Flash-grilled: Alex Povall

By Joe Lutrario contact

- Last updated on GMT

Alex Povall chef Oystermen restaurant

Related tags: Chefs, Covent garden, Casual dining, Fish

Alex Povall is head chef at Covent Garden restaurant Oystermen, which was recently expanded due to popular demand.

What was your first job?
My first job in the kitchen was at a country house hotel called Moonfleet Manor, on the south coast in Dorset, where I grew up - I applied to do some work experience and was offered a commis chef position.

What is your guiltiest food pleasure?  
That award definitely goes to Tex Mex Super Noodles! 

What’s the best restaurant meal you’ve ever had?
That's impossible to answer - I tend to try and eat out 2/3 times per week so there have been many great experiences. I think the best experience as a whole would have to be last year. We visited a family-run trattoria in a small town called Angihari in Tuscany. It was the perfect experience in every way - surrounded by family and friends. Food cooked from the heart with no pretences. Wine from local vineyards and the most endearing hospitality.

What industry figure do you most admire, and why? 
I guess I have a massive amount of admiration for so many industry leaders. I know how hard it has been to get to where I am, let alone how hard it must be to do what they do. A big one for me I think is Massimo Bottora for the work he is doing surrounding food waste. 

If you weren’t in kitchens, what would you do? 
It’s hard to imagine myself anywhere outside of kitchens now to be honest! I've always enjoyed wine (and drinking!) and also people so I would say the obvious choice would be to run a little bar somewhere.

What is your biggest regret?
My biggest regret has to be not taking more time out to travel. I think so much can be learnt about food by immersing yourself in other cultures and seeing how real people cook real food. London is such a fantastic melting pot of different cultures but I remember watching Rick Stein cooking fish on a beach and Goa and I just don't think you could ask for a better experiences than that.

Pet hate in the kitchen?
Pet hate in the kitchen has to be people who lack precision and attention to detail. My chefs quite often laugh at me for my obsessive need for everything to be in straight lines. I can’t stand a bank of wonky nine pans!

What’s the oddest thing a customer has said to you?
We had a female customer who dined at the restaurant one evening with her male companion. They ate and enjoyed several oysters and left happy. However, the following day we received an email complaint from her as her male companion, for whom she bought dinner, did not want to go home with her. She claimed that the oysters did not have the desired effect and so she was therefore due a refund. I still can’t decide if it was a joke or not. 

What’s the dish you wish you’d thought of?
Smoking Goat’s fish sauce wings.

Describe your cooking style in three words
I would describe my cooking style as simple, tasty and diverse. I like to take inspiration from everywhere. Fortunately I have a massive amount of freedom at work which allows me to be creative.

Most overrated food?
Probably truffle. It’s great and I love it and it’s special because there's nothing else like it. But in terms of value it’s definitely overrated. 

Restaurant dictator for a day – what would you ban?
Shouting. It's just not necessary in my opinion. I've worked in a few tough kitchens over the years but one of the best head chefs I have worked for, never shouted. He always told me - 'when you shout, you've lost control.' I'm sure many people will disagree, but I always endeavour to run my kitchen on respect, being fair and managing situations proactively opposed to letting them get so out of control.

What’s the worst review you’ve ever had?
Oystermen has been my first position as head chef and touch-wood, since opening 18 months ago we have received really positive reviews. I'm sure there have been a few bad ones in the mix, but I have chosen to forget them. 

If you could cook for anyone in the world who would you pick, and why?
Given the opportunity, I would definitely chose my dad. Unfortunately he passed away before I really got into cooking. He was such a fantastic and really passionate cook. I have so many fond memories of coming home to a house of wonderful smells and freshly baked breads. I think being introduced to such amazing food from such a young age really ignited my passion for food and hospitality.

What advice would you give someone starting out in the industry?
Give it time. When you start out as a commis in high end kitchens, it’s brutally hard work. It’s draining and exhausting. But work at it and the better you get, the more fun the job is. I have never enjoyed working in kitchens as much as I do now. I think so many commis nowadays want instant gratification but at the end of the day, cooking is a craft and it takes time to learn.

Which single item of kitchen equipment could you not live without?
Induction. We have recently moved to an induction cooking suite and the benefits are endless. 

What do you cook at home on your days off?
I don't tend to cook a massive amount at home, I much prefer to eat out and explore London's fantastic dining scene. But when I do, it tends to be a proper hearty roast.

What’s your earliest food memory? 
My earliest and fondest memories of food are definitely the sausage and chips my mum used to make and send us off night fishing with! I was young and got bored quite easily when we didn't catch anything - the newspaper wrapped dinner was always the most exciting part of the night.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
There are many pieces. But the one that sticks with me, has to be ‘It's only food.' I remember having a truly terrible day during a new opening. My then chef just turned round and said it. It’s kind of stuck with me because what we do is stressful and exhausting but when you break it down to what it is...

What’s the closest you’ve ever come to death?
Fortunately, as yet, touch wood, I have managed to avoid any near death experiences.

Where do you go when you want to let your hair down?
A good classic house party. My flat mates are all hospitality so we know how to do them properly.

Tipple of choice?
Negroni or champagne. 

What would you choose to eat for your last meal?
Last meal would be oysters, charcuterie and some good old-fashioned bread. 

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