Ever since he began making cupcakes as a 10-year-old with his mum, the head chef at Mallory Court Hotel has believed in two golden rules – keep it simple, make it taste amazing! Images by TH Photography
Tell us about your cooking
It’s about using the very best seasonal produce available and then extracting as much flavour as possible. I’m not into being over-complicated and creating something architectural. I’m not trying to make the Eiffel Tower out of food – I want something that appears simple and tastes amazing. The whole dining experience should be relaxing and enjoyable. Mallory Court reflects my type of cooking perfectly and I love working with Simon Haigh.
Describe your perfect meal
It’s all about the whole experience with the right company and setting as well as food. A crisp winter’s night with my wife, an open fire and a cheeky glass of pinot noir. Sat Baines could knock us up a braised beef cheek with seaweed and oyster. And of course my 18-month old-daughter would be there, probably tucking into some cheese that she loves.
How did you become a chef?
I’ve loved cooking since I was 10. My mum used to look after the kitchens in a pub in Coventry and we’d bake cupcakes together that I’d sell to the doormen! At 16, I went to Coventry’s Henley College and loved it but it’s not until you get into a professional kitchen that you realise it’s the life for you. I spent two years at Haigs Hotel in Balsall Common. It was a steep learning curve where we made everything and I learned all the basic skills. I then spent two years as a sous chef to Sat Baines. He has an exceptional palate and has such an amazing understanding of how to balance food.
What do you eat when at home?
We’re currently moving house, so something quick, simple and tasty. Always homemade though, like a comforting casserole or some pasta.
Best chef in the world? And best in Brum?
Corey Lee who runs a restaurant called Benu in San Francisco is insanely good. He’s ridiculously organised with incredible technical ability and watching him in action is so inspiring. As for Brum, I think Glynn Purnell is not only a great guy but the best chef right now. His food is amazing and it’s his personality on the plate.
Is the customer always right?
Not really, no! As Sat once told me, there may be better chefs out there with more knowledge and skill but nobody understands my food better than me.
What’s the best thing about being a chef?
I think all chefs are ultimately just trying to please people and give the most amazing experience. When the customer grabs you to tell you they’ve had a fabulous meal it really is the best feeling and makes the 18-hour days worthwhile.
What’s the worst thing about being a chef?
It was difficult when I was 18 and my mates were going out at the weekend and I couldn’t – but honestly there’s nothing I don’t like about being a chef. Yes, it’s long hours but it just means you make the very most of any spare time.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
I can’t really do anything very well apart from cook! It would be pretty cool to be a singer though.
What do you recommend from this evening’s menu?
We’ve just added a warm salad of green leeks, onion and brown shrimps in a lovely onion broth to the menu. It’s a celebration of our garden here.
PAUL’s RECIPE FOR GARDEN BEETROOT, FALLOW DEER TARTARE, SORREL & CRISPY SOURDOUGH
Ingredients: Serves 4
For the beetroot:
- 6 medium baby beetroots
- 50g butter
- 50ml beetroot juice
- 100g ice
For the deer:
- 200g fallow deer loin trimmed of sinew
- 100g sloe gin
- 25g salt
- 25g sugar
- 30g hay
- 60g sunflower oil
- 1 small loaf of sourdough
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 100ml soy sauce
- 1 lemon juiced
- 2 limes juiced
- Fresh sorrel and thinly shaved fennel to finish
Mix the sloe gin with the sugar and salt until dissolved, poor into a zip lock bag with the deer and leave to cure for three minutes. Wash the deer in cold water and pat dry on a cloth. Reserve in the fridge until needed. Take 4 of the beetroots, cover with water, add the butter and a pinch of salt. Cook gently until tender, leave to cool and remove the skin. Peel the 2 beetroots and slice thinly on a mandolin, place into a container and pour the ice and beetroot juice onto them to keep crisp. Burn the hay with a blowtorch and cover with the oil, heat gently to infuse the smoky flavour. Slice the sourdough paper-thin. Drizzle with olive oil and season with sea salt, bake at 170°C for around 5 minutes until golden brown. For the dressing, mix the ingredients together and reserve. To finish the dish, dice the deer into 5mm cubes and dress with a small amount of the smoked hay oil, season with sea salt and arrange on the plate. Season and add the cooked and raw beetroot, drizzle a small amount of the dressing over all the ingredients on the plate, and finish with the sourdough, sorrel and shaved fennel.