Max Murphy

Flavour combinations have always fascinated Max Murphy, the head chef at the Malt Shovel at Barston – whether it’s halibut with forest smoked ham – or strawberry jam and cheese sarnies!

Tell us about your cooking

I call it ‘organised rustic charm’. The emphasis is on flavour and the presentation is rustic but in an ordered way. While we have classics on the menu such as a gorgeous steak and chips, I like to put some unusual flavours together, too.

How did you become a chef?

Mum had been in the pub trade, so I was influenced by that. I went to Halesowen College and loved it. It was just me and mum so I had to work part-time to earn money to get me through college. I was at Jonathan’s restaurant, Oldbury from the age of 15, where I must have peeled hundreds of carrots putting those little grooves down the sides which was a bit trendy back then. I used to go home with orange hands. Dad died around this time and one of the bosses at Jonathan’s took me under his wing and nurtured me. Mr Gregory at Halesowen College was also really supportive and helped me a lot.

What do you eat when at home?

Basic stuff but really good quality, so if I have steak or sausages they’ll be top notch. I also like a really good curry.

Who’s the best chef in the world and why? And who’s the best in Brum?

The best in the world is Raymond Blanc. He’s so passionate and to grow your own produce, pick and cook it the same day is perfection. In Birmingham, I’d have to say Glynn Purnell. The way he extracts flavour from his food is incredible.

Is the customer always right?

Usually, but there was a customer a couple of weeks ago who sent back a dish because the poached egg was cold. I told the waiter to take it back and explain it’s cold because it’s buffalo mozzarella not an egg!

Share a cooking tip

Slightly undercook your fish and rest it on a warm plate to cook to perfection.

What was your favourite food as a kid?

I loved strawberry jam and cheese sandwiches but I also liked squirting tomato sauce into salted crisps and giving it a shake. Well… I was only 10 afterall :-)

Food heaven and food hell?

Heaven would be a perfectly BBQ’d shoulder of lamb and hell will have to be offal – I just never got a taste for it.

What’s the most unusual thing you’ve eaten?

Sea urchin straight from the sea in New Zealand which I dived for with a chef colleague.

If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?

It’s really impossible for me to imagine doing anything else but at a push, probably an antiques dealer.

What do you recommend from this evening’s menu?

Halibut with a duo of artichokes, forest smoked ham, white truffle oil and edible flowers from our organic supplier.

The Malt Shovel at Barston, Barston Lane, Barston, Solihull B92 0JP. Tel: 01675 443 223