Stevie Parle: Pearls of Wisdom

By Stefan Chomka

- Last updated on GMT

Stevie Parle is the chef-owner of Dock Kitchen in West London
Stevie Parle is the chef-owner of Dock Kitchen in West London
The chef-owner of Dock Kitchen in west London and star of Channel 4’s six-part TV series Spice Trip talks about the importance of travel, being fleet-of-foot, and why he dislikes concept restaurants.

I started cooking at the age of 16 at The River Café.​ Partly because I was so young and also because it was so influential, I can’t get it out of my system. I don’t cook Italian food but it’s the approach it took that stuck. I can still hear Rose [Gray, co-founder] asking, ‘why are you doing that?’ when I’m at work. ‘You’ve wrecked it’, she’d say.

Dock Kitchen started out as a pop-up. ​Its culture grew out of how I like to live.

I cook quite rough ’n’ ready food – it’s​ well travelled.​ A big part of my restaurant is that it is extremely experimental. I set aside money each month to enable staff to go on food trips. We’ve been to places such as Turkey, India and France in a drive for inspiration, to find new recipes and bring them back and adapt them. 

I’m not a pan-throwing chef.​But I do understand that, to have a good service, you need to artificially create an environment with a certain level of stress. You’ve got to be careful to get the best out of a service.

I like restaurants I feel have integrity ​– where everything fits together properly. I don’t like concept restaurants.

Everyone wants to be a restaurateur​ these days, no-one wants to be a chef. ​Chefs with intensity and experience behind them are so rare now, it’s not often that you find someone who’s really driving things forward. It’s usually someone who’s older and comfortable in what they’re already doing, or who can’t push things on.

There is no proper culinary education​ in the UK.​ Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen project is a proper apprentice system, and looks after its people. A lot of chefs tend to work for Jamie afterwards because it’s the easy option, but the ones who get out are loads better than those who’ve been to catering college and spent a year in a hotel basement.

Young chefs are concerned with​ building their CV and doing short stints in​ great restaurants.​ The number of people who claim to have worked at Noma for a short stage is incredible. The thing to do is start at a restaurant and stay there and build skills, rather than your CV.

We’re an overgrown family at Dock​ Kitchen.​ It’s about the atmosphere and the feeling of the restaurant that makes it a success, rather than any formula.

The thing I most like about the industry​ is the people.​ It’s a real privilege to have worked alongside so many good people.

I’ve got a chef’s dream restaurant.​ I own it, have no debt, and cook whatever I want. I have a huge amount of freedom and that’s very valuable to me.

In the past few years so many people​ have been going into the restaurant​ industry,​ but the number of high-quality chefs can’t support it. That’s probably why there are so many tight concepts – if you open a chicken restaurant it’s just a cooking system. You don’t see as many proper restaurants opening these days.

I’m not very particular about who I​ employ.​ I’m not looking for people with lots of cooking experience but for those who know how to eat and have experience with food.

There’s a lot of extremely talented​ people working hard for very little money, ​such as street-food operators. Prices are getting higher, margins are getting tighter.

I dislike the increasingly gimmicky and​ trendy nature of the restaurant industry, ​especially all the social media and people queuing for new openings. It doesn’t create a wonderful restaurant culture. I’m not saying that the restaurant scene in London isn’t exciting, it is, but we are going to end up with a situation like in the States where new restaurants can last for only a year.

Travel is really important to me to keep​ things fresh.​ In the past I travelled a lot but I have two kids now so I make my trips shorter and better organised. I’m planning one to Korea but I have very specific aims on what I want to get out of it.

I have a really short attention span.​ I like to see rapid change. Dock Kitchen has an agility to it. The team is small enough to change things in the kitchen very quickly. Fast change keeps things interesting.

This Pearls of wisdom interview appears in the September issue of Restaurant magazine. Subscribe here.

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