Ian Swainson on pioneering surrealist art inspired food in West Sussex

By Finn Scott-Delany

- Last updated on GMT

Ian Swainson The Pass
Following stints at a number of top-end restaurants, Ian Swainson led The Samling Hotel in Cumbria to a Michelin star, before taking over from Matt Gillan at The Pass, an intimate chef’s table restaurant at the South Lodge Hotel near Horsham.

You took over the kitchen at The Pass two years ago. How is it going?
For a chef it takes a long time to truly find out who you are. Some chefs aspire to become their mentors and some chefs want to be more unique - which has always been my ambition, but it takes time. I have now been a head chef for six years and it has been a slow evolution to what you see today.

How does what you do here differ to your cooking at previous restaurants?
In food, as in art, your headspace will change with everything that is around you - this is what inspires you to create. At The Pass I have taken something that I started at my previous work, but now in a much freer environment. Also being a Brighton resident, there is inspiration all around. I must say being happy, with a good life/work balance is the key to being truly creative.

There are elements of contemporary Spanish cuisine in your cooking...
Spain is somewhere very close to my heart, as my long-term girlfriend is from there, we visit regularly and with such a wealth of amazing food and chefs, it is hard not to be inspired. Last year I was very lucky to be able to do work experience at Quique Dacosta’s eponymous three-star in Alicante, which was amazing and opened my eyes to how creative you can be with food. Hopefully one day I can emulate this.

Where else does your inspiration come from when developing new dishes?
I look at a lot of great chefs and you can see influences throughout the menu of techniques that they use, but I have to say that I am much more inspired from chefs abroad. Also I feel that British chefs tend to go with the trends too much - if I never see another Michelin star restaurant doing a salmon, horseradish and beetroot dish again, it’s too soon.

You talk about your love of art – how important is this as in inspiration?
It works as the foundation to what I do. I love the way that both food and art is subjective, evokes an emotional connection and needs a creative process to achieve. The major difference is that usually you would say that cooking is a craft, where art is something more. I looked hard into this and in essence an art form is something that tells a story - so this is what we do, we produce dishes that have a persona. This could be a dish inspired by an artist, or personal message that gives a deeper meaning than just food.

The Pass lost its star. How important is it for you to win it back?
I love what Michelin stands for - to achieve the highest level of standards of culinary brilliance. And of course it was a disappointment to not be included. Will this make me change my style of cooking? No. Having a Michelin star was a fantastic achievement and a lifetime goal, but it didn’t make me a better person, and after the celebrations faded it was back to business as usual. Every day we as a team try to be better and more consistent than we were yesterday and that won’t change. The customers are the most important part of what we do and they are very happy people.

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