The head chef at The Chequers at Crowle Richard Smyth talks turkey dinosaurs, hogweed bubble and squeak and the great cooks who inspire him
Tell us about your cooking
My training is classical, but I’ve always kept my eye on modern techniques to find ways to re-imagine dishes. I like hearty, home-cooked flavours but like to show my creativity with their presentation. I get excited when I find a new ingredient and I love learning new ways to work with them. I like to see our customers leave full, happy and hopefully with memories of a dish that surprised them.
How did you become a chef?
I started, like most, as a KP (kitchen porter) at the age of 14, in the early days of the gastro-pub in Warwick. I remember being asked to help plate dishes on a busy service and that’s where the spark ignited. I loved the excitement of being involved in the food, so when they asked me to do a couple of nights a week on larder I jumped at the chance. My early influence funnily enough was Charles Harris who worked in the same kitchen at the time and who I still work with today. I’ve followed the careers and cookbooks of Raymond Blanc, Gordon Ramsay and Tom Kerridge. For me, they have been a massive inspiration. My family have always supported me with a sometimes very challenging career choice.
What do you eat when at home?
I like big flavours. I love treating myself to a steak dinner. Sometimes I’ll experiment with Asian flavours and love working with spices to create a good curry.
Who’s the best chef in the world and why? And who’s the best in Brum?
The best chef in the world, for me, is Grant Achatz at Alinea in Chicago. He fought an epic health battle and lost his sense of taste, but that didn’t stop him. His creative flair is a real benchmark and the way he used his team to get the results he needed was amazing. My favourite chef in Brum is Andreas Antona. His food has been consistent for years and he’s grown some incredible chefs along the way.
Is the customer always right?
Share a cooking tip
Never skimp and save on the ingredients. The final product is only as good as the produce that goes into it.
What was your favourite food as a kid?
Cottage pie. My mum made a mean cottage pie… and when I was really young, turkey dinosaurs. I always had an eye for presentation!
Food heaven and food hell?
Heaven is a great piece of meat. Hell? I hate oysters. I’ve just never understood them.
What’s the most unusual thing you’ve eaten?
When I worked in Cornwall we did a bit of foraging and we found an unusual use for hogweed, putting it into a bubble and squeak. Looking back, that was pretty unusual.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
Not half of the man I am today!
What do you recommend from this evening’s menu?
It’s getting colder now so I’d probably tuck into our Alpine cheese fondue to warm up. I’d follow that with an Aubrey Allen steak and finish with one of our awesome chocolate fondants.
TRY RICHARD’S CHASE SMOKED VODKA AND DILL CURED SALMON
- 300g organic salmon, skin on, bones out
- 175g demerara sugar
- 165g rock salt
- 150ml chase smoked vodka
- 2 juniper berries crushed
- 1 lemon, zested and juiced
- 20g Dijon mustard
- 40g dill chopped
Place salmon on a tray lined with cling film and completely cover with salt, sugar, juniper and lemon. Pat down mixture with your hands, drizzle over vodka, then sprinkle over half of the dill and add grated lemon zest. Wrap salmon tightly in cling film and place in the fridge, weighing down the salmon will help to pack down the mixture. Leave for 12 hours to marinate. Remove salmon from the salt mix and wash off the mixture, pat dry with kitchen towel. Brush the salmon with Dijon and press the dill onto the salmon firmly. Cling film the salmon and place on a tray skin side up so the weight of the salmon pushes herbs onto flesh. Place in fridge for 2 hours and slice thinly. Serve with crème fraiche, rocket, a drizzle of maple syrup, thin croutes or toasted rye bread.