Chef of the Week: Dave Critchley, Executive Chef at Lu Ban Restaurant in Liverpool

How long have you worked at your current restaurant?
I’ve been with Lu Ban for about 4 years, the restaurant has been open for about 2 years in total due to covid.

Where did your passion for cooking come from and where did you learn your skills?
I’ve been in the game for a long time now… starting at 15! I picked up the passion from day one, falling in love immediately with the atmosphere, the energy, the buzz of kitchen life and the camaraderie.

What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
I think it’s the buzz, the excitement before a huge shift, the backs to the wall mentality, the feeling of one team against the world. That feeling at the end of an amazing shift. There’s nothing like it!

Name three ingredients you couldn’t cook without.
Tough one this! I love trying all kinds of ingredients… but I love the holy trinity of ginger, garlic and spring onion – It forms the basis of a lot of flavour combinations I’m working with at the moment and the aromatics when these three are cooked off is unreal, it really takes me back to my time in China.

Which piece of kitchen equipment couldn’t you live without!
I’m going to cheat a bit here… I teach my chefs that they themselves are the most valuable piece of kit in the kitchen. Their senses have to be on point every time we go into service. Touching, feeling, picking up, moving, sight, smell and taste are so important to keep our dishes at the level they should be, and most of all their brains! Chefs need to be able to make decisions and calculations in seconds. A level head is needed at all times.

Failing that leave me with some source of heat, a really good wok, a ladle and a cranked spatula, and I’m happy !

What food trends are you spotting at the moment?
I think we’re seeing a move towards the classics again which I’m really enjoying … really good simple food done well . And I for one couldn’t be happier. I can see lots of fusion food happening which I think there’s a place for, when it’s done right.

What do you think is a common mistake that lets chefs down?
Letting ego drive their dishes or their menus. The fundamental purpose of what we do is serve our customers . I get create menus and dishes for my guests. Another mistake I see often is chefs over complicating dishes and forgetting to nail the absolute basics which is way more important in my eyes . It’s tough, Chefs want to be creative but it has to be about control and balance .

What is your favourite time of year for food, and why?
I think if I’m pushed it’s spring … some incredible produce appears. The colours and the freshness that spring brings with it should be evident in any chefs spring menu!

Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
Ahhhh! The worst question I think a chef can face and probably one we get asked the most. Every dish we put on the menu we need to be more than happy with. We need to be proud every time we serve it. Every dish on the menu currently has a story relating back to my time in China. I need my team to buy into the story and the provenance of each dish and treat it like their own.

How do you come up with new dishes?
It’s quite a complicated (and long) process to be honest, everything has to come back to what I saw in China. If the dish doesn’t have meaning or significance, or a story per say it doesn’t make the menu!

Who was your greatest influence?
I always answer this question the same way. Sure there’s loads of great chefs out there to look up to, but it’s my parents and my family who inspire me every day. I learnt the values of hard work from my mum and dad and it’s my wife and son I want to make proud every day.

Tell us three chefs you admire.
Three chefs that probably don’t get the recognition they deserve are Mark Prescott the absolute OG top chef and the most amazing Person (Google him if you need to), John Tamila (Development Chef at Hickory’s) a close friend of mine and the chef that truly sent me on my path to where I am now, one of the best chefs I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with and Mike Mounfield, co-author of my book and business partner at Lu Ban as well as mentor and friend he has a wealth of experience as a chef and in education .

What is your favourite cookbook?
Selfishly my own… Cherry Blossom, it was such an emotional day to receive the books to launch. Any chef should aspire to have their dishes in print and to see 25 years of work published in that book meant the world to me!

Who do you think are the chefs to watch over the next few months?
I think anyone who hasn’t been watching Nathan Davies at SY23 is missing a trick! Obviously Gareth Ward and Mark Birchall are also setting the standard for us all but I think the next few years will be hugely decisive in the future of hospitality with so many huge challenges ahead of us all. I wish every single one off us the very best for the future as it’s definitely going to be a challenge .

What’s been your favourite new restaurant opening of the last year?
Manifest in Liverpool. Another fantastic addition to a flourishing food scene. I love what Paul and his team are doing there.