The new head chef at the Belfry, Ryan Swift has come a long way since standing on a stool as a young boy at the sink, armed with mixing bowl and wooden spoon, making inedible ‘special’ mixes
Tell us about your cooking
My style is very much my own. I think it is important to be true to yourself and cook what you are passionate about. Generally, I like to keep it simple, preferring clean, clear and precise flavours, nothing too fussy or heavy. If you use the freshest seasonal produce and only the finest quality ingredients, the flavours should just come through.
How did you become a chef?
My love of food began in my nan’s kitchen. I was in awe of how she created flavoursome home-cooked dishes from the constant supply of fresh fruit and vegetables my grandad produced from the garden each day. As a very young boy, I would stand on a footstool at the kitchen sink armed with a mixing bowl and a wooden spoon and experiment with my often inedible ‘special mixes.’ Hopefully, I have upped my game a bit over the ensuing years. My formal training began at Birmingham College of Food & Technology. I moved to London a few days after leaving college to a Michelin-starred restaurant where I did a placement while in my final year of college and was offered a position. From that point on, I was totally smitten ¬– not to mention exhausted and broke trying to work and play on a commis chef’s wages in west London.
What do you eat when at home?
There’s nothing better than getting home to some hearty comfort food. I love how quick and easy it is to rustle up a pasta dish or a delicious sausage casserole. The best thing about comfort food is that I can make extra portions to warm up the next day, which helps me with my busy schedule.
Who’s the best chef in the world and why? And who’s the best in Brum?
Every chef and critic would be hard-pressed to answer this one as everyone prefers different styles and flavours. For me personally, the best chef in the world is Thomas Keller. His experience, exceptional standards and culinary skills are second to none. In Birmingham, Luke Tipping at Simpsons is someone I admire. His creative simplicity and true passion are clear to see. My other inspiration is one of my old mentors, Simon Haigh at Mallory Court, who I look up to a great amount. I spent many happy years at Mallory Court working with Simon and learned a lot of techniques from him. Finally, working with Robert Bates, the Belfry’s executive chef, has been a fantastic experience.
Is the customer always right?
The short answer is yes, if they are reading this! The most important thing for me is ‘is the customer always happy’? By providing the best possible culinary delights and fantastic customer service, the customer will always be happy.
Share a cooking tip
Use the best seasonal produce you can afford and treat it with respect when cooking.
Food heaven and food hell?
Heaven is a relaxing Sunday lunch of a traditional roast, eaten at home with my wife and family. Although the health benefits are amazing, I am not a huge fan of spinach. However the good thing is that it can be cooked in many forms, so I don’t mind it in a puree to accompany a meal.
What’s the most unusual thing you’ve eaten?
The street food in Thailand trying the deep fried ‘delicacies’.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
I’m used to the heat of the kitchen so if I wasn’t a chef I would love to become a firefighter.
What do you recommend from this evening’s menu?
Here at the Belfry we have just launched our new spring menu. The monkfish is definitely a dish I would pick if I was dining here.