Flash-grilled: Lovaine Humphrey

By Stefan Chomka contact

- Last updated on GMT

Flash-grilled: Lovaine Humphrey
The chef and sommelier is the owner (with husband Adam) of fine dining restaurant Arras in York. Prior to opening its doors 18 months ago the couple lived in Sydney where they owned and ran a restaurant for 10 years.

What was your first job?
Working as a waitress in a small restaurant called The Bridge House in Wareham in Dorset where I lived. I was 14 and it was my first Saturday job.

What is your guiltiest food pleasure?
Oreos dipped in milk. They’re so addictive.

What’s the best restaurant meal you’ve ever had?
It was at Michel Bras’ restaurant in Laguiole (where I also worked two seasons in the early 2000s). Adam and I returned in 2011 for our honeymoon. We ate the iconic gargouillou salad that we had watched Michel and Sebastien Bras prepare earlier that day, a wonderful dish of turbot with the sweetest tomatoes. The following morning I had the best breakfast I’ve ever had. The banana bread was stunning. It is by far the best restaurant I have ever eaten in.

What industry figure do you most admire, and why?
Marco – He was the one that got so many of us into the industry. We all know it, but he’s a legend.

If you weren’t in kitchens, what would you do?
Oh I’d probably be unemployed! Actually, I think maybe a personal trainer. I did a course in Australia before we opened the restaurant. I love fitness but then I also love wine!

What is your biggest regret?
Not staying at The Fat Duck in Bray. I worked there on the wine team for just under a year but it became too expensive to live in the area. In hindsight, had I stayed on a little longer I could have learnt so much more.

Pet hate in the kitchen?​ Ha ha. I have so many pet hates but my absolute top one is staff not cleaning down properly. I have worked in so many kitchens where it’s a quick wipe down and they’re done. We’re obsessive about cleaning in our kitchen at Arras.

What’s the oddest thing a customer has said to you?
‘Your petits fours are ridiculous!’ was definitely odd, considering the whole point of them is to be a bit of fun and silly. We’re extremely serious about what we do at Arras, but we also want it to be approachable and fun. Another odd one was when a customer told us he was lactose intolerant and then asked to see the cheese board!

What’s the dish you wish you’d thought of?
Slightly leftfield, but we used to go to Wedge Espresso in Glebe, Sydney, every Sunday for breakfast. The owner Toby Wilson had a toasted sandwich on the menu called ‘The Henry’ - ham, bashed egg, avocado and chipotle mayo. Pure genius.

Describe your cooking style in three words
Interesting, tasty and approachable.

Most overrated food?
It’s not strictly a food, but I think the majority of natural wine is overrated.

Restaurant dictator for a day – what would you ban?
Parsley – I don’t see the point in it (and natural wine!)

What’s the worst review you’ve ever had?
TripAdvisor offers up the occasional bad review. But for the most part they’re by people who don’t get the restaurant and would be better suited somewhere else.

If you could cook for anyone in the world who would you pick, and why?
My mum. She passed away three years ago and if I had any wish in the world it would be to cook for her one last time. She didn’t get to know my daughter Charlie, so actually my wish would be to cook for my mum and Charlie together.

What advice would you give someone starting out in the industry?
Expect to work very hard. Don’t give up. And don’t expect anything to be handed to you. It’s a tough job but it’s worth it.

Which single item of kitchen equipment could you not live without?
A ‘doubalackie’. I think Adam and I may have totally made that word up actually! It’s basically a fancy fish slice.

What do you cook at home on your days off?
Mainly fish and veg. Last night we had cod on Asian greens with soy sauce, chilli and coriander. It was so quick to make and totally delicious.

What’s your earliest food memory?
Eating my mum’s spaghetti bolognaise, although to be honest I think I was probably wearing most of it.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Think before you speak. It was from my husband Adam. He’s right of course as I do have a tendency to blurt things out.

What’s the closest you’ve ever come to death?
Scuba diving in Cyprus with a group of friends when I was younger. I got scared and shot up to the surface while they continued to go deeper. I found myself completely on my own and with nobody to help me and I ended up swimming to some faraway rocks and a fisherman came to save me. I’m also lucky I didn’t get the bends.

Where do you go when you want to let your hair down?
I go swimming (slightly at odds with the last question I know). But just putting my head under water feels good. It’s so good for the soul.

Tipple of choice?
Champagne, always champagne! Cedric Bouchard.

What would you choose to eat for your last meal?
Seafood. I adore all seafood. I could eat prawns all day long.

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