Head chef at Opus, David Colcombe tells us how he makes ‘the best cauliflower mornay in Brum’ and why he harbours a rather fishy ambition
Tell us about your cooking
My style is built around produce. For me, the most exciting thing is sourcing the right ingredients and letting the food do the talking in its flavour. Speaking to the suppliers every morning is probably the most exciting part of my style.
Describe your perfect meal
There’s nothing better than a good Sunday roast. I like a beautiful rib of beef which has been cooked for a couple of hours and left to rest while I enjoy a glass of red wine. I also make the best cauliflower mornay in Birmingham according to my friend Akhtar from Lasan. Add very traditional vegetables from local regions and fluffy crispy roast potatoes. It is harder than you think!
How did you become a chef?
I used to cook for my brother and myself after school while my mom was at work – mainly so I could get out and play football earlier. I started my career by training at The Dorchester on Park Lane. I was a Birmingham boy who went to London and never thought I’d come back.
What do you eat when at home?
Mostly simple dishes like a nice leek and pecorino risotto. Time is of the essence for chefs so something quick and easy like a scallop salad is best. I’m in a lucky position that I can get the guys in the kitchen to pull me together a few ingredients and take them home with me.
Who’s the best chef in the world and why? And who’s the best in Brum?
I was lucky enough to meet Thomas Keller and I love his ethos and the way he manages his kitchen. He has two three-Michelin-starred restaurants and that takes a lot of hard work and skill. In Birmingham, there’s an abundance of young talented chefs at a range of independent restaurants so it wouldn’t be fair to single just one out. Birmingham’s reputation as a culinary destination is well-earned and the future looks bright for the city.
Is the customer always right?
They may not be technically correct, but if that’s what the customer wants then that is what the customer gets. Our aim is to ensure they leave our restaurants happy.
What’s the best thing about being a chef?
The opportunity to travel and eat in some of the best restaurants in the world, which I would never have had the chance to do otherwise. This industry has no boundaries when it comes to experiencing other flavours and styles.
What’s the worst thing about being a chef?
You miss out on lots of birthdays and events, but at the end of the day your job dictates what you can do. That’s fine with me, but it doesn’t always work for everybody.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
I’d quite like to be a buyer at Brixham fish market in Devon. I’d love to live there and see all the quality fish coming in and selecting the best for my customers. You’re up early, but you’re finished by 10am. I do need a retirement plan actually…
What do you recommend from this evening’s menu?
Our menu is determined by the freshest produce we can source, so it changes daily. However, at the moment we have some beautiful, fresh lemon sole in.
DAVID’s RECIPE FOR STUFFED FREE RANGE CHICKEN BREAST WRAPPED IN PARMA HAM (with Wye Valley asparagus, Jersey Royals and buttered kale)
FOR THE CHICKEN MOUSSE:
- 150g chicken breast
- 1 egg
- 50g double cream
- Salt and pepper
Method: In a chilled food processor, blitz the chicken breast for 20 seconds. Add the egg and blitz for a further 15 seconds. Slowly add the cream, folding in a bit at a time until a smooth mousse is formed (it’s best to do this in a bowl over ice). Season with salt and pepper. Now add some seasonal ingredients to help flavour it in the spring. I’d suggest some wild garlic and dices of cooked asparagus.
FOR THE CHICKEN:
- 2 x chicken breast
- 6 x sliced Parma ham
- Chicken mousse
Method: Butterfly the two chicken breasts and slightly pat out. Season and pipe a line of mousse down the centre. Roll the chicken to encase the mousse inside. Wrap in the Parma ham and roll tightly in cling film, knotting the ends. Poach these in simmering water for 12/15 minutes until firm. Chill. This can be done in advance. Once chilled, unwrap from the cling film for reheating. In a pan with a little olive oil and butter, gently fry the rolled chicken until the Parma ham is golden and crisp. Put through the oven for 8 minutes at 180 degrees until hot. Slice and serve. This dish is great with a creamy pasta or simply as we serve it in the restaurant with buttered Jersey Royal potatoes, Wye Valley asparagus and buttered Worcester kale.