The Weekender Interview: Allan Pickett

By Joe Lutrario contact

- Last updated on GMT

Allan Pickett The Swan Collection

Related tags: Restaurants, Chefs

Allan Pickett has worked with some of the very best in the business including the Galvin brothers and Marco Pierre White. He currently oversees the food at The Swan at Shakespeare's Globe as executive head chef.

What image do you currently have on your phone’s wallpaper?
My beautiful family while we were on holiday last year. It makes me smile every time I see it.

What was your first job?
Working in a fruit and veg shop called Johnny Appleseed’s in Rainham, Kent. It’s where I learnt to respect vegetables and started to learn about the seasons. The owner was a real lad and always had a bargain for us off the back of a lorry.  

Gordon or Marco?
Always Marco. I dreamt of working for him and kind of did when I worked at L'Escargot. I remember sitting with him and Jeff Galvin talking about AA rosettes after lunch service one day. Total Legend.  

What was the last film you saw in the cinema? 
Paddington 2 I think.

What is your guiltiest food pleasure?  
A banana stuffed into a Yorkshire pudding. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. It’s bliss…

Where are you going on your next holiday?
We are having a staycation and heading to the beach for a couple of days. 

What industry figure do you most admire (and why)? 
Chris Galvin, as he has done so much to help me in my career and he’s always there to lend me a shoulder to cry on. He is so respectful of his teams and he would never ask you to do something he wouldn’t do himself. My happiest days were cooking at Orrery pre-2000 and I look at who I was cooking with and all of them have gone on to be amazing chefs in their own right.  

If you weren’t in restaurants, what would you do? 
I’d be landscape gardening because I love being outside in the elements. I spent the afternoon digging a trench in my garden (just yesterday) as we are rearranging the garden. It’s really good thinking time. Chefs in general never have enough time out and mental health is high on everyone’s agenda at the moment and I think we should do more as an industry to talk and communicate.

Biggest regret?
My restaurant Piquet closing.

Pet hate?
When people think you get every night off and it’s quite the reverse.

What’s the oddest thing a customer has said to you? 
When I was at Piquet I had a customer ask why I charged so much for our bar food? We weren’t even expensive…  

Marmite: love it or hate it?
Love it. My wife even has it with cheese.

Describe your cooking style in three words
Classic. French. British.

What country do you next want to visit?
I would love to live in France so I could becoming fluent in the language. I can get by but would love to be better. Three months in the countryside would do it.

Most overrated food?
Foie gras.

Restaurant czar for a day – what would you implement?
Straight shifts for everyone. So no AFDs.

What’s the worst review you’ve ever had?
Too many to mention, that’s the thing when you open a new restaurant, its takes time to find your style and evolve dishes that work for you and the customers. You try your hardest, some get it, some think it’s amazing and some hate it. C’est la vie I guess. You have to have very thick skin in this industry.

What made you want to become a chef?
I wasn’t very good at school and wanted to be a landscape gardener which required better grades. My next biggest love was cooking so that’s what I did at college to see if I liked it, luckily it worked out.

What do you cook at home on your days off?
We have four children and it’s all about making sure they are well fed and watered nowadays. I love making pudding for them like my mum’s rhubarb made into a crumble or the occasional apple pie if I have some wind falls from next door.

What advice would you give someone starting out in the industry?
Work hard, don’t let anyone tell you, you won’t succeed. Every day is a test to see if you can handle what life is throwing at you. Talk to people, find a mentor, phone a mate, tell your parents, talking is the only way to stay sane some days. Even in the darkest of days it will get better and easier. There is a light at the end of all  tunnels and it’s called hope. Sometimes it’s just about a change of environment that is a game changer and also who you surround yourself with can make a massive difference.

Which single item of kitchen equipment could you not live without?
My calculator. It’s the most consistent piece of kit in my work life.

iPhone or Android?

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
This would be to go and work with people that are going to teach you different skills. You have to look at what they have done for previous team members and how the mentor has helped them achieve their dreams. If there is no end goal, you may as well stay in bed.

What’s your earliest memory? 
Sitting on a beach on the Isle of Sheppey, untangling fishing line. Still love doing it now when given the chance.

Where do you go when you want to let your hair down?
It sounds corny, but I go home. My kids are so funny and just to be able to spend quality time with them and my wife Chloe is bliss. Having children is the best therapy to put everything into perspective after a long week.

Twitter or Instagram?

Tipple of choice?
Aperol at the moment.

What would you choose to eat for your last meal?
Chris Galvin’s canard au sang which has been roasted over cherry wood on an open fire.

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