The head chef at the award-winning Rose & Crown, Leon Higham talks food, passion, Sunday roasts and his grandma’s amazing crumbles
Tell us about your cooking
It has always had a bit of a gastro feel to it ¬– predominantly of a British style with variance of overseas cuisine. I love a bit of Thai or Indian food. You can’t beat those clean, fresh but punchy Asian flavours. But also a good classic is something to be desired when cooked correctly – lamb shank or a good old classic steak suet pie.
How did you become a chef?
I started out as a kitchen porter while at school and soon loved the feel of a busy kitchen alongside the characters of the trade – we’re a special bunch! I started my NVQ but didn’t take it any further, so I am a self-taught chef soaking up as much knowledge as possible from chefs along the way.
My biggest influence was my third head chef Mark Pretty. I knew he had clear passion but was also so laid back in how he worked. He was old school style, just pans, flames and a section to cook every sauce to order. Along with Mark I started to read about other chefs. A huge influence was Anthony Bourdain. I’ve never been so fixated with a book ever since I read Kitchen Confidential.
Of course we have influences but when your family are proud of what you achieve along the way it only wants to make you work better and achieve more. They have always been a great support and an ear to talk to – my wife knows this only too much! My grandma was and still is a great cook. Her crumbles and macaroni cheese were to die for!
What do you eat when at home?
It’s family food at home. I have a two-year-old and a six-year-old to please, so nothing too complicated. Lasagne or a good roast is a favourite.
Who’s the best chef in the world and why? And who’s the best in Brum?
Best chef in the world for me is Massimo Bottura. I love his passion and charisma. The stuff he has done for charity during the Olympics was incredible and his food is something I wish I could have the pleasure of trying. I’ll pass on picking out just one person in Brum…
Is the customer always right?
Yes, most of the time. But you know what, there are occasions when we all know they are not. But it’s our job to accommodate at all times no matter the situation.
Share a cooking tip
Just keep tasting your food. It’s something so simple that so many people and chefs do not do. Taste, season, check and check again. But for a real tip… if you want to get a good crisp skin on mackerel, place it in a cold pan with a little oil. Season the skin and then put onto the heat. Most fish would go into a hot pan but with mackerel, it’s best not to.
What was your favourite food as a kid?
I loved a good Sunday roast, always have. Best meal of the week.
Food heaven and food hell?
Heaven would be anything with truffle oil or blue cheese. Hell is livers – can’t stand them!
What’s the most unusual thing you’ve eaten?
Pig’s testicles in Thailand.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
I wanted to get into the fire service when I left school so that would have been my direction.
What do you recommend from this evening’s menu?
Stonebass, samphire, clams, lemon butter sauce and seaweed dressing.