Chef of the Week: Charlie Hibbert, Chef Director at Thyme in The Cotswolds
How long have you worked at your current restaurant?
The Ox Barn at Thyme opened in December 2018 and I started about 6 months before opening, so coming up for 4 years.
Where did your passion for cooking come from and where did you learn your skills?
My mum, Caryn (who is the Founder and Creative Director of Thyme – which is our family business) was and is a brilliant and instinctive cook and I was always hanging around the kitchen, helping and generally getting in the way. Both grannies, too, were good cooks.
As soon as I could, I was off to Ballymaloe to train and then to travel, eating my way around India, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines before settling in New Zealand as a chef at Craggy Range Winery – one of New Zealand’s finest restaurants and wineries. When I came back to the UK, I went straight to Quo Vadis, under the watchful eye of the great Jeremy Lee. And, of course, you never stop learning. Thyme and especially the Ox Barn have been a steep learning curve for me.
What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
I love going down to the kitchen gardens first thing to see what’s ready for eating. I usually take my dog Bonnie and we have a good old rootle around. I think the excitement of a new season’s ingredients is right up there for me. The look, feel, smell and taste – knowing that we’re eating what nature has decreed us to eat right now.
Name three ingredients you couldn’t cook without.
Anchovies, olive oil and butter.
Which piece of kitchen equipment couldn’t you live without?
I was asked the same question by House & Garden in January this year – and hands down, it’d be my Kenwood stand mixer. A total joy.
What food trends are you spotting at the moment?
I’m not so much of a trend person. I’ve always been into pickling, preserving and fermenting anyway, and I know that they’re very much “of the moment”, because of the focus on our gut health. I think that the best trend should really be British seasonal produce, and I’d definitely include game in that – because now that we’re out of the EU, we need to ensure that we’re working closely with our farmers to feed ourselves with nutritional, seasonal and healthy British food.
What do you think is a common mistake that lets chefs down?
Ah – well, it depends if you want a diplomatic answer or not? If I was being diplomatic, I’d urge chefs (myself included) to think about menu length and balance – less is more in terms of ingredients included, which requires good balance (because there’s less choice). If I were being undiplomatic, I’d say that chefs need to think primarily about what their customers would like to eat, rather than what they especially want to cook!
What is your favourite time of year for food, and why?
I think that’s a rotten question, because each season has its stars. If I really had to choose, I’d go for spring because I’m a sucker for wild garlic, asparagus and Jersey Royals.
Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
I’m not sure “proud” is the right word to use. My “pride” comes from knowing that someone’s had a delicious meal and they’ve come up to me to say that very thing. That’s what makes it all worthwhile. I love cooking low and slow – braising is a favourite. Equally, my wife Molly is a vegetarian and I love concocting salads and delicious vegetable dishes for her.
How do you come up with new dishes?
Well, Molly and I take off for the weekend as often as time allows and on my rare days off – I head to London to eat. I’ve got lots of pals in the industry and we chat about dishes that we’ve recently loved. I’m a great believer in outside influences – you have to get out and about, open your eyes, taste amazing food and follow your instincts. That and enjoying what’s on your own doorstep is the only way you’ll build up your own repertoire.
Who was your greatest influence?
Too many important people to mention really. Professional chefs aside, it’d have to be my mum Caryn.
Tell us three chefs you admire.
- Darina Allen at Ballymaloe
- Jeremy Lee at Quo Vadis
- Alice Waters at Chez Panisse
What is your favourite cookbook?
I have a different favourite every week – I have a vast and always growing collection of cooking books. My more often than not “go to”, though, would have to be Forgotten Skills by Darina Allen, my first book and a lovely reference point.
Who do you think are the chefs to watch over the next few months?
Well, Brett has re-opened The Ledbury, which is very exciting. Tom Adams at Coombeshead Farm is fantastic.
What’s been your favourite new restaurant opening of the last year?
A few old friends have opened a lovely little restaurant in Islington, Caravel. It’s on a barge outside Holborn studios and the food is wonderful.