Chef of the Week: Christian Ørner, Private Chef at SALT Cø. in Dorset

How long have you worked at your current restaurant?
I set up SALT Cø. Private Chef and Chocolatier in February 2017. In January 2020 we expanded to create SALT Cø. Bakery and Patisserie as well as SALT Cø. Cookery School.

Where did your passion for cooking come from and where did you learn your skills?
My decision to become a chef came as a surprise to everyone in my family. As a toddler I only ate pears and through my childhood years my interest in food barely improved. Growing up, mum always cooked fresh, healthy and nutritious food for us as a family. And in my later teenager years I worked a bit as a waiter so I got an insight into the chef world, but it wasn’t until I was 23 that I decided the chef life was for me.

I did my first year of catering college in Bath then I moved down to Bournemouth for the second and third year at Bournemouth and Poole College. I always worked my way through college as well in the best local hotels and restaurants to learn the best ways of doing things.

What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
I genuinely love cooking. I really enjoy the teamwork aspect of being a chef. And seeing the reactions on people’s faces when they are eating my food. Also, the fact that we as chefs never stop learning. There is so much to learn about food and cooking, we should never be bored.

Name three ingredients you couldn’t cook without.
Salt, chocolate and cream.

Which piece of kitchen equipment couldn’t you live without?
My knives, electric whisk, potato ricer…so many!

What food trends are you spotting at the moment?
After this whole Covid-19 chaos is over, I would like to see more of people using more local suppliers like butchers, fishmongers and greengrocers. I believe it was starting to happen before, hopefully it will happen on a bigger scale after this is over.

What do you think is a common mistake that lets chefs down?
Not tasting what they are cooking enough. Taste, season, taste, add more if required.

What is your favourite time of year for food, and why?
Spring and autumn. Spring because this is when ingredients like amazing British asparagus, peas, and lamb are coming into their own. I love the colours and the flavours that come out in spring.

Autumn is my favourite time of year for many reasons; my birthday, Halloween but also mushroom, truffles and different squashes coming into their own.

Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
The SALT Cø. 9 Textured Chocolate ‘Cake’ is the dish I am most proud of. I love working with chocolate, there is so much you can do with it and this dish brings together a few of them; white chocolate ice cream, chocolate sauce, chocolate cremeaux, chocolate mirror glaze and… I’m not going to give away all of the secrets!

My favourite dish that we do at 99% of all our dinner parties is our palate cleanser. We call them ‘Lemon Explosions’. They are little spheres of lemon juice mix coated in cocoa butter. We Introduce them like this: “We deliberately aren’t going to tell you what these are. What we recommend you do is that you pick these up gently, put it in your mouth, close your mouth, then crunch.” It is my favourite course of all the courses we do as we get to watch the expressions on people’s faces when they break the cocoa butter and the lemon mix ‘explodes’ in their mouth.

How do you come up with new dishes?
Inspiration comes from lots of places. The lemon explosion dish idea came from a programme on Netflix. The 9 Textured Chocolate ‘Cake’ came as a culmination of things I have learnt over the years, and talks with different chef friends on how to present the dish. I also use social media a lot. I follow several of the three Michelin star restaurants around the world and watch their videos searching for ideas.

Who was your greatest influence?
In my first year of catering college in Bath I read Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. It remains my all time favourite books and as a chef he has been a big influence in my cooking.

Tell us three chefs you admire
I also really like Thomas Keller’s ethos as well as Heston Blumethal and Espen Bang from Maeemo in Oslo. Another chef who I admire is Grant Achatz from Alinea and Next in Chicago.

What is your favourite cookbook?
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat.

Who do you think are the chefs to watch over the next few months?
Anyone working with local ingredients and not just using the ‘prime‘ cuts in their food.

What’s been your favourite new restaurant opening of the last year?
It was opened a little more than a year ago but I am really happy that Cockle and Clam has opened in Westbourne. Also I am really happy that Restaurant Roots opened, although it was a few years ago now. Both of which really upping the quality of food being cooked here in the Bournemouth area. I have eaten at both and have really enjoyed the experience each time.