When I was in my early twenties and didn't have much money, I was working at the London Carriage Works fine dining restaurant. I often watched in awe at the beautiful dishes flowing from the kitchen wondering how I could do the same. I'd spend the little money I earned sourcing the finest ingredients and try to replicate at home, for friends, what I'd seen the chefs do day in day out. It was often a disaster or a poor mans approximation. I just couldn't work out, with all the lovely ingredients I had, how I could make them taste quite so bad!
Everyday, I would be bothering the chefs before and during service asking questions and trying to watch their every move. Kitchens are aggressive places to at the best of times and a young boy getting in the way and not concentrating on the customers he was supposed to serve resulted in lots of shouting and being thrown out of the kitchen. Eventually the head chef took me aside and asked me what it was I actually wanted. 'I want to cook beautiful food,' I said. 'Why?' he asked me. 'Because it makes people happy.' I said. 'And when it's not good, it makes everyone sad.'
He looked at me. 'Don't be afraid of your ingredients. Let them sing.'
I didn't really know what he meant by that and it took a long time to work it out. But over time I learned to use fewer ingredients in each dish. Making sure that each item added, was allowed to sing in harmony with the others. And most importantly I learned not to be afraid of making mistakes, of how to do as little as possible to the ingredients, of listening to my instincts of how they wanted to be cooked, of looking, smelling, tasting and feeling how a dish harmonises. In essence, how to make a plate become a choir!
This blog will be about what I've learned over the last twenty odd years about food, great ingredients and how to become your own choir master in the kitchen. Welcome to The Pigling Street Kitchen!