Introducing Head Chef- Brian Smith

Brian started with us at the end of October and hasn't quite been able to get going with all the, 'stop/starting' that national restrictions have bought upon us. 

So, we have taken a few minutes to get to know Brian by asking him a few personal questions about what inspired him, his career, his favourite piece of kitchen equipment, favourite ingredients and much more. Here is what he had to say...

What’s your first memory of your love for cooking?
When did you know you wanted to be a Chef?

I don’t have a romantic story of growing up in Grannies kitchen nor of living in the country with a resplendent larder reflecting the changing of the seasons dreaming of stars and rosettes. I, like I suspect, so many of my peers fell into it. Though to be more precise dropped out of A-Levels with no plan or thought of what the future should be. Catering college became second choice after asthma kept me from joining the army. An epiphany never happened, three years of college and the next step was London, like osmosis kitchens and the hospitality industry seep into your soul and by the time you realise, it is too late. Whilst there are a myriad of challenges it is a wonderful job. 

Where were you trained, and how difficult was your training?

I went to college in Luton at Barnfield college, New Bedford Road campus. Hospitality sharing a block with the Hairdressing and Beauty department. I was fortunate to have great lecturers chef’s John Barge and Ian Baker particularly notable. I didn’t “apprentice” under a chef and wouldn’t consider myself a chefs protégé. I have however worked with some fabulous people through my career. Andy Rose, now Executive Head Chef of the Boisdale  group; Chris Casey, Head Chef of The Lighthouse, Wimbledon; and Paul Bloxham, now Culinary Director UK, Aramark Northern Europe all had the biggest impacts on me as a chef at different points in my career. 

What do you love most about your job?

The satisfaction from a day full of small tasks done well. The joy of guests from the food they’ve eaten. Though mostly it is about the people, with their smiles and their scowls and all types of souls that make it a life in industry by people for people.

What’s your favourite dish to create?

It is the simple things for me, about getting the basics right about care and attention that delivers the spectacular. Roast potatoes, potatoes water salt duck fat. Hollandaise, Vinegar reduction egg yolk butter, it’s all about the vinegar reduction. Fresh bread, flour salt yeast water, time patience. 

Where do you draw your creative inspiration from?

It usually starts with a blank sheet of paper and looking at what is available at the time of year I am aiming for. Then it can about what I want to cook and creating a dish around that or seeing a particular produce sparks the thought of a dish that I’ve done before or seen somewhere and want to develop. Sometimes it can be seeing beautiful or unusual crockery that demands something special to be served on it.

Working at nomad and operating the restaurant at Birmingham Open Media set up and run by the awesome Karen Newman exposed the restaurant team to a dizzying array of creativity and the importance of looking beyond our own small world. I have always got something ticking along in the back of my mind, and ultimately it is vital that the guest experience is considered when finalising a dish or menu. You only have to look on twitter at @wewantplates for examples of chefs without a filter. 

What four ingredients are necessary in your kitchen?

Whilst mundane it has to be the corner stone’s of cooking, Onion, Garlic, Thyme and salt.

If you could prepare a meal for anyone, who would it be and what would you make?

There are so many remarkable people in this world that it feels like starting a list of a fantasy Graham Norton series, and it is said you should never meet your hero’s. I think though that it would have to be Melissa, former Head chef of the Birmingham Hippodrome. I would cook Jerk chicken with Rice and Peas, and try to prove a point in the process.

What are you most proud of in your career?

Seeing the people I’ve helped train progress and develop.

What would you want to have as your last meal?

A recreation of the Regents Banquet from 1817, where Antonin Careme cooked 127 courses for Prince George and Grand Duke Nicolas of Russia. 

Are there any foods you just don’t like?

Most BBQ sauce, It’s just too sweet. 

What do you think is the most challenging ingredient to work with?

Sugar, it behaves differently at different temperatures, from jam at 105˚c, through 121˚c vital for sabyons for mousses to 170˚c for golden caramel and the temperature for Honeycomb. The margin of error is slim. If you get hot sugar on your skin it burns like a b%£$@*!d 

Do you cook at home?

I do but pretty basic stuff, I like to get out to try new places or go and visit old favourites.

Funniest kitchen incident?

It has to be when the classics wholeheartedly catch someone out, sending a commis to find the chicken lips. Telling a waitress the special is salmon legs and her offering it to a table before the restaurant manager could stop her. Having a waiter spend half an hour emptying the ‘plumbed in’ coffee machine of water so it can be serviced, and the same waiter to fill a bucket full of steam from the milk wand on the same coffee machine. There was also the time I convinced a young not particularly bright waitress that Poland is in Black and White, the Polish chef played along. 

Favourite kitchen equipment or gadget?

My handmade Japanese Damascus chef’s knife, which was a gift from a former employer, I’d be heartbroken without it. Beyond that it has to be the Thermomix, hands down has to be the best blender available. 

Tell me 3 things that you consider to be your cooking strengths. 

Using all the senses, as the chef you can know what is happening in the kitchen. The sound of onions cooking can reveal if the temperature is too high, the aroma of meat being seared or braised, observing food cooking seeing the point that a fillet of fish is ready to be flipped and taken out the pan. 

Describe your style in three words.

Fresh, Tasty, Fun

If you had just one wish, what would it be?

Social justice on a global scale, where the west no longer exploits third world countries for materialistic and financial gain. The end of billionaires, whose very being is abhorrent in a world of poverty, starving children and the medically bankrupted. The ending of abuse, brutality and murder in the name of an imaginary god whatever flavour of religion it may be. A world where a woman can walk safely home after a night out not worrying that she might be attacked and then blamed for it. 


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