Flash-grilled: Gary Lee

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Flash-grilled with The Ivy's executive chef Gary Lee

Related tags: Chef, The Ivy

The Ivy's executive chef on his love of boxing, memories of eating at Alain Ducasse's Benoit in Paris, and watching Mark Hix on Great British Menu.

What was your first industry job?
My first job was as a pot washer at 14 years old, but then whilst at college I worked in a carvery in Chingford called the Queen Elizabeth. This was my first insight into hospitality.

If you weren’t in kitchens, what would you do?
I would be a Boxer – fitness is very important to me.

What industry figure do you most admire, and why?
There are too many to mention but Jason Atherton for his vision, Marcus Wareing for his belief and of course, Angela Hartnett, Clare Smyth and Monica Galetti for flying the flag for female chefs - their determination is fantastic.

Pet hate in the kitchen?
People who waste time and those who think they have the answer to everything. No matter who you are, you are always able to learn new and exciting things every day.

What’s the oddest thing a customer has said to you?
I have many but a few that come to mind are "can you do me garlic butter without garlic” or “can you come to my house and show my wife how to cook".

Sum up your cooking style in a single sentence…
No frills, no fuss, just honest.

What advice would you give someone starting out in the industry?
Be yourself, open your eyes, taste, taste, and taste again and ask, ask and ask again - there is no substitute for knowledge. Be honest, look after yourself and make sure you completely disengage from cooking at times so you have a life outside of the kitchen.

Which single item of kitchen equipment could you not live without?
My knife.

What’s the best meal you’ve ever had in a restaurant?
I’ve had many ‘best’ meals but some highlights include Gérard Depardieu’s Fontaine Gallon eating morue cod with olive oil mash; Alain Ducasse's Benoit in Paris, where everything was sublime and yet so simply done - simple décor, pungent flavours, even the salt left me speechless; Cora Pearl in London for their honesty and attention to doing things properly, and Murano for authentic, brilliantly executed Italian food.

MasterChef or Great British Menu?
It would have to be Great British Menu because watching Mark Hix when he was on the programme was brilliant television. I love watching honest, true cooking.

Most overrated food?
Anything that takes forever to put together.

What’s your earliest food memory?
Being told to eat a bowl of okra.

Twitter or Instagram?
Instagram.

Where do you go when you want to let your hair down?
I have no hair, but if I need to “get it all out” I hammer a six to eight round session on a punch bag working on technique, then straight onto the pads and then finish with a swim.

Tipple of choice?
Guinness.

What do you consider your signature dish?
I couldn’t say a particular dish was a signature because it’s all been done before. For me a signature dish is one which is done properly and stays true.

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