Peter Brown, Malmaison

The head chef at Malmaison, Peter Brown recounts how he was cooking with mum from the moment he could pick up a spoon – and pays tribute to his first and biggest influence, Gary Rhodes

Tell us about your cooking

I am classically trained and have spent my whole career in Rosette kitchens. May the cholesterol gods forgive me, but I really do believe that butter makes everything better. I also love ‘nose to tail’ cooking, squeezing the best possible flavour out of every ingredient and minimising on waste. I hate waste!

How did you become a chef?

Food has always been important in my family. My great gran was a cook and my mother is a pastry chef so it was pretty much obvious from the word go! Mum always said I was cooking from the moment I could hold a spoon.

What do you eat when at home?

My wife is Taiwanese so I cook a lot of oriental style food at home (under her watchful eye) and my daughter would go through walls for a good bowl of rice!

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

It saddens me to say that my first and biggest influence has recently departed us. Gary Rhodes was, and will remain, a true legend. I followed him religiously at the beginning of my career and have pretty much all of his cookbooks, many of which I still thumb through. I would say the best chef to me right now would be Tom Kerridge, I love how he champions British food as we really do produce some world-class ingredients. There are several amazing restaurants in Birmingham and it would not do for me to try and put one above the others.

Is the customer always right?

I really wish I could say yes, however… while most people are great, even when something isn’t quite to their taste, there seems to be a nucleus that seems to think they know more than the chef! These people do their best to tell you that the way they want it is the way everyone should have it.

Share a cooking tip

Put butter in it! Seriously, taste as you go and try to season a little with each additional ingredient. If you throw a lot of salt and pepper in at the end that is when you have a habit of going overboard. You can always add more but can’t take it away.

What was your favourite food as a kid?

Mums ‘spaghetti jumble’. I have never been able to recreate it but it was essentially Bolognese with cheese beaten into it! Gooey, cheesy heaven!

Food heaven and food hell?

Heaven is Taiwanese Bento box. Taiwan is reputed to grow the world’s best rice… they do! Hell is overly spicy food. I don’t mind a bit of a kick but too much and my taste buds are too busy screaming to allow me to taste anything.

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

While working in Australia I tried alligator, mildly fishy chicken I have to say! During our trips to Taiwan there has been more than one occasion I have asked my wife what we are eating only to be told: “I can’t translate, just eat it!”

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

A nuisance! I really cannot picture myself behind a desk all day long and even after 23 years in the trade I have to say there is very little that excites me more than food.

What do you recommend from this evening’s menu?

The sea bass with gnocchi and a butternut squash and truffle sauce on our festive menu is probably my favourite dish on our menu. The gnocchi is gluten free so great for those with an allergy, and the aroma is a wonder on the senses!

Chez Mal, Malmaison, the Mailbox, 1 Wharfside Street, Birmingham, B1 1RD. Tel: 0121 794 3004