The head chef at the Aalto Restaurant, Hotel La Tour tells us about his culinary journey and the chef’s that have inspired him to do great things
Tell me about your cooking
My style of cooking is modern brasserie, English food which is honest and flavoursome. At Aalto we describe our food as classic with a modern twist, so you will find familiar dishes presented in an unusual way. We choose the best ingredients, cook them well and serve great food which represents value for money.
Describe your perfect meal
I love to eat noodles, or try an independent Asian place with my kids. It’s quick and easy, cheap and cheerful and you can spend more time talking and having fun. It’s a great way of encouraging the kids to try new dishes and introducing them to new flavours. Dessert would be a brulee or panna cotta, as this is a great way to really judge a kitchen.
How did you become a chef?
Born and bred in Brum I worked at a butchers in Stirchley for two years while I was at school and the long hours prepared me for life in the kitchen. It all changed when I went on a tour of the College of Food (now UCB). I’d gone thinking I was going to train as a butcher, but I saw people cooking and tried some dishes which I’d never had before. It really opened my eyes and palate to what was possible. I then spent five years working with a great chef in Worcester who really fired my imagination before joining a five star hotel which taught me good kitchen skills. I joined Hotel La Tour in March 2012 and was promoted to head chef in the Spring
What do you eat when at home?
Everything. At the moment I’ve got a bit of a thing for hummus and we make great flat bread to go with it. I really enjoy just gathering up a great basket of fresh, colourful veg and chopping it up really small into a big bowl of salad. Lots of crunch, just a little lettuce, and it’s perfect with grilled fish or chicken. Nicely seasoned, it stands up to lots of different types of dressing and my favourite is a classic French.
Who’s the best chef in the world and why? And who’s the best in Brum?
I am very fortunate to work with one of the best chef’s in the world, Marcus Wareing. Marcus is the inspiration behind Aalto Restaurant and oversees what goes on here. The things he has shown me and the way he talks about business, as well as about food is very inspiring. The best chef in Birmingham is Glynn Purnell – his food is fantastic.
Is the customer always right?
I’ll have to be careful what I say here but I think the customer is not necessarily always right although it seems that TripAdvisor is.
What’s the best thing about being a chef?
Undoubtedly the best thing about being a chef is forming a bond, almost like a family, with your team. We probably spend more time together than we do with our families. Building and motivating the team is a huge part of the role of a head chef. You want them to enjoy it as much as you do and it becomes a pleasure to work together.
What’s the worst thing about being a chef?
To be really honest, there’s not a lot that I don’t like. Sometimes you find yourself cleaning the kitchen at 1am and I don’t event mind that. If there was one thing I could change though it would be spending more time with my kids.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
I’d be doing something in the countryside in a beautiful rural area, or maybe living by the sea and fishing on a boat.
What do you recommend from this evening’s menu?
Try the scallops and pork belly – it’s a really gutsy dish with beautiful ingredients, great flavours and it’s Aalto Restaurant’s modern take on the classic surf and turf. I would also recommend the steak which are second to none, beautiful meat from the Lake District, hung for more than 30 days.
Surf and turf Aalto style – serves four:
- Apple puree ( 6 Granny Smith apples, 50g butter)
- Confit of pork belly (12″ square)
- 12 fresh large scallops prepped
- Apple cut into batons
Score the skin on the pork belly and rub with salt, washing it off after 24 hours. Place in a roasting tray. Cover with duck fat, add a few sprigs of thyme and half a bulb of garlic, cook at 110oC for 6 hrs. Place the pork between two flat trays to cool.
Peel and core the apples. Retain the skins in ice cold water. Melt the butter, add the apples and sauté for 2 mins. Cover with a little water and put a lid on the pan, cooking until the apples are soft. Blitz in a blender, adding the apple skins for a couple of minutes. Pass through a sieve and refrigerate.
Add a tbsp of oil to two non-stick frying pans. Cut the pork into 2” squares. Put the pork skin side down into the cold pan and slowly cook until crispy. Turn and place on a tray, cook in the oven for five minutes.
Lightly season the scallops and pan sear for around a minute and half until golden. Add butter for 30 seconds and turn.
Cut apples into batons and mix with watercress, dress with vinaigrette. Put 4-5 dots of puree on a plate and dust with ground cinnamon. Place the pork and scallops on a plate with watercress and apple batons.