From a Roux Scholarship to captaincy of the English and British Culinary teams, there are few accolades that the head chef of Torquay’s Michelin-starred The Elephant hasn’t picked up. He talks to Qin Xie
My father was executive chef at the Imperial Hotel in Torquay and I started working in his kitchens when I was just 14. I always liked being among chefs – I loved the camaraderie. When he was at Forte, I would join him when he took chefs to Ecole Lenotre to train. I guess if I didn’t become a chef then I would probably have gone into the army.
When I was a kid, I was a very fussy eater so we didn’t really go anywhere on holiday except maybe Pontins and Bournemouth. Nowadays, we go to St Mawes in Cornwall for holidays as it’s too expensive to fly anywhere with the kids. My girls, Tansy and Cicely (and hopefully our new arrival Betony) love the adventure, the sea and the rocks down there.
I’m addicted to looking for morels growing on the woodchips in car parks – they are the best places to find them. I also take the kids up to Haldon Woods, near Dartmoor, and Berry Pomeroy to forage for ceps. When it rains, I’m always excited about the mushrooms that will grow afterwards. Phil supplies our mushrooms and taught us all about picking them in the wild.
Ode in Shaldon is one of my favourite restaurants. It’s focused on organic and biodynamic food (odetruefood.co.uk). Ode is the restaurant’s postcode but it’s also a tribute to true food. The Hare & Hounds, in Kingskerswell, (thehareandhounds.co.uk) do an award-winning carvery and great ales. I like visiting Nathan Outlaw (nathan-outlaw.com) and Paul Ainsworth (number6inpadstow.co.uk) too.
The best ever fish and chip place will be my own. I am very picky about my fish and chips; I hate it when the fish comes with skin on. We almost bought a fish and chip shop a while ago so that’s definitely still on the cards. In the meantime, I go to Chandler’s Chippy in Torquay as it’s the least pretentious. I just have fish and chips; no fancy stuff – it is a chippie.
All the boys in the kitchen save up their tips and every four months we do a little tour of restaurants. Our last trip was to Copenhagen and the beef tartare with wood sorrel at Noma (noma.dk) was amazing. I really enjoyed Geranium (geranium.dk), Nimb (nimb.dk) and Geist (restaurantgeist.dk).
We’ve dined at Le Meurice in Paris on a few occasions (lemeurice.com) as well as Pierre Gagnaire (pierre-gagnaire. com). Le Meurice is about doing modern takes on classics, whereas Gagnaire is about pushing boundaries; he’s not afraid to experiment with unusual flavour combinations. Tasting menus give good insights into what restaurants are doing.
Scooters are what you’d call my hobby. I got into that because I liked mod music. I am a member of the South Devon Showmen scooter club; it’s where I never talk about food. I own six scooters – I even have a Michelin one.