Chef of the Week: Ben Purton, Chef Consultant in London

How long have you worked at your current restaurant?
I started up my consultancy business around 5 years ago and this has given me the opportunity to work with lots of different clients in a variety of establishments and venues.

Where did your passion for cooking come from and where did you learn your skills?
My passion really came after I was given an opportunity firstly to be a KP washing dishes and then to start cooking when I was 16 and realised It was something I could be quite good at. I was a bored student at school but once I knew this was what I was going to do – I focused and got better and better. I spent the first 3 years of my career at the Woodford Moat House Hotel and the next 10 years at The Carlton Tower in Knightsbridge. All of my foundations and skills come from those years.

What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
The variety, especially in my new role. The joy that a great meal can bring and the opportunity to be part of a young chefs journey as they start out in their own careers.

Name three ingredients you couldn’t cook without.
Now, anyone that knows me knows that I cannot do without tea, water, milk and sugar and yes I know that’s 4 but I’m much better at everything I do after tea has been had. Picking just 3 ingredients is super tough but it can’t be underestimated how important good salt and pepper is and I think I’d just add a good olive oil to that list too.

Which piece of kitchen equipment couldn’t you live without?
I’m a little old school with these things and I’d go for my trusted pastry knife as really versatile and a must have for any chef.

What food trends are you spotting at the moment?
So I like seeing the continued development of plant based and these are here to stay and some amazing work going on to make these dishes better and better. I see a trend for experience and interaction / engagement growing as it’s all about the memory making. Home comfort style cooking and eating with sharing plates will also be a big focus over the next 12-18 months.

What do you think is a common mistake that lets chefs down?
So at the beginning of their careers I think a common mistake is not taking the time to learn the foundations and skills that will set you up for life. I’m the middle part of their careers, never forget that you can always learn and you should keep that academic brain ticking over. And never forget why you cook and who you are cooking for – listen to your guests and always have a bit of an open mind to tweak and develop what you do.

What is your favourite time of year for food, and why?
I love all the seasons and what they bring but I think early autumn has to be my favourite when the slow cooker comes out and everything takes a bit of a low and slow theme. Slow cooked lamb shoulder with a classic dauphinoise or boulangère is a thing of beauty and just feels even better from October – January.

Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
On a similar theme to the lamb, when doing my chef in your home experiences – a dish that can be tweaked and adapted for some many occasions wins out. It’s a trio dish and has a grilled / roasted element, slow cooked element and mini pie element. So think grilled fillet, braised short rib and cottage pie of Oxfordshire Beef and you get the idea. Then you swap out the beef for lamb, chicken, fish, veg and it just keeps on giving and always gets a 10/10 from my guests.

How do you come up with new dishes?
Loads of different ways and I look for inspiration everywhere and from everyone. I play with flavours, look at what others do, love the info that’s on the socials, play, experiment, make mistakes, play some more until you have something that’s good enough.

Who was your greatest influence?
Wow – again so many but the likes of Raymond Blanc, Brian Turner, Claire Clark were names that I looked out for at the start of my career as they were doing the kind of things that I thought “oh I’d love to do that” and then watching, meeting and getting to know the likes of the Galvin brothers Chris and Jeff, Simon Young, James Golding, Cherish Finden, Jason Atherton and so many more have me so much confidence and a great network to be able to reach too as needed.

Tell us three chefs you admire.
Again, so many but to try and pick 3 – John Williams at the Ritz – I mean the boss right, Clare Smyth – I don’t know her but wow – just wow – top end cooking and consistency year after year, inspirational and James Martin – this guy does it all and does it all well – great chef, lovely bloke and anyone that has more butter in his mash than mash is right up there in my book.

What is your favourite cookbook?
So although I’ve been UK based for my career, I worked in an Italian restaurant at the Carlton Tower so Italian cookery and cooking has a spot in my heart forever. While I was at the Hyatt Churchill Hotel, I had the honour to watch Giorgio Locatelli at work and oh my – this guy is fantastico. His signed cookbook – Made in Italy – has pride of place on my bookcase at home.

Who do you think are the chefs to watch over the next few months?
So you should have been watching these already and def for the next few months and way beyond I’m sure.

What’s been your favourite new restaurant opening of the last year?
So the ink is still wet on this one when writing this but think by the time of reading it Fazenda Rodizio Bar & Grill Bishopsgate will be the talk of the town and it has a dream team of Sergio Labarile, Francisco Martinez, Andrea, Monika and so many more – it’s a must visit.