel, as part of the London Restaurant Festival.
The first thing I wanted to be was a film critic. I thought, what better way to pass your day than watching films and writing about them. My mother and father always supported my crazy ideas and they never put me off. But in the end I thought it was too much hassle so I gave it up.
I also wanted to be a classical musician. I play cello and piano and I went to the Royal College of Music for a couple of years, but after I saw how talented the kids were there I got disheartened. It’s something I can do as a hobby but I knew I couldn’t make a career of it.
I’ve always been passionate about what was on my plate. When I was growing up the family dinner was a big part of my life, and my mother made a point of having everyone sitting down to dinner every night. It was the highlight of my day.
When I was training as a chef I moved around a lot. The longest I stayed was two years with Eric Chavot as sous chef. I learned the true importance of flavour from him. Nothing else matters, and nothing should distract from it.
Twenty years ago the good restaurants in London were predominantly French, so if you wanted to work at a high level you were really limited to French restaurants. Nowadays the choice you have as a chef is vast compared to when I started out.
One thing that London doesn’t do well, although it is a capital for gastronomy, is street food. When diners think of street food they think hamburgers and hotdogs, which shows that the trend hasn’t taken off yet. It’s a market that has to be researched, but it’s something that could potentially take off in a big way.
Restaurants like Wahaca, Pho and Colony aren’t doing true street food. For me it’s something you eat off a mobile stall or van in the street. It has to be eaten outdoors and be accessible in terms of price.
Mine and Mark’s Street Kitchen has been a big part of my life for six months. We hope to blow everyone’s perception of street food out of the water by serving traditional British classics using produce only from the UK.
Getting the balance between my TV career and the restaurant is tricky. I do TV to promote the restaurant and although I love it, I’m mostly in the kitchen.
I eat out a lot in my spare time. You would have thought I get sick of food but I don’t. It’s a big part of my life. I go to new places to see what new and exciting things people are doing and also going to old favourites.